Marshmallows, metacognition and a speech

Lauren Spilar

Veroni Lectures series targets crowd beyond philosophy majors

Jonah Lehrer, called “something of a popular science prodigy” by New York Times, will speak at 7 p.m. tonight in the Kiva as the first speaker in this year’s annual Veroni Lectures series.

“He’s not a philosopher,” said Michael Byron, graduate coordinator of the philosophy department. “He’s more of . a journalist. The title of the lectures is ‘Philosophy and the Humanities.’ We try to appeal to as broad an audience within the humanities as we can.”

In his talk “Marshmallows to Metacognition: What Can Science Teach Us About Decision-making?” Lehrer will talk about the emerging science of rational and emotional decision-making and how we make choices.

Lehrer, 27, is a contributing editor at Wired, Scientific American Mind and NPR’s Radio Lab. He has written for The New Yorker, SEED, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. He is the author of two books: New York Times Bestseller “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist.” He has also been featured on various TV shows, including the Colbert Report and the CBS Early Show.

All Veroni Lectures, Lehrer’s included, are meant for everybody. In other words, there is no need to know philosophical jargon or theories.

“It’s not limited to philosophers, and what they’re speaking on is not supposed to be directed to philosophers, but the public in general,” said philosophy professor Linda Williams. “The subject is a little bit broader, not so narrow, and they’re presenting it in a way that any intelligent university student or person off the street could get, understand and think about.”

“All the disciplines we now know in higher education actually kind of spun off from philosophy,” Williams said. “It’s been called the queen of the sciences.”

Geology, chemistry, biology and neurology are just a few fields and careers that have their roots in philosophy.

“When you say, ‘What are you majoring in?’ and someone answers ‘philosophy,’ then the next question is ‘What are you going to do with that?'” Williams said. “And it’s because we do not have a profession at the end of the study.”

“‘Philosophically speaking,’ our duty is not to get you a job – it’s to make you an educated person. It doesn’t fit neatly into the capitalistic scheme of things.”

Many students who graduate with a degree in philosophy either continue studying philosophy or go to law school, Williams said. Philosophy, she said, is the No. 1 recommended major by law schools.

“What philosophy does – the skills it gives you – is very good reading skills, very good writing skills and very good thinking skills,” she said.

Williams said what hooks many students on philosophy is the unique question-oriented learning style and the broad-range of subjects.

It’s almost like a disease,” she said. “You get bitten by the bug.”

The philosophy department’s annual Veroni Lectures series normally includes one fall and one spring semester speaker. This spring semester, however, Kent State will host two philosophers – Robert Bernasconi and Nancy Sherman. Their lecture topics have yet to be confirmed.

All events in the Veroni Lectures series are free. A reception will follow Jonah Lehrer’s talk Thursday.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Lauren Spilar at [email protected]