Thursday, August 28, 2008

semester 2

I’m well into my second semester now—done with Week 5. Not as interesting subject matter as last semester, but I’m so busy that I’m just as happy to not have a strong desire to explore the topics more. My three subjects for the semester are Philosophy of Language and Mind, Political Philosophy, and Scientific Realism and Anti-Realism.

Philosophy of Language and Mind is about words, how do words mean anything, are words descriptions or shorthand to refer to something or do they have separate meaning, how do we mutually understand one another, is it all just in our minds, etc. Kindof like linguistics crossed with psychology, a morose hermit, and a bad sci-fi novel. Interesting class discussions, but ultimately it all feels rather pointless.

Political Philosophy this semester is being taught on the philosophy of the market, i.e. economics. I sincerely disagree with most of the assertions that are taken as the neutral starting ground for the discussion, (i.e. that market transactions are necessary for human survival, that capitalism is structurally just, etc.) so feel rather disconnected from the topic. Interesting, though, since I’m learning even more about how I am, as Utah Phillips put it, fundamentally alienated from the institutional structures of my society. Fascinating.

Scientific Realism and Anti-Realism is difficult—finally, a real challenge! It’s in the History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) department, not the philosophy department, and it’s reminding me how so much of my interest and background in philosophy is really in HPS. The ethics of HPS. Which don’t usually go together... more on that later. Anyways, Scientific Realism and Anti-Realism is about the debate between people who think that science tells us things that are essentially true (realists), and those who think that we have good reason to think that science at best can reasonably predict observable results, but that predictive success doesn’t necessarily give any indication that what they’re talking about is TRUE. It’s actually a lot more interesting and complex than it seems at first glance. My jury’s still out as to whether or not this distinction actually matters at all.

Just to make sure I don’t get bored or starve, I’ve also taken on a tutoring job. Tutoring here is not quite what we call tutoring in the US. A professor (Helen Verran, who taught the Ecology and Environmentalism class I so enjoyed last semester) sets the readings and gives weekly lectures. Then I lead two 1-hour classes a week, discussing what was introduced in the lecture and readings, making sure the students have a good grasp of the essential concepts. The subject is the Philosophy of Biology, always of great interest to me (Anatomy! Naturalists! Genomes! Oh my!). I’m learning a ton, not just from the subject matter, but from the experience of teaching. It’s exhausting, and a really strange power dynamic, but a lot of fun to see them learn. And fun to prepare the lesson plans and handouts and web tools. I could get used to being paid to do this! :)

Oh, yeah, and I’m writing my thesis, too. Due at the end of the semester (2+ months). First draft’s due (ack!) next week. It’s coming along fine. On Monday I gave a presentation to all the other honors philosophy students and it was well received. But I’m really bored with the topic at this point: that’s what happens when you fully immerse yourself in the minutia of something narrow for an entire year, whose focus has been shifted away from the neat stuff that got you interested in the first place to simpler, defendable ideas that will fit within the stringent word limit. I’m really looking forward to finishing, so I can move on to figuring out what I want to do next.

That’s what else I’m spending my time on these days. Figuring out what to do next year. Do I continue on here to complete a Masters? a PhD? in straight-up Philosophy, or Ethics, or the History and Philosophy of Science, or can I combine them? Can I get funding? What would my research topic be? Do I even want to be an academic after all?

Yeah. A lot on my plate. So my apologies for not updating this page more often. I’ll get to it whenever I can. Love to you all.


Shayn said...

Philosphy of Language and Mind sounds like my geek-out dream class right now.

Good luck with the thesising!

Lisa Nonken said...

As Calvin of Calvin and Hobbs once said, "That's the problem with science. You've got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder." I miss that cute little guy. :)