Spring Assembly Series schedule explores all kinds of discoveries

Complementing the mission of the university, presenters add their voices to campus discussions

Whether it’s the discovery of an entire village buried near Stonehenge, or that a brain being attacked by a rare virus makes a person act psychotic, or that speaking up for a just cause is never easy but always right, or discovering the real meaning embedded in statistics, each Assembly Series program brings a new way of seeing the world.

The spring series begins Thursday, Jan. 31, with the prominent young American playwright Sarah Ruhl, who wrote “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” and concludes April 17 with a presentation by General Motors’ vice president of global human resources, Cynthia Brinkley.

Assembly Series events are free and open to the public, although some may be limited to the public.

For updated scheduling information (especially during winter months) visit assemblyseries.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-4620.

Jan. 31: SARAH RUHLEditor’s Note: Sarah Ruhl lecture has been postponed.
“Micro-essays on the Theatre”
Noon, Women’s Building Lounge

For information regarding the Sarah Ruhl event, click here.

“Europeans in Polynesia/Polynesians in Europe: Discovering Eros in the
South Pacific”
Noon, Women’s Building Lounge

Throughout his long teaching, writing and research career, Anthony Pagden has studied the arc of European history, the elements that make up a European identity, and what results when this identity slams up against native cultures, as it often did throughout the centuries of European exploration, conquest and colonization.

In such important contributions as Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France 1500-1800; European Encounters With the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism; and The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union; the prolific historian and political scientist sheds light on how centuries of European encounters shaped notions of the clash of civilizations.

Pagden will deliver a second public lecture, “Three Modes of Modernity: Patriotism, Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism,” at noon Thursday, Feb. 7, in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge.

“The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t”
6 p.m. Graham Chapel (overflow site to be announced)

As the past presidential election can attest, forecasting isn’t easy. It helps to be a brilliant statistician and know to avoid the Big Three No-No’s: bias, conventional wisdom and overconfidence. But the real key to accurate predictions, according to Nate Silver, is the ability to separate the “signal” (relevant information) from the “noise” (data).

His extraordinary ability to translate numbers into real outcomes – time after time – has made the author and blogger a champion of everyone who applauds intellect over opinion.

In his New York Times blog, FiveThirtyEight, and his new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why Many Predictions Fail but Some Don’t, Silver applies his methods not only to politics (and famously, baseball) but to many other subjects as well.

Public seating may be limited for the Silver program. Check the website for updates.

“Making Our Voices Heard: Women’s Rights Today”
7:30 p.m., Simon Hall, May Auditorium

Last year, during the heated debate regarding employer insurance coverage for birth control, Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke spoke out in favor of mandatory coverage and unwittingly stepped into the crossfire of those on opposite sides of the mandate debate. The most vocal opposition was led by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who called her a “slut” and claimed she wanted taxpayers to “pay for her to have sex.”

Since then, Fluke gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention, earned a law degree, and continues to work for women’s rights and larger social justice issues such as sex trafficking and domestic abuse.

“Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness”
5 p.m., Simon Hall, May Auditorium

Susannah Cahalan’s harrowing medical trauma sounds like something straight out of the TV medical series “House.” A healthy young woman is sitting calmly at home when suddenly her arms whip straight out and stiffen like a mummy’s, her eyes roll back, and foam spurts out of her mouth.

For the next month, Cahalan, a 2007 WUSTL graduate and New York Post reporter, would experience not only seizures, but also strange, terrifying hallucinations and paranoid fixations — symptoms that led to the conclusion that she was psychotic.

Fortunately for Cahalan, a real “Dr. House” solved the medical mystery. The long road back to recovery is another fascinating aspect of the story, recounted in her book Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.

After a reading, Cahalan will be joined by Washington University faculty for a discussion of her malady and ensuing experience. They are: Leonard Green, PhD, professor of psychology, and Rebecca Lester, PhD, professor of anthropology, both in Arts & Sciences; and Eugene Rubin, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine.

“The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves”
2 p.m., Graham Chapel

Despite our best intentions, why do we fail to act in our own best interests? Why do we eat that chocolate cake? Overvalue what we have a vested interest in? Puff up our resume? Lie, cheat and steal?

According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, there are unseen forces at work that are constantly influencing human behavior.

Through his best-selling books, beginning with Predictably Irrational, and his popular presentations on the TED website, Ariely is dedicated to helping us live more sensible — if not rational — lives. His interests span a wide range of behaviors and his results often fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

“Stonehenge: New Discoveries”
Time and place: TBA

Stonehenge, located in southwestern England, is one of the world’s best known and most enigmatic monuments. Theories regarding its purpose abound and its creation has been attributed to lost civilizations, ancient druids, prehistoric astronomers, ancient Eygptians, and even extra-terrestrials.

Attempting to unlock the secrets of the massive stone circle, a major investigation was launched in 2003, led by the renowned British archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson. Called the Stonehenge Riverside Project, the six-year initiative expanded the physical area of research and yielded many exciting discoveries: a large settlement, a new stone circle known as “Bluestonehenge,” and the remains of people buried at Stonehenge.

The discoveries were so significant that the project received three major archaeological awards and Parker Pearson was named “Archaeologist of the Year” in 2010.

“The Future of Cities”
6:30 p.m., Graham Chapel

As he recounts in his TED talk, “Seventeen Architectural Words of Inspiration,” visionary architect Daniel Libeskind sees architecture as a story of a struggle against improbabilities, and notes that, “Architecture is not based on concrete and steel and the elements of the soil. It’s based on wonder.”

That wonder is apparent in much of his work, such as the Jewish Museum Berlin, one of the most visited museums in Europe. Libeskind’s extensive portfolio reads like a trip around the world: the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin, Ireland; the Imperial War Museum North in Greater Manchester, England; the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada; the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Wohl Centre at the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel.

“Christians in the Roman Arena”
4 p.m., Steinberg Hall Auditorium

Imagine the delight of Kathleen Coleman, Harvard Latin scholar and expert in gladiatorial combat, when asked to serve as chief academic consultant for Ridley Scott’s 2000 Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster, “Gladiator.” The delight, however, soon turned sour when she discovered that her work had little impact on the finished product — so little, in fact, that she asked to be listed in the credits without any mention of her function.”

“Gladiator” fans will be able to get the real story, complete with fascinating details, when Coleman delivers the annual Biggs Lecture in the Classics. Her presentation will examine the culture of arena spectacles, as well as Roman penal theory and practice, to set Christian martyrdom in the context of its times and take into consideration the expectations and attitudes of Roman authorities and audiences.

11 a.m., Graham Chapel

With a management career spanning 25 years, Cynthia Brinkley is the epitome of the strong corporate leader. At AT&T, she held several leadership positions within the company, including president of AT&T Missouri and of AT&T Arkansas. When she left that firm in 2011 for the American auto manufacturing giant, General Motors (GM), she was senior vice president for talent development and chief diversity officer.

That background prepared her to take on her current role as GM’s vice president for global human resources. In this capacity, Brinkley oversees more than 200,000 employees.

In addition, Brinkley offers her time and expertise to educational organizations such as the National Oasis Institute, and, closer to home, as a member of Washington University’s Board of Trustees.