Philosophy Shorts

Tight schedules don’t have to mean sacrificed depth.  That’s why we developed Merlin Shorts — a series of shorter “hoot-worthy!” gatherings ranging from Philosophy Drive-Ins and Read-In’s, to our newest series in the bunch “How Did We Get Here?”  Ranging from 1 hour 15 minutes in length to 2 hours, each of our shorts offers you a chance to dive deep and explore ideas together…no matter how much time you have to spread your wings.

Winter 2023 Shorts

Connecting the ideas of today to yesterday

An examination of the evolution of ideas

How Did We Get Here?: Freedom

Date: Tuesday, April 11th
Time: 6:30pm-7:45pm
Facilitated By: Ed Glowienka
Location: 101 Reeder’s Alley (Conference Center)
Cost: Free ($5 suggested donation)
Other: Hot tea & snacks provided.  BYOB. 

In addition to the intrinsic worth — and pleasure — of exploring the twisted history of our ideas, there’s a lot of be gained by asking “How did we get here?”  Consider:

  • Uncovering missed opportunities.  Sometimes the “road not taken” is still open to us, as a path to take now, even if it’s overgrown with weeds from neglect.  A wide view of history can help us (re)discover the forgotten paths.
  • Finding the hidden premises and assumptions, that lurk unquestioned behind our habits of thought.  This can give rise both to a deeper understanding of where we are now, and to some interesting points of leverage, if we want to make deep and lasting changes.
  • Gaining a sense of perspective on ourselves, our culture, and our historical moment.  It’s a commonplace that traveling or interacting with folks from another class, culture, or background — whether abroad or right here with our neighbors — can deepen our understanding of ourselves and our own place in the world.  The same thing can be said of the past: The past is like a foreign country, which, when visited, can have many of the same benefits!

This new series will take us on a tour of some neglected and forgotten paths of intellectual history, asking “How Did We Get Here?” for important philosophical, scientific, and cultural concepts like dignity, free will, science, and the nation.

Bringing ideas to life through film.

A night of short films & philosophical discussion for all ages.

"Why Are We Here?" Series: Spring 2023

Date(s): Spring 2023 (Dates TBD)
Time: Doors @6:15pm/Film Shorts Start @6:30pm
Topic:  Meaning & the Nature of the Universe
Location: 101 Reeder’s Alley (Conference Center)
Cost: Free ($5 suggested donation)
Facilitated by: Thomas Baumeister, PhD
Other: Snacks provided.  BYOB.

In this four-part documentary Oxford physicist Ard Louis & film-maker David Malone meet scientists, philosophers and writers to discuss questions about meaning and the nature of the universe.  At each ‘Merlin Drive-In’ gathering in the series we’ll watch one episode, followed by a group discussion led by Thomas Baumeister, PhD.  Watch the introductory videos for each below.

Meaning-Seeking Beings

If our universe is made up of nothing but atoms and particles, is any search for real meaning a delusion?

The Reality of Ideas

Are the only truths those that can be proven by scientific experiment, or are there other truths, perhaps like those of mathematics, that are not part of the material universe?

The Animal Within

How do we decide what’s good and bad? Can science help us decide? 

The Moral Compass

Where do our moral values come from? In a world of atoms and molecules what authority can our moral ideas really have?  introduction.

Our take on written word and great conversation.

Exploring classic & contemporary ideas by reading together

Reading Together: Shop Class as Soulcraft

Dates: Feb. 16th & 23rd (2-week series)
Location: 101 Reeder’s Alley (Conference Center)
Time:  6pm-8pm
Cost: Free ($5 suggested donation)
Other: Hot Tea provided.

About the Book

A philosophical inquiry into the value of the trades and working with your hands.  Shop Class for Soulcraft is available at Montana Book Co. (Merlin Read-In group participants receive 10% — just let the front desk know when at checkout!).  You can also purchase the book online in digital or print format.  

About the Author

Matthew B. Crawford is a philosopher and mechanic. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and served as a postdoctoral fellow on its Committee on Social Thought. Currently a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.


There is a special kind of deep, focused learning that can only happen through close, careful engagement with the written word—and particularly, with the written words and arguments of thoughtful, rigorous thinkers.  To foster that engagement in a friendly, collaborative setting, we’re launching a new philosophy series, “Reading Together,”which will focus on close reading of philosophical books, both classic and contemporary.  Throughout the series, we’ll be interested both in the specific arguments that various philosophers make, and their implications for our lives, and also in developing the skills and habits of reading in a specifically philosophical way.  Here, this means that we’ll focus on:

  • Understanding the argument(s).  An argument is not simply in idea, a claim, or a belief.  It’s certainly not just what someone “feels.”  An argument is a sustained, interconnected chain of reasoning, which draws careful conclusions from axioms, principles, and evidence.  We’ll practice the skill of analyzing and responding to philosophical argument, in a rich and robust way.
  • Opening ourselves up to change and transformation.  As our author says in another book, the art of philosophical conversation is a “moral accomplishment, because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding.”  That is, it involves a genuine desire to be changed for the better by the encounter: to have our own mistakes, prejudices, and false beliefs held up for scrutiny so that we can come to a deeper, more robust understanding of the world as it really is, and then (re)structure our lives such that we respond more appropriately.  This is a hard thing to do, one that most of us will struggle with sometimes.  Nonetheless, by joining in this kind of philosophical reading and conversation, we’re committing to it as an ideal, and committing to helping each other to achieve it together, insofar as possible.

So in our reading, and our conversation together, we’ll work together, first to understand the author’s arguments on their own terms, as deeply and charitably as possible, and then to consider the implications of those arguments for our own lives.

For our first installment of the “Reading Together” series, we’ll look at Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (2009).  This book speaks to a variety of concerns raised by community members, in a text that is at once philosophically rigorous and readily accessible.  Learn more here!

Visit our Merlin Shorts Archive page to access resources & photos from previous gatherings.

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