Scholars Notebook  

SDIS Saturday Lecture Series  ~  September 21 at 1:30p.m.

At the opening meeting of SDIS’s 32nd year, Saturday, September 21, Professor Seth Lerer will examine the condition of the humanities. His topic is “From STEM to STEAM: Reflections on the Humanities in a Technological World.” As always, all meetings are free and  open to the public and will be in Room 111A of the Chancellor’s Complex on the UCSD campus at 1:30 p.m.  


A study released in June by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reveals that the number of college students majoring in the humanities is declining; the number of Bachelor’s degrees achieved in the humanities fell by half between 1966 and 2010. In early 2012 Harvard’s dean of arts and humanities, Diana Sorensen, created a faculty committee to address the role of the humanities at that university, regarding them as “an essential foundational element in American liberal arts education.” But cultural critic Lee Siegel, writing in the July 13, 2013, Wall Street Journal, asserts that great literature is best experienced in solitude rather than in the classroom.  Siegel believes that the academic curriculum “extinguishes the incandescence of literature.”

Not only literature, but philosophy, music, art history, film and religious studies, as well as the classics and history are all usually included under the humanities umbrella. Are they dwindling in importance?  Is it accurate to refer to the “plight” of the humanities?
Our September speaker is Dean of UCSD’s Division of Arts and Humanities and Distinguished Professor of Literature. His teaching and research interests include the history of scholarship; children’s literature; medieval and Renaissance studies; and comparative philology. Among the seven books Lerer has authored are Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern and Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History. In addition he has edited four essay collections and co-edited a special issue (January ’06) of PMLA, the Journal of the Modern Language Association on “The History of the Book and the Idea of Literature.”

Before coming to UCSD in 2009, Lerer was the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. His diverse background includes fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has received numerous awards for his writing.





In last month's From the President column, I highlighted a Wall Street Journal article by Lee Siegel titled Who Ruined the Humanities and expanded on the theme that humanities education concerns itself with deep and personal kinds of wisdom skills. Siegel raises good questions about what education in the humanities might aspire to provide. I cannot imagine anyone more qualified to offer reflections on the state of the humanities in today's technological world than the speaker at our forthcoming General Meeting, Professor Seth Lerer, Dean of UCSD's Division of Arts and Humanities. What follows is additional information about Professor Lerer and the topic of his talk.


Sam Gusman


Science Legacy of WWII Project 


The first book review meeting of the SDIS Science Legacy of WW II Project will be held on Tuesday, September 3, 2013, 2 pm at Vi of La Jolla Village* Cabrillo Room.  The book, Blackett’s War is by Stephen Budiansky, a science writer and historian. It will be reviewed by Admiral (ret.) Larry Burkhardt, a Vi resident, and Bill Laird, an SDIS member.  Following the review and discussion, there will be a re-enactment of a newspaper interview of Dr. Lyle Albright at age 80, a physics professor at Purdue University, in which he recounts how he was recruited by the Manhattan Project at age 23 having just graduated with a freshly minted chemistry physics degree.   Lew Albright, the nephew of Dr. Lyle Albright, and his wife Shirley Albright, will present the interview.


*Vi at La Jolla Village is located at 8515 Costa Verde Blvd, San Diego.  Valet parking is complementary.



Colloquy Cafe 
The Colloquy Café met on August 21 to discuss "personality."  Since perception of personality is entirely subjective, it can be difficult to come up with an overall definition.  In general, one's personality exists as the observable, outward behavior of an individual, which, of course, may not match their inner nature.  Further, most of us assume different personalities for practical reasons; e.g., a shy person applying for a job may try to be outgoing, engaged, or energetic; or someone meeting future in-laws may rein in some of their more boisterous attributes.  


Further, none of us knows the true personalities of the so-called "personalities" of TV, sports, or pop-culture.  We agreed that "personality" alone was a colorless word that needed a modifier such as sparkling, boring, dull, incandescent, lousy, etc. to convey any real meaning.  Although "personality" is similar to "character" or "persona", it's not the same.  Describing another's personality can be a value judgment, but we should remember that a personality can vary in response to surroundings or alcohol.  Also, we agreed that one's personality can change altogether.  Some see one's own perception of their personality as a part of their sense of self.  For more information, contact M.E. Stratthaus at


Culture I
The Culture One Study Group examines Nisbett's analysis of cultural differences between East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) and Westerners (Europeans and Americans), its manifestations, and research on these issues. The August meeting discussed Chapter 5, "The Bad Seed" or "The Other Boys Made Him Do It" in Nisbett's book, The Geography of Thought.This revealed East-West contrasts in interpreting social problems: Westerners emphasizing personal attributes; Easterners emphasizing societal situations. East-West differences between conceptions of 'The Self' were further considered by drawing upon research using fMRI findings and verbal reports. 

The next Culture One meeting, Wednesday, September 25th, will deal with Nisbett's Chapter 6, "Is the World Made Up of Nouns or Verbs", focusing on types of classifications, i.e: categorization versus family resemblances, the East-West distinction between emphasizing features versus functionality; and some attention given to developmental research on the relation between language and culture.

For further information about Culture One and its meetings, please contact Sue R. Rosner at 


Culture II

At its August meeting Culture Group II considered issues raised in Chapter 6 of Richard Nisbett's book The Geography of Thought. This chapter, entitled “Is the World Made Up of Nous and Verbs?” compares English with the Chinese language. It points out a number of differences which evoke the inference that "language probably plays a role, at least in helping to focus attention, but probably also in stabilizing the different orientations throughout life." The study group examined these differences in August and expects to revisit some of them at its next meeting on Friday, September 6. As time permits it will also proceed with study of the issues raised in Chapter 7. For further information or to learn about attending the meeting please contact Sam Gusman at



The Film Group 

The Film Group will meet Wednesday, September 4, at 10:00 a.m. at the home of Barbara Heckler to view the 2011 documentary Sing Your Song.  This timely documentary depicts the ground-breaking achievements of Harry Belafonte as one of the first black entertainers.  High-lighted are his contributions to the civil rights movement and to social justice projects in other parts of the world.  At 86, he is still trying to make the world a better place.  This film was shown at Sundance, Tribeca, and many other film festivals.  It is one of the DVDs (along with a study guide) available to churches, schools, and other institutions through Public Performance Rights (PPR). Contact Barbara at for information about attending. 



The Literature Group

The Literature Group will meet Monday, September 9, at the home of Janet Kunert, 10:30 a.m., to discuss Irwin Shaw’s novel The Young Lions. Written in 1948 with memories of WWII still fresh, Shaw depicts experiences of that war through three main characters.  The reader recognizes both how far away that era feels, yet how immediate our own recollections seem. Our discussions continue over brown-bag lunches. Contact Harry Boyle at for more information.  



Neuroscience Study Group 

The next meeting of the Neuroscience Study Group is scheduled for Monday,

September 30, 2013, 3 pm at Bea Rose's home.  The discussion will focus on

Chapter 13, “The Assortative Mating Theory” by Cambridge psychologist Simon 

Baron-Cohen, in  Mind edited by John Brockman.

Visitors are welcome but must call Bea Rose beforehand to ensure available space.