A coffee shop that breathes

(Note: This article was fist published in Maria Isabel Garcia’s Thursday De Rerum Natura column of The Philippine Star, science & technology section, on 11 September 2008.)

It was standing room only and there was not even a celebrity involved. People walked in and took their seats, eagerly listened to the fascinating lady sitting on a bar stool in front who spoke about the psychology of passion. Is everyone born with passion? Could one inherit it? Is it contagious? And for those who are desperate — can you buy it?

The lady occupying the “seat of passion” was Dr. Emy Liwag, a cognitive psychologist of the Ateneo de Manila University. Yes, last Saturday, at 4 p.m., exactly the time the mania over the ADMU vs DLSU match was to start, some people decided to give time to other passions — the passion for excellent conversation. I know Dr. Liwag and she is one of the most passionate and enlightened human beings I know — a combination which is the kind that makes the world go round.

This was Café Scientifique, an attempt to hold public conversations (not lectures!) about a topic and what science has to say about it. Café Scientifique is a global movement to bring science to the people. It is a reminder for both the scientists and the lay that science is way of knowing available to EVERYONE. Last Saturday, you could see how hungry people were for civilized, meaningful public conversation, sans that constant desire to please in variety shows or the angry confrontations in talk shows. Mitzi Borromeo, the focal person for Café Scientifique here in the Philippines, moderated the conversation. I also know Mitzi and she is one passionate and consummate learner.

Café Scientifique is intentionally held in cafés or other similar casual places and not in academic settings to keep the speakers from giving long winding lectures but instead just give a 10-minute savory talk about the topic. After those few minutes, the affair becomes a lively conversation among peers who share a common interest to understand and NOT grandstand. And that was exactly what happened last Saturday. People who could no longer come in because there was no longer any space, and sat outside and contented themselves to listen to the speakers placed there.

“Can Passion be Brewed” was the title of that Café Scientifique last Saturday held in Kape Isla/Echostore in Serendra in Bonifacio Global City and there was free coffee and pan de sal with adobo flakes for those who were there but for a science writer like me, it was more than that — it was a scrumptious feast for the mind, a way to help shape perspectives to understand things a little bit more. We all simply wanted to learn more and what better way than learning it along with others equally interested and having a conversation about it.

So how can we get passion? Dr. Liwag assured us that if you are human, you are wired to have passions since you are wired for emotions. Now that really makes me suspicious of some people I know who seem to be devoid of any passion for anything. Are they aliens? She admits that she also knows such people but it is not because they are not wired for it but because those people just do not express it and the reasons why they do not vary. But that will probably be a topic for another Café Scientifique. Dr. Liwag further explained to us that that human beings are all wired for passion since we are emotional beings and passion is indeed an emotion. I learned from her, too, that my forebrain, which houses my cerebrum, thalamus, hypothalamus and limbic system, is the seat of my passions. She explained that yes, indeed, passion can be brewed because as an emotion, it can be primed. Parents can expose their children to their own passions and so those passions could become part of the personality of those children.

Questions were also raised about “negative” passions — those that are taken to the extreme that these people cause harm to themselves, others or to the world. Just like passionate suicide bombers. To this, our expert cognitive psychologist said, that just like any emotion, you can take it to that extreme that is why you always have to strike a balance between your passions and your discipline. I think this is the difference between passions that are mere expressions of a surge of emotions and passions that become your craft. A passion becomes a craft when you have forged a choice (whether of a person or job or place) with the fire of your emotions but tested it, too, with the other aspects of your humanity, particularly reason which will give you a good grounding with the awareness of your talents, limitations and the consequences of the pursuit of this passion. I think it is with that awareness and discipline that passion becomes more than an emotion but a craft — the smithing home for the masterpieces of your life.

But are there passions that are temporary and passions that are permanent? Dr. Liwag said that since passion is an emotion, it may not be there constantly throughout your life. Your passions could have seasons, too, because you are not only a walking heap of passions but you are a whole human being who has to make sense of his or her emotions throughout the episodes of your entire lifetime.

Everyone felt that the time we had was not enough. Mitzi said that when she made a remark through the microphone about how thrilling it was to have such a delightful and intelligent conversation among strangers, everyone so emphatically nodded together in agreement that it looked like the room breathed!

That was really it, an experience in a Café Scientifique made people now living in the age of online chatting, blogging, rise to the surface of and renew the art of conversation about a way of knowing that has reliably worked to move us forward — science. This Café Scientifique was supported by the Bonifacio Global City’s Passion Rush 2008, but the good news is Café Scientifique will be regular from now on, at least in Kape Isla in Serendra. Once in a while, you will see a café there that seem to nod like it just breathed out a sigh of satisfaction from the experience that humans, particularly Filipinos, have not yet completely abandoned the civilized art of public conversation. And science which is how nature works — within and around us — is a deep well from which to draw excellent conversation.


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