SPRING HILL — A handful of local residents have answered a call by the Hernando County Public Library System to exercise their brains in a new endeavor, the Socrates Cafe.
"It's a group of people getting together with the help of a facilitator, applying the Socratic method to a question that troubles them," said library spokeswoman Mary Soto.
The groups that gathered recently at two branch libraries in Spring Hill ranged from techies to retired business owners; the facilitator was a 32-year veteran of teaching philosophy at the college level.
The group at the Spring Hill Branch/Harold G. Zopp Memorial Library on Spring Hill Drive spent two hours probing the evening's query: What is free will?
Retiree and avid reader Mickey Mantle responded to the question, saying, "We have the ability to make choices."
Younger jazz aficionado Peter Lamattina pointed out that external impediments and constraints often restrict those choices — the laws of democracy and one's own moral code, for example, he noted.
Said Gerald Mantle, a retired business owner and world traveler: "We might not go a route because it's not smart."
"So free will doesn't mean choice is unlimited," said facilitator Anthony Adams, the college professor and the learning services coordinator for the library system.
"We might not be able to decide something is as firm as two plus two equal four," he said, "but we can find a shared notion."
Finding such a notion led to a complex discussion about logical and physical impossibilities, mental disabilities, principles, liberty and license.
At which point nurse Gloria Riddell asked, "What is the definition of 'philosophy' again?"
Chuckles provided a breather.
From the Greek "love of wisdom," Adams reiterated. "It means asking a lot of questions."
The group was off again, questioning the meaning of wisdom.
Wrapping up, Adams tentatively proposed a consensus — "no such thing as free will."
"Let's shoot the guy who coined it," Riddell declared with a laugh.
The gathering did prove that brains can be exercised — and that people can enjoy the effort.
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.