Saturday, 25 February 2012

Three Philosophers: How to Address Break-Taking

One of the most common questions (sometimes asked jokingly and sometimes seriously) non-philosophers ask of me is how to get philosophers out of their books and articles and into the outside world sometimes. I’ve danced around the issue for a while, addressing the issue in bits and pieces (such as my post on habitualness), but today let’s address it outright.

How can I make my philosopher go outside once and while?

I believe that what this question really infers is that (1) being tied up in one’s work all the time is unhealthy and (2) that philosophers never want to leave their work behind and take a break.

Before we proceed any further, I want to get clear on something. I believe that there are three types of philosophers in academic philosophy, and these types of philosophers respond differently to suggestions from us that they leave their work and take a break.

[Note: The most interesting part of this study is that it doesn’t matter what type of philosophy that your philosopher is in or how successful they are—these three types of philosophers are found across the field in all levels/types of philosophy].

Philosopher #1: Philosophy is Everything

This is not the most common type of philosopher, but it is the type we usually think of when we think about philosophers. The PE philosopher really only wants to think about, talk about, study, and breathe philosophy. The PE philosopher doesn’t have many interests outside of philosophy, because everything else just seems so bland, unpredictable, and/or meaningless. If the PE philosopher does have other interests, they will probably only have one or two, and they have somehow become experts in these interests.

If you were to suggest to the PE philosopher that they take a break from their work and try out some new interest, this philosopher becomes very baffled. “Why,” they might ask, “should I try doing something that does not interest me at all, when there is such interesting reading to be found in this book?” This PE philosopher is really, really happy in philosophy.

Philosopher #2: Philosophy is Compartmentalized

Surprisingly, this is actually one of the most common types of philosophers I’ve encountered. The PC philosopher has the ability to absolutely devote themselves to philosophy at certain times, and then at all other moments of their lives they do not talk about or interact with philosophy at all (they compartmentalize philosophy and other interests).

This type of philosopher tends to be interested in things that are completely different than philosophy. For example, the PC philosopher might spend a lot of time in physical activities, such as competitive dancing, biking, marathon-running, rock-climbing, or hiking. Some of the PC philosophers are really into pop-culture stuff, like entertainment, horror movies, and comic books. It might even look—to the untrained, non-philosopher eye—that the PC philosopher is not even really a philosopher at all (“When do they get their work done!”). The PC philosopher, though, can get down to work and get pages and pages of technical, difficult work done in a very short amount of time. Some of the most successful philosophers I’ve met are actually PC philosophers.

I don’t know that you would even broach the idea of taking a break from work with this type of philosopher, as they don’t usually seem that busy. If they do seem really busy, it’s often because they’ve put off their philosophy work until the last minute (and then manage to whip out some masterpiece in three hours).

Philosopher #3: Philosophy is Another Interest

The PAI philosopher is interested in just about everything—everything, that is, that is written about academically in books. [My philosopher is actually this type of philosopher]. This type of philosopher is even harder to get “outdoors” than the PE philosopher, because they find all of their joy and satisfaction in reading, listening to lectures, and watching documentaries about everything. Their interests have to correspond in some way to cognitive development. This PAI philosopher just sees philosophy as one game among many on the cognitive spectrum; it just happens to be the game they are best at right now.

The PAI philosopher responds to the suggestion to leave their cognitive activities behind with perplexity. “The world in books is so interesting. I need to know everything. How can doing this activity increase my knowledge?” The PAI philosopher can be “bribed” to go out with the promise of a trip to a bookstore or library, or the permission to order a new book online.

In conclusion, I do believe it is healthy to take a break of sorts from academic work at times (just consider what happened to JS Mill in his early twenties!), but philosophers are different and will respond to such requests with different reactions. You may find that you need to promise your participation in a philosophical discussion with the PE philosopher or let the PAI philosopher peruse some books at the conclusion of a new activity.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Waiting Period: Graduate Admissions Survival

If you have a philosopher who happens to have applied to graduate schools this year, you are likely in thick of waiting. This waiting period is almost always intensely stressful for both you and your philosopher.

Depression during this waiting period can be exasperated by your philosopher, especially if they persist in checking their email frequently or if they insist on monitoring acceptances/rejections on online forums (such as gradcafe). This is especially dangerous for philosophers who are also working on MA theses (it’s the worst kind of distraction from work).

So how can you help alleviate the depressive effects of the application waiting period?

1. Make an alternate plan.

This may seem rather dreadful, but it will help both you and your philosopher if you develop a backup plan (what to do if your philosopher doesn’t get in anywhere). If your philosopher knows that they have alternate options—even if these aren’t ideal—then it might ease their mind a bit. For sure, having a backup plan can also do wonders for your mental health.

2. Reassure. Reassure. Reassure.

You will find yourself having to do lots of reassuring during this period. Prepare to be patient with your philosopher every time they descend into the slough of despond. Reassure your philosopher that they are really intelligent, they haven’t heard from every school yet, just because someone has been accepted on gradcafe doesn’t mean that all decisions are final, just because they didn’t get in this year doesn’t mean that they can never try again, etc. Just because they didn’t get into one of their lower-tier schools, doesn’t mean that they won’t get into an upper-tier school. Remind them. Here are two stories that might help your philosopher:

Story 1: A philosopher thought they had received rejections from every school to which they applied, as they had seen people post on gradcafe about each of their schools. Well guess what? An oversight had led to an acceptance letter—from their first school choice—either not being sent or being lost in the mail.

Story 2: An extremely intelligent philosopher received rejections from every place they applied one year. Instead of giving up, this philosopher applied to exactly the same places the next year and got in to several of them.

3. Bake treats.

This speaks for itself.

4. Distract your philosopher.

This is a good time to ply your philosopher with distractions. Help them train for a marathon; make a goal to watch all of the AFI top 100 movies; encourage them to prepare a paper for publication; refinish some furniture. Distractions are really necessary to keep your philosopher from being despondent sometimes.

When all else fails, direct them to Ph.D. comics.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Special Valentines' Day Post

I have a special entry today, for all you lovers of philosophers. First, I thought it might be fun to play a game I like to call “Poetry alterations in the name of parody.” Without further ado, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To Harriet” (from “Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem”), altered [alterations in brackets].

[Imagine that this is a philosopher, speaking to Philosophy(n)].

“To [Philosophy]”

WHOSE is the [tenured university position] that, gleaming through the world,
   Wards off the poisonous arrow of its scorn?
       Whose is the warm and partial praise,
       Virtue's most sweet reward?

   Beneath whose [books] did my reviving soul
   Riper in truth and virtuous daring grow?
       Whose [syllogisms] have I gazed fondly on,
       And loved mankind the more?

   [Philosophy]! on thine:--thou wert my purer mind;
   Thou wert the inspiration of my song;
        Thine are these early wilding [articles in excellent journals],
        Though garlanded by me.

   Then press into thy breast this pledge of love;
   And know, though time may change and years may roll,
        Each [invited conference-lecture] gathered in my heart
        It consecrates to thine.

Now that I’ve butchered Shelley (shivering), I thought it might be fun to return to some of your questions. Remember that entry, way back in June, where I asked for questions from you to answer in a series of blog posts? Yeah, I never really got to all of them. Some of your questions were about relationships, either with philosophers or non-philosophers, so today seems like the sort of day where I should answer a few of them.

[Disclaimer: I am not an expert in love, but I am an expert in loving philosophers].

Do you have any thoughts on how a philosopher might present himself as to be more appealing qua philosopher to the opposite sex? (I'm guessing hint #1 would be "Stop using 'qua'!") I am most interested in a male philosopher appealing to females, but any thoughts on other permutations of the same issue would certainly be very interesting.


I’m having flashbacks of myself as a young teenager (awkwardly unattractive), reading all the books and articles I could find about making oneself attractive to a particular gender/subgroup of gender.

Very simply: there is not one universal way to make yourself more appealing to a group of people—no matter what gender or sexual orientation. Sure, you could go the physical route and try to win a date on your looks alone, but your looks will fade and your brilliant, philosophical mind will not.

Have you ever read J.S. & Harriet Mill’s On the Subjection of Women? In this text, the Mills say something to the effect of “Look, you can’t really understand a woman or womanhood until you understand all women—from different ethnicities, time periods, locations, at different occupations. The meager understanding that you have of women is based on your idea of who they are and what they should be.”

Now that my Mill-studying philosopher is cringing at my paraphrasing, in summation: Every woman is different. I can’t tell you how to attract a woman because each of us is attracted to different things.

If you want to attract a significant other, try to be in places where you will interact with all sorts of women. Join a book group. Be yourself. You will find that there are women out there who are not turned-off by philosophers, even if they use strange words and make us qualify every statement. Don’t spend your life trying to attract women—try to interact with and understand them. The rest will fall into place.

I was wondering what drew you to your philosopher. As a philosophy student, I often have a hard time connecting with people on a romantic level. And I've heard, from past romantic partners, that I'm often too logical and realistic, i.e., I'm not optimistic enough and I don't let myself fall in love as fast as they do. I know a lot of my colleagues feel the same as I do when it comes to a romantic relationship. So I just assume our philosophy training often gets in the way of having a romantic relationship, e.g., we over think things, or approach love very logically. Was your philosopher like this at first? If so, how did you stick it out?! Or are you exactly like your philosopher, to where it was not a problem? Hope this all made sense. I don't want to generalize that all philosophers are like this, but about 70% of my colleagues have discussed, and seem to have, the same problem. This is of course applied to dating a non-philosopher. I don't think we have ANY problems dating a philosopher :)

Short Answer.
I was attracted to the following qualities: his quick mind, his sense of humor, the ability he had to talk to anyone, his penchant for long and meaningful conversations, the amount of literature he had read, his blog, and (superficially) he was just the right height.

Long Answer.
My philosopher and I met in college, but we did not consider dating until a mutual friend convinced us that we would be a great match. He invited me to book club. After one night watching him at book club (and subsequent conversations in person and over email), I wanted to date him.

I am a practical person—pretty steady, though hot-headed about some things.  When my philosopher and I began dating, I was less practical and extremely shy. He is definitely more even-keeled and logical than me (it should be noted that he is an analytic philosopher). He was logical and careful from the beginning, but I always really liked it because I knew that he wouldn’t do anything irrational (he was a safe person).

One smart thing that my philosopher did was that he tried to be gentle with me (philosophically) at the beginning. It’s not that I couldn’t handle it or that I was less intelligent than him, but he wisely recognized that turning on the philosophy full force at the beginning—when I was not used to talking and reasoning in the same way, as I had not had his training—would make me defensive. He started with dropping in small moral dilemmas, and then worked up to harder stuff. I wouldn’t say that my philosopher was untrue to himself by “going slow” with philosophy, either.

One of the things my philosopher did (and still does, actually), is “test the waters” every so often with new bits of philosophy. He frequently asks me for permission before engaging me in philosophical discussion, and then we debrief at the end. These extra steps that he takes really keep me from feeling attacked, and they leave me with a better taste in my mouth about philosophy. This also works to my philosopher’s advantage, as if I feel better about philosophy, I will be more likely to “put up” with more philosophical discussions.

We spent almost our entire dating relationship over the phone, talking every night for hours. I took an advanced philosophy class to try and understand his life better (it was so hard!). He was a double-major in literature and philosophy, so he already had grounds for understanding me. The “secrets” to our relationship working were communication and understanding.

There really was no “sticking it out,” in the traditional sense. I’ve loved almost every minute with my philosopher. He is so easy to love.

I am definitely not a philosopher myself (my intro professor informed me, gently, that philosophy was not a major that I should ever consider).

I think the problem with philosophers finding dating partners and with non-philosophers who are unsuccessful at dating philosophers is often that you go looking for the wrong kind of person. Is it really so bad to date someone who isn’t as “exciting,” but who is a great conversational partner? The most successful philosopher-relationships I see are those between two intelligent people—usually in different disciplines.

Philosophers: There are many non-philosophers who would love to date you. Be gentle, but also be yourself. If you find that a potential partner “can’t handle” (in a reasonable way!) the philosophical part of you, then they probably aren’t the right person for you. On the other hand, though, don’t be that philosopher who always drives their dating partners into philosophical corners and attacks. I have no sympathy for you if you can’t get that part of yourself under control.

Oh, and don’t be all arrogant and show-offy and patronizing about being a philosopher. Really. It’s a total turn-off.

Non-Philosophers: Give philosophers a chance; they really mean well. It might help you to understand your philosopher better by taking an advanced philosophy class or by reading some basic stuff (I can give you some recommendations, if you want them).

One thing we non-philosophers sometimes don’t realize is really both the blessing and the curse of dating philosophers (my philosopher refers to this as “volatility”). On the one hand, philosophers are really fun to converse with, as they bring a degree of thoughtfulness to a conversation that is hard to find anywhere else. On the other hand, though, conversations with philosophers can quickly turn to attacks if we or they aren’t careful. The whole trick to getting along with a philosopher is learning how to balance the two (it takes work on both ends).

In conclusion, philosophers are wonderful, interesting life-partners! I am never sorry that I decided to (somehow) gather up enough courage to attend that book club meeting.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar). So, are you going to go out and snag yourself a philosopher this year?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Vacationing with Philosophers

Many of you northern-hemisphere residents are living in places right now where there are actually brisk weather conditions. I’m trying hard not to be jealous (from the armpit of North America, otherwise known as Texas). So, instead of complaining I’m going to stomach my jealousy and broach the subject that many of you chilled northerners are thinking about right now: vacations—particularly vacations with your philosopher.

As wonderful a philosophers are to converse with, things can get pretty painful on a long vacation. Philosophers—being habitual creatures—get antsy and anxious when they’re away from the places where they feel safe (amongst other philosophers, in reading chairs, in the library, at usual tables in coffee shops, etc).

Vacations are different from things like philosophy conferences, because vacations are not generally filled with other philosophers, new and exciting philosophy papers, and job interviews. Philosophers know how to handle these sorts of things, but they often have a hard time when removed from their comfortable philosophy-world for a while.

So how can you minimize the bad effects that come with vacationing philosophers? Here are some suggestions that work for my philosopher:

1. Let them bring “work” along.

You know, even if there is no time to work or if your philosopher ends up not feeling like doing work, the best thing you can do is to let them (even encourage them) to bring philosophy work along. This work will sit in the background, reminding a philosopher that if things get too new, they still have the familiar lap of philosophy to fall into.

And if your philosopher wants to just work the whole vacation, try to finagle a deal out of them that they will try and do a few non-philosophy things with you a day, then spend the rest of the time doing the things that you want to do. Generally, though, philosophers will discover that there are fun non-philosophy activities on vacations and will not mind giving up work after a while.

2. Pick out a non-philosophy book on cd/tape/mp3 to listen to.

Some of you are groaning inwardly when you imagine a 20-hour card ride with a book on tape/cd/mp3. Even though I was a literature student, even I don’t like listening to books while I travel (it makes me carsick—we have to turn it up loud to hear it, and I hate loud noise). This is one of those sacrifices, though, that is really worth it in the end. If you philosopher feels like they can spend part of a trip engaging their mind, they will be less likely to get anxious about leaving the comfort of their philosophy world [Note: My philosopher hates leaving home, but since we’ve started listening to books on cd, he has reached the point where he actually talks about planning future car trips and doesn’t seem to mind them nearly as much]. Plus, if you travel by airplane, train, or bus, you can set your philosopher up with a book on an mp3/cd/tape player and then you don’t have to participate in the book at all.

Although it’s important to let your philosopher engage their mind while they travel, it is very important that you do not let them pick out a philosophical book to listen to—especially if you are driving somewhere. Remember DUIP? This is very dangerous.

3. Agree beforehand to discuss at least one philosophical topic during the trip.

Sometimes the anticipation of getting to talk about philosophy with you will help your philosopher overcome the dread they feel about leaving comfortable places. It’s best to restrict these sorts of discussions to times when you are driving or when you’re at a rest area (no DUIP for your philosopher).

These are only a few suggestions, but they have really improved my philosopher’s emotional state when we go on vacations. You may complain, “But, Katie, I wanted to get away from philosophy myself! Why do I have to bring it along on vacation?”

Whether you like it or not, your philosopher is married to philosophy. Asking them to leave it at home is like covering a canary’s cage all the time to get it to stop singing: you can make them stop, but they are going to quickly lose their life-spark because you are squelching the thing they are primed to do. It is perfectly fair to set up some boundaries on vacations, but don’t outlaw philosophy entirely.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).