The idea of the Last Lecture Series is that each speaker delivers what they would want their very last lecture to be.
Photo by David Baldwin.
As part of Mortar Board’s “Last Lecture Series,” the
lecture “The Receptive Brings About Sublime Success” was presented by Assistant
Professor of History Brigid Vance in Thomas Steitz Hall of Science on
Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 4:30 p.m.
The “Last Lecture Series” is sponsored by Mortar Board,
the honor society for seniors at Lawrence University. Each professor gave a
lecture on what they would want the last lecture of their career to be and is
meant to be part academic, part inspirational, according Mortar Board President
Senior Celine Stichert.
Vance started her lecture by saying that she was not
entirely sure what she should talk about, so she used divination to help guide
her. Using the ancient Chinese divination text “Book of Changes,” she asked how
to move forward and got an answer that she decided should be the theme of her
lecture. Receptiveness was how she was told to move, so she decided that was
the message she wanted to share.
What receptiveness meant to Vance was that she and the rest
of the Lawrence population should make room for both the intellectual and the
heart. After introducing this as the theme for her lecture, she went on to
describe the history of the “Book of Changes” and how it is used.
The “Book of Changes,” according to Vance, has been
described in many different ways. The list of what it is that Vance described
ranges from a sacred scripture, a book of philosophy and a divination manual to
an early scientific treatise, a historical work and an ancient dictionary.
Vance described reading and interpreting the “Book of
Changes” as like playing chess. There are many ways to interpret what it says,
and there have also been many people who have written about it or
interpretations of what it says, so depending on what information or version
you look at, you might come to differing conclusions on what it is.
In China during the eighth century BCE, the basic text
for the “Book of Changes” started being written and then took roughly one
thousand years to complete. The book contains information about the way changes
happen in nature, which then are meant to inform the person reading it about
the answer to their question.
Hexagrams containing different combinations of yin and
yang symbols contain the information in the book. One process of using the book
to investigate a question, according to Vance, is by doing a coin toss. In this
method, the person trying to use the “Book of Changes” for divination would
assign different values to heads and tails, with heads being assigned three and
tails being assigned two.
Then the coin would be tossed three times and the total
of those numbers would indicate the type of yin and yang for one section of the
hexagram, then you would do this over for a total of six times in order to
complete the hexagram. There are other ways of divining from the “Book of
Changes,” according to Vance, who said that it is really about what works for
Vance described the process of interpreting the hexagram
which she had gotten when she asked how to move forward in terms of both her
own life and for the general Lawrence population. The hexagram Vance got for
her question was “Earth: The Receptive,” which she took to mean that sometimes
we need to let go of rationalism and embrace humility.
While being receptive to the changes that life brings, Vance
also said that we have an active role in our own fates. Studying the “Book of
Changes” is something Vance finds important because it can teach people to
accept the doubts they have in life by focusing on the changes around us.