The fictional world of Galt’s Gulch has always been a magical place for me: A land of enchantment, but one in which the only magic necessary is a commitment to objectivity. Never did I expect to find such a place on earth.
Since reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged a decade ago, I have revisited the secret valley each year, reliving with Dagny her poignant moments of discovery. I have a vivid mental picture of Richard Halley playing his vibrant concertos, and John Galt igniting the minds of his students with scientific lectures.
Imagine my astonishment when I saw the valley unfold in front of my eyes, where all was right with the world and heroic people stood before me in three-dimensional splendor. The location: Vancouver, British Columbia. The event: The Objectivist Center’s Summer Seminar.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up. Since it was a philosophy conference, I anticipated a subdued environment — one where everyone would be so cerebrally engaged in the minutiae of philosophy that fun would fall to the wayside. As a creative person, I was concerned I might be too “frivolous” for such a crowd.
When I perused the conference program, however, I was delighted to see that aesthetic studies were a significant component of the schedule. As I looked through the list of lectures, two words echoed in my head: mind candy.
Arriving at the seminar, I was struck by the sense of benevolence in the air. Ideas were encouraged and openly shared for examination, whether in epistemology, art, bioethics, or music. The “common room” hummed with activity through the wee hours of the morning.
I would never have expected to find myself discussing the philosophical roots of post-modernism with a Mike’s Hard Lemonade in my hand. But there I was.
The seminar was held at the University of British Columbia campus, which is aesthetically the most beautiful I have ever visited. The landscape was sublime, and my afternoon breaks were spent gazing at the mountains, the water, and the koi swimming in the campus’ secluded Japanese garden. With such compelling distractions, I don’t know how UBC students can get any work done.
The lectures only increased my sense of being in another world. My senses came to life as I listened to Michael Newberry’s presentation on Innovation in Art. My mind focused and engaged as Shawn Klein reviewed Basics of Objectivism in clear, succinct terms. That he could keep me awake and attentive in a philosophy class at 8:30 in the morning (on the days I actually got up in time) is a credit to his teaching ability and charm.
Tears welled in my eyes during Lindsay Perigo’s lecture on The Elixir of Youth. He played the recording of an aged soprano, triumphantly singing the Star-Spangled Banner with an Italian accent, but with the pride of a young American. The tears coursed down my cheeks as Perigo ended with my favorite Rand quote: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark....”
My spirit found renewal in Robert Bidinotto’s Guerilla Activism workshop, where we learned how to better craft our words and mentally arm ourselves against the irrationality loose in the world. My triceps ached as Francisco Villalobos used me as a guinea pig in his fitness workshop, Look Better Naked. (No, I did not have to demonstrate his premise. But this seminar was certainly an exercise in full mind-body engagement.)
Though the atmosphere was cerebrally-charged, fun permeated every aspect of our activities, from the philosophical debates to the parlor games. I have never schemed and plotted as I did with my team in order to — of all things — come up with a list of movie titles for a game of charades. (Note: Never play this game with intellectuals if you can’t act out El Cid or The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Or if director Duncan Scott is not on your team.)
I also found fellow gourmands to join me for a magnificent dinner at Lumière, one of Vancouver’s finest restaurants. As scientists, philosophers, artists, and business executives, we came together in a spirit of sensory celebration — a veritable tribute to our sense of life.
Most importantly, as a result of my week in the real-life Galt’s Gulch, I have made friends for a lifetime. They are heroic individuals whose companionship enriches my soul, and whose existence is an affirmation that the world we want does exist — that it is real, it is possible, it’s ours.
Jennifer Iannolo is an editor and columnist for the Atlasphere. When not chained to her laptop complying with the Editor-in-Chief’s endless demands, Jennifer also finds time to be an entrepreneur and passionate gastronome. Further articles and culinary ruminations can be found on her web site, Gastronomic Meditations.