1780 – The Official Blog of Transylvania University

1780 | The Official Blog of Transylvania University

Lifelong learning class exploring wondrous animal senses ahead of tonight’s Kenan Lecture

people in a class

Lifelong learners know there are still plenty of things left in this world they don’t know about — things that are absolutely dazzling.

Those in Transylvania professor emeritus Jack Furlong’s current discussion group are surely being dazzled by what they’re finding out about the sensory realms of animals.

Furlong has brought his University of Kentucky Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course — Conscious Creatures Everywhere? Reading “An Immense World” — to Transy’s campus. They’re discussing a book written by tonight’s Kenan speaker, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Ed Yong (get free tickets and watch live).

The group, which meets Wednesdays through next month in the Carpenter Academic Center, has 25 members including co-facilitator and professor emeritus Meg Upchurch, several other faculty and a few Transylvania graduates.

Furlong, who retired after teaching philosophy at Transy for 28 years, is enthusiastic about sharing the sense of amazement both he and Yong have found in animal perception outside the scope of human experience.

He cites an example from “An Immense World” (many others abound): “If a dolphin echolocates on you, it will perceive your lungs and your skeleton,” Yong writes. “They can see things that you and I would never consider unless we had an X-ray machine or an MRI scanner.”

“An Immense World” provides the kind of astonishment lifelong learners are after. “Nobody would pick up this book unless they were curious,” Furlong said. “It sparks a sense of wonder.”

This OLLI course for ages 50+ is a reminder that the value of education after graduation is embedded in the DNA of Transylvania and the liberal arts in general. “We can model for Transy’s students the fact that shared intellectual curiosity can be enjoyed lifelong,” Furlong said. “Alternatively, being in the Transylvania environment, we may recall key aspirations of our youth that have survived as part of our identity.”

Furlong said he’d like current Pioneers to be inspired by discussion groups like this and then go on to be lifelong learners themselves.

As for this particular class, he’d actually picked out the book as the topic before Yong was chosen as the Kenan Lecturer — so being able to tie that in was quite a bonus.

Friday morning after the lecture, Furlong’s daughter Ellen will join the author on stage from 9:30-10:20 a.m. in Carrick Theater for an informal follow-up talk open to the public.

Yong’s “An Immense World” earned a spot on the New York Times’ 10 Best Books list and ties into Transylvania’s 2023-24 Creative Intelligence theme of Skeptical Odysseys.

Going beyond what we once thought was the only truth, thinking critically and not being afraid to ask the big questions are all liberal arts values.

Furlong said: “Socrates’ famous line captures what I believe links UK’S OLLI and Transylvania, as well as our own younger and elder selves: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living for human beings.’”

Jack Furlong joined his daughter Ellen’s May term course “What does Fido know?”