The Ben Franklin Dinners


In 1727, Benjamin Franklin organized a dinner club which provided a weekly forum to discuss questions of a philosophic, ethical, and practical nature. For thirty years, he kept his “Junto” alive, revealing his belief that a hearty helping of discussion and debate were necessary ingredients of a life well-lived.

In this spirit, for years I hosted quarterly dinners that brought together leading lights in art, science, and commerce for an evening of fine food, wine, and conversation. Partial list of past events can be found below. Since 2005, private monthly dinners have been held at selected restaurants in New York.

“…in the autumn of the preceding year, I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintances into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.” – Autobiography of Ben Franklin

Dinner #13 – May 22nd, 2005: Introduction to the Brights. Paul Geisert talks about the organization he founded and its fight to protect the separation of Church and State and to defend the rights of those with a naturalistic worldview.

Dinner #12 – April 16th, 2004: The Hydrogen Hoax.Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, energy correspondent for theEconomist, spoke on his recent book, Power to the People: How the Coming Energy Revolution Will Transform an Industry, Change Our Lives, and Maybe Even Save the Planet.

Dinner #11 – March 26, 2004: Howard Bloom. Author and autodidact Harold Bloom discussed why science must “grope the cosmos and floodlight the soul with poetry, art, TV, film, and even with religion.”

Dinner #10 – Nov 21st, 2003: The Birth of the Mind.Gary Marcus synthesizes genetic research with his own findings on child development, and is the first to resolve the apparent nature/nurture contradiction as he chronicles exactly how genes create the infinite complexities of the human mind.

Dinner #9 – Nov 23rd, 2002: Flight From Death. Patrick Shen and Greg Bennick discuss their documentary, Flight from Death, a feature exploring the innate human desire to overcome death through cultural, spiritual and psychological means. The piece draws from the work of the late cultural anthropologist, social theorist and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Dr. Ernest Becker.

Dinner #8 – April 21st, 2002: Evolutionary Cosmology.Professor Lee Smolin is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists working on the unification of quantum theory with general relativity, a so-called “Theory of Everything.” He works at the Perimeter Institute, a center for research on quantum gravity.

Dinner #7 – March 10th, 2001. The Decline of Males.Lionel Tiger, the Charles Darwin Chair of Anthropology at Rutgers University, is a pioneer of sociobiology, applying Darwinian theory to political structures, sociosexual roles, aggression, social uses of food, and industrial society.

Dinner #6 – June 23rd, 2001. Living Among the Hadzabe. Photographer, painter, travel writer and landscape builder James Stephenson spoke of his adventures among the Hadzabe of Africa. More.

Dinner #5 – June 10th, 2001: The Psychoanalytic Resistance to Death. Professor Jerry Piven discussed his latest research into the impact of the concept of death on psyche.

Dinner #4 – Jan 16th, 2000: Grave Matters: On the Role of Death in Life. Professor Sheldon Solomon has been conducting research that reveals an empirical basis for the theories of Ernest Becker. At this event, he discussed the ways in which the fear of death motivates human behavior and abets human evil.

Dinner #3 – May 30th, 1999: Becoming a Space-Faring Species: Nasa scientist Marc Cohen is one of NASA’s leading aerospace engineers, and he designs and builds habitable environments for Mars missions, and ultimately, interstellar travel.

Dinner #2 – January 27th, 1999: Neural Networks and the Human Mind, hosted by Ze Ayala.

Dinner #1 – Fall, 1998: The Large Scale Structure of the Universe, hosted by Ari Buchalter.

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