Bradley Observatory Open House Lecture

Questions We Can Neither Ignore nor Answer
with professor Hal Thorsrud  

February 12
8 p.m.
Bradley Observatory & Delafield Planetarium Bradley Auditorium Room 101

That we understand as much as we do about the universe is itself a cause of wonder. From an evolutionary standpoint there is no obvious survival advantage in knowing that hydrogen hums at 1420 MHz or that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.

One easy explanation is that human curiosity was born of the practical necessities of survival. The story goes that our ancestors were those who were curious enough about their environment to find new sources of food, but not so curious as to become food themselves. Eventually, through the hard work and sacrifice of many generations, we no longer needed to spend all of our time trying to survive. In our newfound leisure some of us directed this originally essential curiosity towards more philosophical puzzles.

Science eventually grew out of philosophical wonder, and has been steadily advancing our knowledge of the physical world. But many of the original, philosophical questions remain. Despite having produced a lot of answers, we philosophers have reached no consensus. So we keep asking. In some sense, we are unable to ignore these questions. And in some sense, we are unable to answer these questions. How should we understand this strange human predicament?

Philosophers have also reported a variety of responses. When we are in the grips of a question we can neither ignore nor answer, what should we do and how should we feel? I will describe a particular emotional response to such uncertainty and argue that it is more admirable and beneficial than some alternatives.


Hal ThorsrudHal Thorsrud is the Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department, and Co-director of Environmental and Sustainability Studies at Agnes Scott College. He received his B.A. in mathematics and philosophy from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1989, and completed his Ph.D at the University of Texas at Austin in the Joint Program in Ancient Philosophy and Classics in 1999. He has been at Agnes Scott College since 2006.

His most recent publications include an essay on the great academic skeptic Carneades (in Skepticism: from Antiquity to the Present, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, forthcoming in 2016), and “Aristotle’s Dichotomous Anthropology: What is Most Human in the Nicomachean Ethics?” Apeiron 48.3 (2015): 346-67. Among his other publications, he has contributed essays to Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series: "Humans smile with so little provocation," [a discussion of Stoic and Aristotelian views of emotion] in Star Trek and Philosophy, (2008); and "Voldemort's Agents, Malfoy's Cronies, and Hagrid's Chums: Friendship in Harry Potter," in Harry Potter and Philosophy, (2004).