Stillwater News Press

September 19, 2010

Former Oklahoma State prof will talk about words and truth in first Neil Luebke Memorial Lecture

By Laura Wilson

STILLWATER, Okla. — How do a society’s words reflect its values and what it perceives as truth?

Ed Lawry, a retired Oklahoma State University philosophy professor, will discuss the words people use to talk about and understand truth and the humanities in the first Neil Luebke Memorial Lecture on Thursday. The lecture, part of the Osher Life-long Learning Institute, will be at 7 p.m. in First Christian Church.

“The Omniverbumbore’s Dilemma, or The Difficulties of Those Who Devour Words” is “really about the value of the humanities,” Lawry said.

Since the 17th century, he explained, Western society has been suspicious of the humanities — philosophy, literature, history — especially in comparison with science, which deals in facts and “gives true answers.”

“The problem is with our understanding of the idea of truth, what is true and false,” he said. “Scientists have been so successful that what that understand to be true and false has sort of taken over. ... If it’s true, it’s scientifically true. Otherwise, it’s not.”

The humanities, on the other hand, he said, has a “different kind of truth” that “turns out not to be as firm.”

The title of his talk is a play on the title of a book by Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which puts forth an idea that beings that can eat anything have trouble knowing if something is safe to eat before they eat it, Lawry said. An omniverbumvore, he added, is a “person who eats up all words.”

People’s words reflect their ways of understanding the world, Lawry said; he plans to discuss the possibility of having your own word tradition, but also understanding that someone else’s word tradition may be different and worth understanding.

“It’s possible to change your own by paying attention to other traditions,” but you have to take the time to do it properly, he said. “You have to open yourself up and give something to them and not simply taste as if you expect it to be awful.”

Lawry taught at OSU for 34 years and was a colleague of Neil Luebke, who retired from the OSU philosophy department in 1998 after 37 years. After Luebke’s death in 2009, OLLI received donations in his name, his wife, Phyllis, said. When OLLI representatives asked what she and their daughters would like to do with the money, they decided a memorial lecture that would be open to the public would be ideal.

“Neil was active in so many things at the university,” Phyllis Luebke said. “The last passion he had was for lifelong learning. He felt very strongly about continuing your learning.”

She and her daughters selected Lawry to be the first speaker, OLLI Director Ruthann Sirbaugh said.

“I thought it was a particularly good choice because Ed was very popular with students and faculty, a very intelligent man and gifted speaker and will undoubtedly attract both our OLLI members and students to the lecture,” she said.