want to go to grad school?

When I asked my Professors (both as an undergrad and as a Masters student) for advice about graduate school I generally received one reaction and it usually had to do with the word “passion“. If I wasn’t passionate about philosophy, if I didn’t want to eat breakfast while reading philosophy, if I didn’t want to shower while reciting sound arguments, if I didn’t want to do battle over my favorite philosophy of language theory than I shouldn’t go to graduate school. The quip, “I live, eat and breathe philosophy”, was something I heard once. It left me with the impression that people who went to graduate school were people that wept at night because of the physiological impossibility of having sweet romantic intercourse with their books. What I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t find good advice and heard nothing less than people expressing how proud they were of their “passion.”

If there are people out there looking for some helpful advice there currently is a discussion at A Philosophy Job Market Blog that is helpful. Don’t forget to read the comments to these posts because there are people who disagree –

Advice points 1 and 2 can be found here.

Advice point 3 can be found here.

I don’t want to give people the impression that I don’t recite sound arguments while showering because not only do I recite, I sing.

politics and education

Before this week I had never purchased and read a book written by a politician. Without turning the front cover one can intuit that the politician, through this book, is trying to sell her/himself. I ignored this reasonable “intuition” and went ahead and started reading Barack Obama’s, The Audacity of Hope. Senator Obama is trying to sell himself with this book and trying to make the reader comfortable with his way of thinking about politics. Not that this is a bad thing but might as well call a duck a duck. Obama’s book is a duck… uuh, I mean – he wrote about himself so that you will like him and that is what politicians do. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in reading Senator Obama’s view of politics in the US but be prepared to not be shocked, offended or enlightened. That being said, I’m not writing a book review but am responding to his section on education in the chapter titled, “Opportunity.”

Senator Obama has a very sympathetic view towards education. He wants to lower tuition costs, to increase grants to students and research programs, and to increase teacher’s salaries (based on performance). I agree that these things should be done and that education should be more of a priority in our government’s spending. What struck me was why he thought spending should be increased and what he expected from this increase in spending. It boils down to a direct relationship between education and the economy. Increased government spending in learning is not so much an investment in the people as it is an investment in our economy. Nicely funded research programs stocked with well educated students will help keep the US competitive in the global economy. The more people we have entering engineering/physics/computer science programs the better chance innovative companies will be created – companies that will keep our economy afloat. Tax payers and politicians are meant to be soothed by the idea that money spent on education will have a high return.

Education = money. More education = more money. While reading this I was having flashbacks of reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. I had a bearded man in the back of my head telling me that in a capitalistic society every institution finds its value in its monetary productiveness, that every relation is a monetary relation and that education is valuable if and only if it has a high return. Areas of study that don’t have a direct translation to the marketplace are devalued. Obama isn’t concerned if we stay competitive in literature, philosophy or the study of history (etc.) because these areas of study have no monetary worth. He even suggests that high school teachers of math and science should be paid more because what they teach has (yet again, monetary) worth.

Not that this is particularly anything new. Anyone studying in the Humanities at a University in the US knows the feeling of having to pay an ever increasing tuition, seeing their department experience cuts and walking past brand new buildings dedicated to the sciences. It is also happening in Germany.

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To give Senator Obama some slack I highly doubt that any of the other candidates view education as something that deserves government spending because it is in itself valuable. I voted for the guy in my state’s primary and, if given the chance, will vote for him again. I am just incredibly turned off by this view of education and despair the future of our humanities.

comedic interlude

Sorry for disappearing for about a week. Working full-time and trying to keep up on my reading has made me sleepy and kept me away from the internet. I plan on doing some writing tomorrow (maybe even later tonight) but for the meantime I wanted to share a comic that I can currently relate to.

The comic is brought to you by PhD Comics:

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Reading philosophy papers and books requires a great deal of energy in itself. Reading philosophy papers and books in a foreign language is comatose-inducing. There have been plenty of times where I’ve sat down in our library with the fierce intent of attacking a text only to fall asleep, suddenly wake up and try to wipe away drool stains from an expensive book.

pictures… well, kind of

I did take my camera to work and I did take a couple of pictures during lunch break. The pictures don’t look that great because I was in a hurry to eat and rest. Sitting down to my sandwiches I was politely reminded that I was not to “publish” the pictures until we were completely done. The archeology company I work for is afraid that someone will take my pictures and write an academic article on them – as if they had done the work themselves. Is academic thievery really that rampant? Is it even possible to write a convincing archaeological project with only a couple of (bad) photos as a source? If someone is really keen on stealing archaeological data all they have to do is stop by – people on walks look at the dig and talk to us all the time. They could also try and get the film footage from the news team that visited our excavation and write their academic piece from those moving pictures. In a related area: I’m told to not even “blog” about my dissertation just in case there is a desperate philosophy graduate student who is so uninspired and so unimaginative that they would take my theme and call it their own. Bah!

In respecting the company’s wishes I’m posting only the “uninformative” pictures I took (“uninformative” also means “not very exciting and or boring”). I’ll post the other pictures (full size even) once we’re completely done and I will reveal to the world all those enticing dirt formations that we’re currently keeping hidden.

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The excavation is quite large – there is another long strip of holes and “stuff” around the corner to the right. The German winter isn’t the most comfortable environment to work in. Today I was shoveling in some blazing 29(ish) degree weather (Fahrenheit).

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My hair turned white during the morning hours. It wasn’t snowing but my sweat crystallized to make me look like an old man.  The small box looking thing at the end is our shelter/tool shed.  From the far end of the excavation it is a good 5 – 7 minute walk to get there.

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I’m afraid that is all that I can share without there being a threat of archaeological misconduct.  I do want to say that these holes (shown directly above) have completely gone through the “process” which includes: digging, cleaning, picture taking, drawing, coloring, describing and destroying.  These holes have been “destroyed” – we’re paid to make holes look pretty and then destroy them.  I just want to make sure there is no confusion since I take pride in our nice, beautiful holes in the ground.  Have I wasted your time?  Probably.  But hey – I promised pictures and I take promises seriously (think, “furled eyebrows”).

Camus and New York

Albert Camus once wrote a short essay titled, The Rains of New York, that was published in 1947. Those who know Camus and his work are aware of his ties to Algeria and his affinity to bare nature (and powerful, blinding suns). This affinity to nature was challenged in the demanding city of New York. He feels the skyscrapers as constricting walls and fears the never ending cement pathways. It takes the cry of a tugboat to remind him “that this desert of iron and cement was also an island.”

He feels completely out of his element in New York but feels somehow drawn to it. “New York affects me […] like a foreign body in the eye, delicious and unbearable, evoking tears of emotion and all consuming fury. Perhaps this is what people call passion.”

New York is nothing without its sky. The buildings are impenetrable walls and the streets are an impenetrable floor – it is the sky that gives New York its beauty. Camus takes delight in the early mornings and early evenings when the colors of the sky strike the “gigantic tombstones,” the “square prisons” – the skyscrapers. He does, however, fear New York rain. “New York rain is a rain of exile” because it removes the sky from New York. The searching rain drops drive the pedestrian back into their gigantic tombstone.

“I loved New York, with that powerful love that sometimes leaves you full of uncertainties and hatred: sometimes one needs exile.”

Growing up in a small town in the coastal mountains of California I can relate to Camus’ reaction. I’ve never been to New York but after I left my forest encrusted town and moved to the land of suburbia I found myself asking, “how does one get dirty here?” And here in Heidelberg I miss the ocean – I can only look at the river with disdain and disappointment. Sometimes one needs exile.

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messing with Berkeley

Welcome to the fourth installment of “Messing with Philosophers.” Berkeley is the victim and I’m messing with his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. I think the arguments in these dialogues are more interesting when “God” is left out. An idea of God is not necessary for the arguments to work but is awkwardly used so that Berkeley can get the conclusion he wants. The conclusion I want doesn’t toss in God. This is actually something that interests me so I’ll probably stay closer to the text… sorry for the length.

You hear of an Irishman living down the street who supposedly holds the extravagant opinion that there is no material substance in the world. You hear that this man was once a famous philosopher and theologian until he lost his belief in God – he has since moved away from academics. Intrigued, you seek this man out.

You knock once on his door and the Irishman opens it immediately. He stands there with a torch in hand and brings it in proximity to your arm. You feel the heat and notice that a couple arm hairs have disappeared. “You’ve burned me!” “Come in, sit down.” He throws the torch in the fireplace and reflects on how clever he is for always waiting behind the door, ready to burn people. “Did it hurt?” “Yes of course it hurt, it is hot.” “Can you imagine perceiving that heat without a certain degree of pain?” “No.” “That heat existed but only because you perceived it, heat isn’t a quality of the fire.”

You start to introduce yourself, “my name is…” but he cuts you off by offering you tea. You accept and he brings a mug over that appears to be empty. While you are distracted by the empty mug he pokes you with a pin – a tiny drop of blood rolls down your arm. “Did it hurt?” Yes! What are you doing? That’s sharp!” He takes his seat once more – “heat is hot and pins are sharp because of the pain they afford you. Heat and sharpness are not qualities of substances, they exist only for you as a perceiving being.”

Worrying for your health you wonder if you should leave or stay. Still holding the pin he asks “do you agree that these sensations exist only in your mind, that heat exists only in your interaction with the fire and sharpness in your interaction with the pin? What if I say to you that the case is the same with regard to all sensible qualities and that they cannot be supposed to exist without your perceiving them?” Wanting to leave you look towards the door, the man across from you doesn’t seem to care whether or not you answer his questions.

“Eat this.” He hands you wormwood, “come on, eat it.” You eat it and exclaim, “it’s bitter.” “Now eat this” – he hands you a square of sugar. “Is it sweet?” “Yes.” He laughs. Feeling somehow offended you try to quell his laughter by saying, “but wormwood is always bitter, sugar always sweet.” You feel confident in asserting that bitterness is a quality of wormwood and sweetness a quality of sugar. He pokes you with the pin one more time. “Sharpness is not a quality of the pin, sweetness is not a quality of sugar – they are only immediate perceptions. Sugar is only sweet when you taste it and declare it so – tastes aren’t inherent in the food.” Once again a drop of blood runs down your arm.

“Follow me out to my patio.” You have come this far and decide to finish the game this old man is playing. He opens the door for you and allows you to step out onto the patio first. He takes advantage of his position behind you, quickly takes off one of his socks and covers your mouth and nose with it. The sock smells horrid and you are about to pass out. Before removing his hand and the sock he asks you a question, “is this smell inherent in the sock or does it exist for you as a perceiving mind?” You shake your head wildly in what you hope will be interpreted as a negative response. The sock is removed and you collapse on one of the chairs set out on the patio. The old man laughs again and puts his sock back on.

chihuahua.jpgRecovering from the sock affront you notice him putting a CD into a stereo sitting on a table. “No! Don’t push play! I get the hint already. Please!” Disappointed the old man puts the CD back in its case. He sits down, looks more relaxed and begins the conversation again: “corporeal bodies seem to be nothing else than a collection of sensible qualities, am I right?” You are too afraid to answer because you are unsure of the consequences of answering incorrectly. A chihuahua runs out on the patio and tries to jump on the lap of the old man – the old man doesn’t help the dog. “To you our chairs are of a normal size, they support our backs and provide comfort to our rears. To this dog these chairs are large, to a fly these chairs are rough, to a fish these chairs are dry. Are you right but the animals wrong?” The dog growls and runs off. “Try and think of motion or extension divested of sensible modes like fast and slow (etc.), great and small (etc.). Like sharpness and sweetness, motion and extension exist only in the mind.”

“Since you let me poke you, I’ll show you how to disappear. Close your eyes for about twenty seconds.” You do so and during these twenty seconds you cannot hear him, smell him or in any way perceive his existence. As soon as you open your eyes he says, “and I’m back!

der Gott der Philosophen, 2

I’ve realized that some of the terms I’m using may not be the same as you’ve heard before. I’m translating my notes as literally as possible to try and stick to Prof. Halfwassen’s version of this story. I’m also trying to concentrate on the thread that connects the philosophers and not really making much effort to elucidate the details of the philosophies.

Part 2

Xenophanes separated god from the world and Parmenides took away the world, leaving god (Being).

Enter Plato. Plato brings an idea of “change” or “becoming” back to our history of metaphysics. “Change” bridges the gap between the “Oneness” of Parmenides and the indeterminate duality or multiplicity of daily experience. Plato places a “One”, or a “Good” as being beyond existence and this “One” is responsible for all knowledge. Knowledge is then a level of understanding between “oneness” and “duality” – true knowledge lying closer to oneness and opinion lying closer to duality.

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[I’m very proud of this diagram that I just made, is it not beautiful?]

Xenophanes took god away from the world, Parmenides took away the world and Plato returned it to us as a changing, moving substance.

Enter Aristotle. The cause for change and movement in the world was, for Aristotle, the most important principle (not the “Good” or the “One” as is the case with Plato). Instead of levels of knowledge we are given levels of movement:

    3. finite moved substances (humans, things in the world, etc.)
    2. infinite moved substances (planets, moons, etc.)
    1. eternally unmoved substance (the unmoved mover)

Substance 1 causes substance 2 to move but is itself unmoved – substance 2 then has a role in the movement of substance 3. [On a side note, I recently depicted substance 1, the unmoved mover, as a creepy girl.]

Xenophanes took god away from the world, Parmenides took the world away, Plato returned it to us as a changing substance and Aristotle gave us the god of change, the unmoved mover. I suppose it might make even more sense if we leave Parmenides out of our line of thought:

For the first time Xenophanes removed god from the world turning him/her/it into an otherworldly entity. Plato showed us that knowledge was looking past the fleeting quality of objects and towards the forms of life. The forms were entities most similar to god because they resembled the unity of god (as opposed to the multiplicity of mere appearances). Aristotle then tied this god to the world through a cause and effect relationship.

I’m not sure if I’ll continue in elucidating this project – let me know if there is actually any interest.