The BLS aims at the full integration of Palestine into the global learning community. It sponsors discourses on subjects of cultural, scientific, and societal importance by leading research experts and public intellectuals of varied heritage and viewpoint.
Wednesday September 14, 2022, 7 pm Palestine time
Prof. Salim Tamari (Birzeit University and Institute for Palestine Studies)
Title: Autobiographic Narratives of the Great War and the Creation of the New Middle East
Abstract: The Great War on the Eastern Front, looked at from the passage of one century, led to major transformations in the way in which the people of the region – from the Ottoman capital of Istanbul to the Arab provinces of the Empire – looked at themselves and at the world. What I propose to do is to see how the war and the fighting were reflected in the biographical trajectories of soldiers who fought in it and civilians who endured it, and how the war affected the transformation of their lives and the reshaping of their identity and affiliations during and after the war.
The war was so devastating that, according to contemporary accounts, it took a toll of one-sixth of the total population of greater Syria—one of the highest among all war fronts during that period. In this presentation, I will examine this great transformation through the lives of three civilians and three soldiers whose life trajectories marked the transition from Ottomanism to the new Middle East of Arab and Turkish nationalism. The writers include Khalil Sakakini, who kept a diary during the war in Jerusalem. His account is riveting in that it captured a vivid portrait for the desolation of the city in 1915 and 1916, the famine years. Muhammad Kurd Ali’s Damascene memoirs include his period as a publicist, some critics would say apologist, for the excesses of Jamal and Anwar (Enver) Pashas in Syria and Palestine. The most important fictional work to come out of the Great War in Arabic is The Life of Mifleh al Ghassani (1921) by the Palestinian writer and journalist, Najib Nassar, whose the novella is a thinly disguised autobiographical war memoir of the author, who spent 1916-1917 hiding from the Turkish gendarmes in the Bedouin encampments of the Jordan Valley.
Wednesday October 12, 2022, 7 pm Palestine time
Prof. Nancy Kanwisher (MIT)
Title: Functional Imaging of the Human Brain: A Window into the Architecture of the Mind
Abstract: The last 20 years of brain imaging research has revealed the functional organization of the human brain in glorious detail. This work has identified a set of regions of the cortex, each of which is specifically engaged in a particular mental task, like the recognition of faces and places, perceiving speech sounds, understanding the meaning of a sentence, and thinking about another person’s thoughts. Other brain regions play a more general role in intelligence, getting engaged when we perform nearly any difficult mental task at all. Each of these regions is present, in approximately the same location, in every normal person. I like to think of this initial rough sketch of the functional organization of the brain as a diagram of the major components of the human mind, a kind of picture of who we are as perceivers and thinkers. But at the same time this new map is just the barest beginning, revealing a vast landscape of unanswered questions. What other specialized regions exist in the cortex, and what are they specialized for? What exactly is computed and represented in each region? What are the structural connections of each region, and how does information flow among them? How do these regions arise in development, and how much of the organization of the brain is specified at birth? How did brain regions specialized for uniquely human mental abilities evolve? Perhaps most fundamentally, why, from a computational point of view, is the brain organized the way it is, with this combination of highly specialized brain regions, along with very general-purpose systems? These open questions are much harder to answer, but I will mention a few tantalizing glimmers that are beginning to emerge from labs around the world.