May 30 , 2006
Faculty lectures circle bases of study
BY eric rangus
From baseball in Atlanta to the poetic words of an award-winning writer, to the complicated mind of the American voter—these were the places explored by the trio of faculty lectures that took place during Emory Weekend 2006.
Geared to appeal to the mix of alumni, graduating students, parents, staff, faculty and administrators on campus for the five days of Emory Weekend 2006, the lectures covered a lot of bases—and not just at the first lecture, although that terminology is appropriate.
Dana White, Goodrich C. White Professor of Liberal Arts, led off the schedule with “Baseball: A Mirror of Modern Atlanta?” on Friday, May 12, in Candler Library. Following a screening of the 1991 documentary How We’ve Played the Game (an episode of the Emmy-nominated PBS series The Making of Modern Atlanta), which White co-wrote and co-hosted, he discussed the changes brought to Atlanta by the arrival of the Atlanta Braves from Milwaukee in 1966.
“The Braves’ ascendancy was one of the most important things here, in terms of civic pride,” said White, who co-teaches the popular undergraduate class, “Baseball and American Culture.”
“I think people were less excited about the Olympics in 1996 because the Braves had won the World Series in 1995,” he continued.
White discussed some of the urban renewal helped along by stadium construction—first with Fulton County Stadium in the 1960s, then with what became Turner Field in the 1990s. In a half-hour question-and-answer period, White touched on subjects ranging from race relations (such as how some black players on the Milwaukee Braves didn’t want to move south with the team) to why there are so many good books about baseball (the sport’s long history, White said, makes it an ideal candidate for not only academic research but also compelling fiction).
While White’s lecture was centered in Atlanta, Drew Westen, professor of psychology, discussed one of the most universal subjects around: politics. “The Political Brain: Reason, Emotion and American Politics” explored how the American electorate makes decisions regarding their leaders and how what they know isn’t necessarily as important as what they feel.
Westen discussed his research concerning how and why voters choose their candidates. The process includes not only fact-finding but also an individual’s belief system. Westen said that if he is aware of what a voter knows concerning facts about a candidate as well as that voter’s belief system, he can predict their vote with an 85 percent chance of success.
“But if we only know what they feel and ignore what they know, we can predict their voting pattern 84 percent of the time,” he said. “That’s telling us we have very passionate brains, and those passions have a lot of effect on our judgments.
“The vision of the mind as dispassionate is a long-held idea,” Westen continued. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t even think about something unless it means something to you.”
While some of the statistics about emotion painted an unruly picture of the political playing field, Westen said emotions are often very positive. “Although emotions disrupt reason, they are also the source of our grandest and most virtuous actions,” he said.
Passion of another sort was on display in the Dobbs Center’s faculty dining room at Emory Weekend’s final faculty lecture. A poetry reading by Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing Kevin Young immediately followed Westen’s lecture. Attendees included a camera crew that was taping footage for a profile of the award-winning Young to be broadcast on PBS later this year. Young joined the faculty last fall as professor and curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, and his reading included selections from each of his four collections of poetry.