Polymathic Pizza

I loved when people were given the space [in the Harman Academy] to imagine things, to think beyond the limits or normal academic thought, and use their knowledge to help imagine a better future or re-examine the present [and the past] through that lens. ~Liana Wertman, Harman Fellow 2016

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. ~Albert Einstein

Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality. ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I have respect for the past, but I'm a person of the moment. I'm here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I'm at, then I go forward to the next place. ~Maya Angelou

Scientists and philosophers suggest that memory informs who we are and helps us plan and navigate the future. Alice has her own thoughts on this: “It is no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” So very Heraclitus of her.

What is memory and how is imagination interconnected with, even reliant upon, our memories? How do we experience that in-between moment, the present that Maya Angelou speaks to?

What does science say about memory and imagination? It has determined them to be complex systems involving many brain regions and processes. Interestingly, both memory and imagination share the same space in the brain, whereas the mindful moment is believed to be animated elsewhere in our gray matter. Every experience we have alters the connections and memories within our brain’s vast neuronal networks. Memories are, in fact, reconstructed with every recollection. And memory is inextricably linked to our emotions, physical sensations, and the environment, which can be intangible, unpredictable, and, in Alice speak, whimsical. But how can something that feels tangible and real like a memory be connected to something not yet real, like an imagining? And are memories even real? According to the science, memories do connect our past, present, and future—remembering then is intimately linked with imagining with the moment in between. And it is in the moment that Maya Angelou says she finds her self.

This year’s Polymathic Pizza Series is devoted to discovering what makes us who we are in the context of memory, the moment, and imagination. Let’s join philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, historians, artists, linguists, technologists, and theologians who have pondered and wrestled with these puzzles for millennia.

All sessions held on Wednesdays, 5 p.m. to 6:30 unless otherwise noted.