Madison Thinkerspace Now Open

June 4, 2013


Step inside, have a cup of tea, browse the library. A unique room has opened up on the capitol square – Madison’s own thinkerspace. It’s an idea I have wanted to create and share with people for a long time, and the generosity of the folks at 100State Coworking have helped me make it real.

The idea is to create a quiet place away from commercialism, away from competition. A place to relax with a curious old book, play chess, prove a theorem, write on the manual typewriter, or chat with people.

I think adults should feel free to enjoy things for their own sake rather than being absorbed by the usual middle-class diversions of career advancement or educational accreditation. Our constant striving for the means to far-off ends makes us often neglect our immediate ability to stop and contemplate interesting things. Education is seen as a childish predisposition that happens during predefined times and for measured credit. Tocqueville noted about the US in 1840,

What chiefly diverts the men of democracies from lofty ambition is not the scantiness of their fortunes, but the vehemence of the exertions they daily make to improve them…A man who raises himself by degrees to wealth and power contracts, in the course of this protracted labor, habits of prudence and restraint which he cannot afterwards shake off. A man cannot gradually enlarge his mind as he does his house.

Fourteen years later Thoreau lamented what he perceived as the vacuous industry of Americans, and warned us to protect our minds:

If we have thus desecrated ourselves, — as who has not? — the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind. We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.

So this thinkerspace is dedicated for you to do just that, even for a little while. Perhaps we can found more of these rooms in cities across the country, like the Carnegie libraries of old, and cultivate what dispassionate nobility of mind remains in modern life.