By Rory Gilchrist
Every Friday (and some Wednesdays), the College invites lecturers to present in the Great Hall, usually on a topic that is closely related to some aspect of the Program. It’s an interesting mix of academics from other colleges, and tutors from here at St. John’s. You hear the joke that Friday-night-lectures are the only times you’ll hear your tutors tell you what they actually think, if during seminar and tutorials they merely probe, or qualify their statements.
But seeing visiting lecturers are always a lot of fun. I remember one especially, last semester, entitled: Zeno, the ur-Gedankenexperimentalist that was about Zeno’s Paradox and the origin of thought experiments. The professor, a math professor from a small, East-coast liberal arts college, gave a really engaging description of the pure conundrum Zeno’s seemingly simple questions created and the devilishly tough time mathematicians had for centuries after trying to rectify theory with actuality. He never shyed away from the math, but always took the time to use an apt analogy for the slower people like myself in the audience. There’s also been lectures on Aristotle and the US Constitution, something about the Categorical Imperative of Kant and thing-in-itself that went right over my head, and a really cool panel discussion of SJC tutors entitled Beyond Reductionism: Biology as a Liberal Art.
As well as lectures, oftentimes there are concerts. Most recently there was a concert of 17th Century English folk-music and poetry, with these things called violas da gamba(kind of like cellos). It was kind of strange, and I don’t think I would have gone unless urged by my friends.
That’s the other thing. It’s one of the few parts of the Program that’s totally optional, and yet most of the faces in the audience are not faculty, but students. Students love going to lectures. Maybe it’ll go way over your head, but there’s still a wonderful glow to listening to such knowledgeble people speak at length about a topic they are clearly passionate it. Sometimes they’re familiar, sometimes they’re abstruse, rarely are they boring.