For a couple years I regularly organized events called salons.

During the French Enlightenment, salons brought together scientists, artists, and philosophers to discuss the ideas they were pursuing. When my Athena teammates Juan, Ali, and I moved into a house together, we began a tradition of Athena Salons - each week, a few dozen guests would join us for wine, food, meeting people, and occasional bouts of fencing, and in the middle of the evening four to six guests would give short talks on any topic they wished. Athena's goal was to share understanding, and salons were a natural fit.

When I returned to Harvard, I began a similar tradition. Harvard's culture tends to regard being casual as the inverse of learning and thinking, and students often mourn the community's disinclination from informal intellectual discourse. Salons became my foremost attempt to set the opposite trend.

Harvard salons came every three weeks. Talks covered everything from mole rat eusociality to the heroic scramble that passed FDR's G.I. Bill to Hilbert's "Infinity Hotel" thought experiment. We had live painting, sing-along accordioning, and a theatrical performances. Speakers taught us how to tie knots and even how to make ourselves cry.

Many friendships and at least a couple relationships began at salons. We came to see our peers as our teachers and our teachers as our peers. I don't know if we impacted the broader Harvard undergraduate culture, but we definitely made the Harvard we lived closer to the image we dreamed of.

I held 15 salons at Harvard across three semesters and a summer; in total, 101 distinct people came, and many came often.

My friend Rafael Cosman began his own flavor of salons at Stanford. He did a marvelous job pulling in additional organizers, and from Stanford they have spread to dozens of other locations.

Here is a list of salon talks.