Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a philosopher and a novelist, the author of ten books of both fiction and non-fiction. With her background in the sciences, particularly physics, her work pulls together the sciences, the humanities, and the arts. In 1995, she received a MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the “genius award,” and this year she became a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Values, which is tasked with helping the world make gains toward the common good, human dignity, and stewardship of the planet.
Her latest book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, demonstrates all of the features that make her work unique. The book has met with wide acclaim both in the popular press and from scholars, with The Washington Post writing, “She brings off this tour de force with madcap brilliance & commanding authority,” and the philosopher A. C. Grayling writing, “Like the Plato who figures largely here, Goldstein has both literary and philosophical gifts of the highest order: the combination is superb.”
In addition to the MacArthur Prize (popularly known as the “genius” prize), Rebecca Newberger Goldstein has been named the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association and Free-Thought Heroine by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, as well as receiving the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance of America. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Association of Learned Societies, the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University, Yale University’s Whitney Center of the Humanities, and the Santa Fe Institute. In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2015 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama at a ceremony at the White House.
“…the visit went extremely well. Dr. Goldstein was very personable and gracious, and she gave an excellent talk.” – Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D., Director: USF Humanities Institute – University of South Florida
The Mattering Map: How Our Longing to Matter Brings Out the Worst and the Best in Us.
Do you matter? Do any of us? Are we born into mattering, or is mattering something that has to be achieved, and if so how? Do some of us – the rich, the powerful, the talented, the virtuous—matter more than others? Or is mattering an attribute that, if it’s to be apportioned at all, must be apportioned equally among us?
There are no questions that concern us more than these issues of mattering. Several decades ago Dr. Goldstein introduced the notion of “the mattering map” to clarify some of these issues, and this notion has been adopted as a tool in both psychology and economics. But there is more still to learn from a theory of mattering. The will to matter lies at the core of all the normative systems we humans have produced, whether religious or secular, ideological or liberal, as well as animating the fierce animosity between these various systems, which can sometimes turn deadly. The striving to matter has produced great achievements but also great atrocities. How do we manage our irrepressible will to matter so that it inspires the best in us and suppresses the worst?
Losing My Religion
A person loses a lot in losing religion. She loses the sense that the cosmos cares about her. She loses the sense of certainty about deep existential and moral questions. She loses the solace of thinking there’s an afterlife. Sometimes she loses her community and even her family. What does she gain in return?
Dr. Goldstein, who has received the Humanist of the Year Award from the American Humanists Association and The Free-Thought Heroine Award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, as well as the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheists of America, lived most of her life as an Orthodox Jew. In this talk, partly philosophical, partly personal, she discusses what she left behind and what she’s found to take its place.
Frenemies: The Curious Relationship between the Sciences and the Humanities.
There’s been mounting bellicosity between the sciences and the humanities recently, sometimes swelling into threats of hostile takeovers. On the one hand there are those who urge us to treat science as just another culture, with no more claims on objective truth than any other. On the other hand, there are scientists arguing that there is no knowledge but scientific knowledge; science now stands ready to absorb all the humanities into itself, most especially with new advances in cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.
Dr. Goldstein began her life intending to be a physicist, got sidelined into philosophy of science, and has branched out into many other fields of philosophy, as well as writing a few bestselling novels. Her familiarity with the sciences, the humanities and the arts gives her a unique perspective on the question of what the sciences, the humanities, and the arts have to say to one another.