“Our Souls at Night”

Our Souls at Night
A Novel
by Kent Haruf
Knopf, 2015
Review by Bob Lane
Oct 20th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 43)

Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters, place, and narrative point of view. Stories are the fabric of a culture. Once in a while a story teller appears who brings those ingredients together in way that moves us deeply, that speaks to our soul. Let me say from the start that when I use the word ‘soul’ I do not mean a Cartesian soul – immaterial, existing separately from body, eternal; but rather that divinity and spirit which are to be found not through blind faith but through finding and sending down roots to the deepest part of one’s unique self. As is true in botany, those roots spread out into the wider community and can nourish us and give us a healthy life. How do we know when we are living in the best place for those roots to grow? In so much as we do indeed “grow a soul” we should consider carefully the garden in which that soul grows.

Read the review.



English: A Venn diagram analysis of major phil...
English: A Venn diagram analysis of major philosophical approaches. It is possible to categorize philosophers according to three dimensions: those who see the essence of virtue as (1) wisdom (2) love (3) power. It is possible to describe different philosophers in this context which allows mixtures of different approaches. Source of diagram: here (see public domain declaration at top). Questions: write me at my Wikipedia talk page or email me at thomaswrightsulcer@yahoo.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stockholm University
May 5–6, 2017

In recent years, psychologists, neuroscientists, economists, and other scientists have turned their attention to traditional philosophical themes of happiness, virtue, and the meaning of life. Perhaps not coincidentally, philosophers’ interest in these themes appears to have been rekindled. This two-day workshop aims to close the gap between empirical and philosophical approaches to questions of happiness, virtue, and the meaning of life, in the interest of encouraging the development of an empirically informed philosophy and a science with philosophical awareness.

Goals include to explore the degree to which the conclusions of philosophical reflection and systematic empirical study of issues of happines, virtue, and the meaning of life are converging (or not); what in general contemporary scientists can learn from philosophy, its history and methodology, and what contemporary philosophers stand to gain from engaging with the empirical literature; what in particular recent work has revealed about the nature of happiness (e.g., if it includes an account of the meaning of life) and virtue (e.g., whether it can be understood as a self-transcendent practical orientation); what the power and limitations of empirical methods are in addressing philosophical questions; and whether there remains a space for armchair philosophizing in addressing the topics.

The workshop is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy at Stockholm University in collaboration with the project “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life” <http://virtue.uchicago.edu&gt; which is made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.


Jennifer Frey (University of South Carolina) “Self-Love and Self-Transcendence” (Keynote)

Candace Vogler (University of Chicago) “Synderesis” (Keynote)

Anna Alexandrova (Cambridge University)  “Science and Individual Well-Being”

More here.

Daniel Dennett

Science of the Soul

As profile author Joshua Rothman stated of this public Bright:

In the course of forty years, and more than a dozen books, Dennett has endeavored to explain how a soulless world could have given rise to a soulful one. His special focus is the creation of the human mind. Into his own he has crammed nearly every related discipline: evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence.”

Letter from South America #4

Dear Bob,
Happy Easter. This week my brother and his family are visiting from Washington. It is so wonderful to be together.
But just yesterday my aunt Alicia died. She had COPD  (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). I feel so fortunate that I was able to share a week with her in her place by the ocean last January. I think it was the last week she was OK before she started having the crisis that ended yesterday. My first letter to you was about my feelings during that trip. I feel angry because smoking caused her to die so early (she was only 72). Damn addiction, damn cigarettes.
I had started writing to you about food last weekend and today I thought I needed to change my letter and talk about … I really don’t know. I’m sad. She was such a lively person. She loved a good life. She was social and loved art and good things. And food is a good thing. A good smell is a good thing. I want to keep breathing in the smell of our orange trees’ flowers at night. Aaaah! it’s magical. Why is a damn cigarette a thing that someone wants to inhale and savor? I don’t know. Being with my brother and his family now is helping with the pain. We have a good time together, especially when we sit at the table to enjoy a good meal. Food is such a magnet, the soul of the party, or simply… life. But I imagine that when my aunt would smoke a cigarette she enjoyed the moment too. Enjoying what we drink or eat is good but evidently we need to think about it. And as this is a time for families to get together around here in Latin America and therefore a time for eating and also for fasting for some people, I had been thinking about food as a way to live more fully, not the opposite.
I read the other day: I eat, therefore I am. It should obviously be I am, therefore I eat: it is about survival. But it is so much more, of course. And yet, not eating is a very important practice for some. This is a time of fasting for Christians. Fasting for penitence or for spiritual growth. What I understand is that refraining from basic desires like food and sex is supposed to show us the spiritual realm of our existence. We are body and spirit, but spirit is what truly matters. Fasting can be dangerous, though. I remember one day we went looking for my Turkish friend Tolga. We went to his room and knocked on the door. He took a while to answer; looked pale. He said hello and then fainted. He had been fasting for Ramadan and had been working in the hot Florida sun during the day. But fasting is prescribed by Islam, so he had to do it despite the hard work he had to do in the field. What can fasting do for a non-believer? I imagine that it can make a person stronger by gaining endurance, more joyful by showing the fragility of life, more disciplined and more modest. I think that Epicurus would be against it. He claimed that we should pursue positive pleasures, like fine food and friendship. I agree. But now that I am missing my aunt and I feel so sad because something that made her feel good made her die so young, I think that by not eating we could, first, learn about the damage we can cause our body with what we ingest, and second, make us see the urgency of living better lives.
However, I suggest that if eating is such a basic necessity, eating should bring us closer to our spirit, and I mean self-knowledge. We can pay attention to what we eat, how we eat it and how it makes us feel, think about where the food comes from, read about it, so many ways to learn and enjoy. We could learn to empathize with the struggle of the land, the animals and the people who are involved in the production of food served at the table. Here at our little farm we produce coffee, citrus fruits, vegetables, tropical fruits like mangoes, passion fruit, bananas, soursop (guanábana). We have chickens but no space for cows or pigs. It is truly great to be able to grow and care for what we eat. When I cook and serve the food we grow I feel so happy. It could be the simplest of dishes and I enjoy it to my heart. Seeing the process of growth and harvest makes me appreciate food very much.  Do you cook sometimes? I cook lunch everyday. Sometimes it gets boring because the same recipes are prepared over and over. So I try to be creative.
Seeing “Noma: My Perfect Storm” was inspiring. It is food for thought. It is not that it inspires people to become professional chefs like René Redzepi, but that it shows how amazing the human spirit of innovation is. And this is a spirit we all share, so it is possible for everyone. The thing is that we can have fun and honor life by doing art with food. Start with the cutting of vegetables. I am sure we can play and find fun ways to cut a carrot or green beans. I recently discovered how to French-cut green beans. The difference at the table was amazing! The green beans even seemed to taste better! Everyone was smiling. Kids should also be an inspiration. Most kids don’t like vegetables. It could be evolution and the need to feed on meat to get protein or simply that kids are taught to eat junk food and feel good about it.  It is a challenge. To make them like vegetables is a fun project and we have to get creative about flavor and presentation. A little bit of gastronomic education can help them (and all of us) to gain appreciation for food. My aunt loved good food and drink, but one thing is taste and the immediate pleasure you feel as you ingest, and another how you feel in the long term. We need to be careful and mindful. We’ve better love our lungs, our esophagus, our intestines, our colon, our stomach, our teeth, our mouth and listen for what they have to say.  


Review – Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939

Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939

. . .

Fourth, the best line of defense of a democracy must be at the first point of attack. Weimar parliamentary government had been supplanted by presidentially appointed chancellors ruling through the emergency decree powers of an antidemocratic president since 1930. In 1933 Hitler simply used this post-democratic stopgap system to install a totalitarian dictatorship with incredible speed and without serious opposition. If we can still effectively protect American democracy from dictatorship, then certainly one lesson from the study of the demise of Weimar and the ascent of Hitler is how important it is to do it early.

Read the review.