Teaching Philosophy: “Mildly Discreditable?”

Here’s Raymond Geuss, a  philosopher at Cambridge, discussing the profession of teaching philosophy:

I have what I have always held to be a mildly discreditable day job, that of teaching philosophy at a university. I take it to be discreditable because about 85 percent of my time and energy is devoted to training aspiring young members of the commercial, administrative or governmental elite in the glib manipulation of words, theories and arguments. I thereby help to turn out the pliable, efficient, self-satisfied cadres that our economic and political system uses to produce the ideological carapace which protects it against criticism and change. I take my job to be only mildly discreditable, partly because I don’t think, finally, that this realm of words is in most cases much more than an epiphenomenon secreted by power relations which would otherwise express themselves with even greater and more dramatic directness. Partly, too, because 10 percent of the job is an open area within which it is possible that some of these young people might become minimally reflective about the world they live in and their place in it; in the best of cases they might come to be able and willing to work for some minimal mitigation of the cruder excesses of the pervading system of oppression under which we live. The remaining 5 percent of my job, by the way, what I would call the actual “philosophical” part, is almost invisible from the outside, totally unclassifiable in any schema known to me—and quantitatively, in any case, so insignificant that it can more or less be ignored.

So the experience I have of my everyday work environment is of a conformist, claustrophobic and repressive verbal universe, a penitential domain of reason-mongering in which hyperactivity in detail—the endlessly repeated shouts of “why,” the rebuttals, calls for “evidence,” qualifications and quibbles—stands in stark contrast to the immobility and self-referentiality of the structure as a whole.

I’m teaching Leibniz later this afternoon, and I have to tell you, this isn’t boosting my morale.  Thoughts?

A Serious Disapointment

Over the weekend I finally got a chance to see the Coen Brothers latest release, A Serious Man.  My initial reaction to the movie was a moderately enthusiastc “Meh.”  However, after I started thinking about it I found myself becoming a bit annoyed and this morning I woke up thinking the film was a total failure. David Denby, who wrote one of the few negative reviews, sums up:

The movie is a deadpan farce with a schlemiel Job as a hero—Professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physicist at a local university, whose life, in 1967, is falling apart. Gopnik’s wife (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for a sanctimonious bastard (Fred Melamed) who covers his aggressions against Larry with limp-pawed caresses and offers of “understanding.” Larry’s kids are thieving brats, and his hapless, sick, whining brother (Richard Kind) camps on the living-room couch and refuses to look for work. There’s more, much more, a series of mishaps, sordid betrayals, and weird coincidences, but Larry, a sweet guy and “a serious man”—upright, a good teacher, a father—won’t hit back. Occasionally, his eyebrows fluttering like street signs in a hurricane, he stands up for himself, but he won’t take a shot at anyone, or try to control anyone, verbally or any other way. He won’t even sleep with the dragon-eyed but sexy and highly available woman next door who sunbathes naked. (read the full review here) Continue reading

Harvard Ethos: Insanity?

So Amy Bishor’s defense is likely to be some form of insanity defense:

Huntsville attorney Roy Miller sat down with WHNT NEWS 19 just minutes after visiting Bishop at the Huntsville Metro Jail. He revealed some startling new details about the case that has grabbed national headlines.

“I just think the case speaks for itself,” said Miller, when asked about Bishop’s mental state. “I think she’s wacko.”

Inside Higher Ed suggests that wackiness comes from her Harvard education:

The lawyer for Amy Bishop told the Associated Press Thursday that she probably is insane and does not remember the shootings in which she is accused of murdering three of her biology faculty colleagues last week at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The lawyer called Bishop “very cogent” in their discussions, but also said that she has difficulties with reality, and he suggested that her actions last week were due in part to being denied tenure, after receiving a Harvard University education. ”Obviously she was very distraught and concerned over that tenure…. It insulted her and slapped her in the face, and it’s probably tied in with the Harvard mentality. She brooded and brooded and brooded over it, and then, ‘bingo.’ ”

Of course, anyone who “after receiving Harvard education” does not get his/her way in life is justified in retaliating in whatever way they can against such society – case closed!

I Knew It!

Our world may be a giant hologram

DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn’t look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves – ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

BHL Fiasco Explored Further: Frédéric Pagès Interview

From a recent Observateur:

Une interview exclusive du créateur de Botul.

Frédéric Pagès: «Bernard-Henri Lévy a lu mon livre avec un ventilateur»

Tandis que Bernard-Henri Lévy et quelques bonnes âmes s’obstinent à présenter « la Vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant » comme un livre « très crédible », le créateur de Jean-Baptiste Botul, Frédéric Pagès, répond à nos questions:

BibliObs.- Comment avez-vous appris que Bernard-Henri Lévy faisait référence à « la Vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant » dans son livre ?

Frédéric Pagès.- Par Aude Lancelin [la journaliste du «Nouvel Observateur» qui a révélé l’erreur de Bernard-Henri Lévy, NDLR]. C’est simple, clair et net. Aude Lancelin m’a montré les épreuves du livre « De la guerre en philosophie » à la mi-janvier. Elles avaient alors suscité une franche rigolade au « Nouvel Observateur ». Cela dément donc les propos de Bernard-Henri Lévy, qui avançait samedi sur le plateau de Laurent Ruquier qu’Aude Lancelin ne savait pas que Frédéric Pagès était Botul.

BibliObs.- Pensez-vous que BHL ait lu votre ouvrage ?

F. Pagès.- Je pense qu’il l’a lu à très grande vitesse, avec un ventilateur. S’il l’avait vraiment lu, il n’aurait pas pu dire que Botul a existé. Il y a un grand nombre d’indices dans « la Vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant ». L’habillage du livre est surréaliste. Et rien que les réfugiés allemands au Paraguay en 1946, qui sont une référence claire aux nazis… Cela ne l’affole pas. Il n’a même pas vu ça, alors que le lecteur le remarque tout de suite. De toute façon, Bernard-Henri Lévy est réputé pour son manque d’humour et son absence d’ironie.

The Chronicle’s Take on the Shooting

Some more details of the shooting are coming out, but some of the comments to the CHE article are sort of bizarre. Plus the front matter leans toward the interpretation that tenure denial was the main trigger point while offering advice:

That essay – Commentary: How To Handle Tenure Denial – should be very short: Do No Shoot Anybody!