Friday, February 03, 2006

The philosopher's tone (and a singing blog)

Today I signed up for a 10 week evening course in Philosophy. Why? It all started with the course I did on string theory last year...
In case I haven't whinged to you about it -- is there anyone in the world to whom I haven't whinged about it? -- this was a course I signed up for that was supposed to be about the history and philosophy of quantum science. The course was 10 weeks long, and we finally got onto quantum theory halfway through week nine. At the time I was disillusioned with the teacher who allowed the class to be constantly hijacked by people pushing religious/creationist agendas. I think he just liked arguing with them. One of the worst hijackers always sat in front of me, and the Fun Policeman's solution to my frustration was a recommendation that I take along a plastic ruler and flick him in the back of the head every time he tried to go off-topic. He reasoned, like Pavlov, that the guy would eventually learn to associate pain with thoughts of creationism... I didn't test the theory. I'm pretty sure they banned those kinds of human psychology experiments a couple of decades ago.
Actually, my favourite memory of the course was when I caught two of my fellow students -- namely, the annoying elderly WASP male who sat in front of me and a young hijab-clad Muslim teacher -- conspiring in the stairwell about how they were going to make the teacher admit that God exists before the course was finished. I could barely contain my laughter until I got to the ground floor and out of the echoing stairwell! I mean, say they succeeded -- which they didn't -- what were they going to do THEN? Which God were they going to get him to acknowledge?
To get back to my reasons for taking a philosophy course, there were actually a couple of students in that class who gained my respect for their critical and logical thinking in the face of all the ridiculousness. One was a 40-something Jewish man who, despite his obviously sincere and deep-rooted beliefs (he wore a yarmulka and full beard), was always able to distill the masses of information that we were dealing with and ask questions that were pertinent to the subject we were supposed to be learning about. Without pushing a religious agenda at all. His knowledge of philosophy and his grasp of logic were refreshing.
The other student I respected was a bundle of visual contradictions. He was also 40-something, had a conservative haircut and wore conservative rimless glasses. His conservative, short-sleeved business shirts, however, were worn under a battered leather jacket and revealed a pretty impressive collection of tattoos all over his arms and, I imagine, most of the rest of his body. I invented an imaginary life for Tattoo Guy that included years spent poring over philosophy books in prison (I may have been doing him a disservice but he sure looked the part). He had a mind like a steel trap and could always add positively to in-class discussions at times when my brain was turning to jelly.
Tattoo Guy became my hero when he accosted the Elderly WASP during the class break one particularly frustrating day. He simply turned to the Elderly WASP and said, "You just have to accept that we're not here to discuss 'why', only 'what'." When the Elderly WASP tried to argue, Tattoo Guy calmly stood his ground and repeated his reasoning. I was silently cheering him on (although part of me wanted him to lose it and just deck the WASP. It had been a very frustrating hour.)
This is how I was inspired to sign up for the philosophy course; to improve my understanding of philosophy, logic and critical thinking. I feel that I have some mental muscles that need to be developed further. I was raised to accept the status quo: scepticism has never been my strong point. And I really don't know much about the great philosophers of human history, apart from what I learned about Plato, Socrates and Aristotle from my studies in ancient history and classical literature.

And Monty Python's Bruce's Philosophy Song.
Now this term, I don't want to catch anybody not drinking, eh, Bruce?


Sharon said...

Sounds like you are in for an interesting time of it...

Maureen said...

LOL, Melody. I did some philosophy at Uni, but I reckon the study of literature helps form critical analysis far more efficiently than philosophy. You have a concrete text with literature.

Alli said...

For some interesting quantum theory and philosophy reading, I highly recommend "The Tao of Physics" by Fritof Capra, which I found because of a reference to it in "I'm not really here" by Tim Allen. Really.