Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Week in Review: Artists and Cynics

In the balancing act between school and work which I've undertaken, I'm still wobbling a little at times, but I think I'll make it to the other side safely. For some people, having a limited amount of time in which to finish their work sends them into a nail-biting panic. They run in circles and wring their hands and spend an ironic amount of time telling people about how little time they have. Deo gratias, I am not usually that sort of person. Generally, I find that having less time available to me helps to focus me: "OK, I have only two hours to do this reading today" makes me buckle down more than, "OK, I have... all day to do this reading... but it's only three hours until lunch, so... I better just lie down for a bit." It does leave less time for leisure, but there's a positive effect there, too: the less leisure time you have, the more you can appreciate it and enjoy it.

I was nearly social on a couple of occasions this week, but plans fell through. This allowed me to catch up through season 4 of Mad Men; I can see why the show won four consecutive Emmys for Best Drama. I also took the opportunity to watch The Artist, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A film like that is an empirical datum supporting that study which found that 94% of human communication is non-verbal, and an exemplar of the old adage "Actions speak louder than words." Just think of how often you can glean a person's mood, attitude, or reaction to something from their posture, facial expression, or eye contact. Amazing, really.

Highlights from class this week:

Introduction to New Testament: Our professor has expressed his dismay at our class's lack of biblical literacy. I was able to pleasantly surprise him, though, when, one day before class, I was sitting and reading from the Gospel of Mark. The professor walked into the room, saw me reading, and said to me, "Of course, you're reading the Bible," his joke that, naturally, that's what one would be reading before a Bible class tinged by his earlier lamentations (pun intended--get it, it's a book of the Bible!). Then after glancing down at my reading material, said with surprise, "Oh, you are reading the Bible." Happy to oblige.

Aristotelian Logic: A few weeks ago I told you about the logical process of obversion, a process for clearing up confusing language (e.g. turning "No man is a non-factor" into "All men are a factor"). We also recently learned about a related operation, conversion. It sounds pretty simple at first: "No man is an island" also means "No island is a man." "Some Irish are red-heads" also means "Some red-heads are Irish." BUT a universal affirmative statement (e.g. All X are Y) cannot be converted simply, as those others were: "All sparrows are birds" does not mean "All birds are sparrows;" at most we can say that "All sparrows are birds" means that "Some birds are sparrows." You'd be surprised at how often people make a mistake in their thinking by assuming that a universal affirmative can be converted simply. It happens to the best of us.

Philosophy of Nature: We began class by taking a quiz, a highly unusual exercise for this class. There were about twenty statements dealing with Aristotle's philosophy of substantial change, and we were to label them true or false. As we began to correct the quiz, many of the students were getting the answers wrong, and they began to complain that the statements were vague, imprecise, and confusing. The professor simply responded, "Actually, I didn't write these questions, you all did; these are statements taken from your homework assignment from last week." He had contrived the whole thing as an exercise in teaching us to be more precise with our language. My friend and I after class said to each other, "That... was... awesome!" Never have I been so amused by being so humbled.

History of Ancient Philosophy: You're probably familiar with the term "cynic" meaning "a person with a negative or pessimistic outlook." Did you know that there was an ancient philosophical school called the Cynics? And did you know that the name has nothing to do with pessimism? The name derives from the Greek word kynikos, meaning "dog-like." There are a few different theories on how they got stuck with that name, but it's quite possibly connected with their mindset of eschewing conventional social behavior in favor of doing whatever comes naturally, which manifested itself in lewd public acts intended to shock others. You know, like teenagers.


  1. Love, Love, Love your Philosophy of Nature's professor's tactics! And of course you thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Mom gave me the connection to this blog and as I suspected I love reading it! We enjoyed getting to Skype with you Sunday too.