Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cross-disciplinary work

There is talk in academia. People are unhappy with the segregation of the disciplines. Philosophy will be my example as it is what I know. Biology, physics, medicine, religion, psychology, astronomy, alchemy and anything else you can think of were once the domain of philosophy. Now our powers lie primarily in ethics, history of philosophy, and metaphysics. Metaphysics is a good foundation on which to work. Ethics is useful in other areas and as such taught outside of the philosophy department, and history of philosophy is blatantly cross-disciplinary.

Professors and students from time to time inform me that a cross-disciplinary approach is best. No one says anything more. Either we must learn as much as we possibly can or correspond with people in other disciplines. It was bad enough that we are out of touch with the lay people, now we are out of touch with each other as well. But whenever people mention cross-disciplinary work they commit an error to which up until now I have been unable to respond.

Cross disciplinary work is useful, I am told, because it is a different way of looking at things. This is not always but often false.

It's a bit romantic. Look at the world through the eyes of another. How different it looks! How strange and new. This implies that we are simply narrow. We cannot see across the hill because we are so focused on the flower growing against this tiny stone. The chemist is not looking at the flower. They are off on the other side of the hill blowing things up. It is not simply a different view, it is a different part of the world. It is not as if I look at the forest and talk to the biologist who looks at a certain tree, it is as if I am listening to the stream and the biologist comes running out of the forest to tell me about something they discovered. We are not just looking at the same things in different ways, we are looking at entirely different problems in different ways. That is why it is useful. A superficial knowledge of the tree will let me see things differently, but I need a deep knowledge of the tree in order to really know it and use it.

For example my boyfriend is a physics student. He teaches me something and we can discuss it, but only through him. I couldn't go and discuss physics with someone who knew less then me, I wouldn't learn or advance in any way, and he does not advance in talking to me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ideals and reality

Ideals are not solid things. You cannot catch and hold one except maybe in words, and always there is the danger that it will escape. When Rickie sees Agnes and her lover kissing and calls them the ideal lovers he sees the ideal of the lover momentarily alight on their shoulders. Like a butterfly it stopped there for just one moment. Like a ray of sunlight that chanced from a cloud. It is not solid. It is not permanent, not because it does not exist but because it does not stay.

Some philosophers, whose names I do not remember, hold that the soul does not stay with the body but only visits. I think this is true. The soul is our ideal. It may come to us in certain moments. It may speak to us but it will not stay. We cannot hold it. It is not the same as a chair or as my hand or even as a piece of bark or a melting bit of ice, although to that it is closer. It is not closer because it lacks, although if this is reality there are times when it is not real, but it returns. It will be real again. It will be forgotten and remembered.

I never held to images of romantic love. Candle lit dinners make me awkward and slightly queasy. But there are times when I am with Thomas, such as the first time I met him, when our actions invoke universals, ideals. I first met him Swing Dancing. We did not know what we were doing. I really had no interest in him. But somehow we were dancing and it was perfect. There were no clouds and the stars were bright like stars in the rural municapality where I grew up. Some baby bunnies were huddled by a sign and we stopped and tried to catch them with my beret. I knew if we were not careful the spirits would flit away. That moment was an ideal. That moment was what the writers write about. We are not that moment. It is separate from our bodies. It might even be separate from our souls, although I think they must have been present at that moment.

But maybe there is no soul. It could be that those moments when someone would declare a soul present is a moment when some god or spirit passes by. It is not the same soul each time but a different entity. The body and it's breath, which can give words to those spirits, are as much as we have of a soul.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I moved out in 2008. I understood that my mother sheltered me a bit and that I did not know a lot about people. I never had the sort of friends who spend all their free time together and never dealt with the sort of fights which arise from that kind of friendship. So I knew that having roommates would be a challenge for me and that I needed to be respectful of them and take care to know their boundaries and realize that hurt feelings do not equate to lasting hatred. I trusted that my roommates, all of whom had been on their own before, would be a reliable source of information on how to act in the world. We all want to be good people and do the right thing, right?

No. We don't. We want to do the easiest thing. We don't want to do something that is seriously wrong. No murder. No cruelty. But what about the grey areas? Rent money is an issue that is slightly grey. How to treat people when they have treated you is an area that is grey. What to do when you break someone's possessions accidentally is an area that is grey. What? Those aren't grey areas. But what if the person is a jerk? What if they had it coming?

I am now very careful who I trust to make judgments. Those are not grey areas. I knew they weren't. But I had never lived on my own before and thought that I just did not understand how these things worked. It is a bit of a nasty lesson, learning not to trust people's judgment. But it is a good one.

My sister phoned me the other day. Her friend was on academic probation. His life was a mess and he was depressed. She had asked all her friends if she should stop being friends with him, because it was creating a lot of stress for her and she did not feel like she could help him much anyhow. Everyone had told her yes. Then she asked a mutual friend of ours. He is a on call teacher and as she put it, 'an authority figure.' He said to wait it out. When she called me I told her to discourage him from discussing his problems with her but to continue being her friend. We were the only people who said she shouldn't drop him. This upset her, because it felt wrong.

It is rather sad. Idealizing people is wrong. People are people, not embodiments of a priori thought stuff. I am happy to say that the issues I had to take up in first year no longer exist. My roommates and I care about each other and want to do right, but this is from natural sympathy. How do you avoid the world becoming grey? Getting into a muddle. It worries me that what seems so clear now could fade in the wrong situation with the wrong people.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Emo utilitarian

The idea was better then the execution. I meant for him to be jumping off the roof after some villain. Emo amuses me. It seems like a sensible way of displaying emotions that otherwise end up hidden or ignored, but the poetry! Oh, the poetry. Also it encourages attempts into the land of mispelling and impossible grammar.

Talking too loudly on the bus

I am a loud person. When I am in a crowd of people I do not know or do not feel comfortable with I speak quietly and politely. But as soon as I have a friend I get loud. I know it is rude and I try to be considerate but sometimes I am so interested in the conversation that I forget about the people around us who may not really want to know about carnivorous tomatoes.

One episode particularly stands out for me. During National Novel Writing Month I talked about my novel a great deal. My roommate and I were on the bus. We were going to a Butcher's shop to buy five quail for a potluck. We were both in good spirits having just attended a talk by a brilliant teacher of mine. But my novel was giving me a bit of trouble. My characters lost motivation and my antagonist was mostly reacting at this point and as such could not himself be a motivation. So I was running through various was in which I could get my novel started again, with intermittent bursts of conversation about the talk on biomedical ethics we had just attended. I had just solved the problem with help from my roommate when a man a few seats away said, 'excuse me, do you realize you are very loud?' He was antagonistic. It is understandable because he had not wanted to hear our conversation. Say 'shush' or 'you're being loud' in a firm, quiet voice.

Understand that I do feel a bit guilty about the following. I do not always react well to people being angry at me and this is definitely an example of a poor reaction.

"I'm sorry," I said, "did something I said bother you?"

Here I learned that my poor reaction was somewhat more understandable. I don't mind people shushing me. I do mind them misjudging me. "Yes," he replied. "You think you are intelligent. But you're not. You're stupid. You are pretending to be intelligence and you are so stupid."

I was a little bewildered at this. "I don't think I'm intelligent," I said. It's true. I have rather low self esteem when it comes down to it. It's something I'm working on. I am happy when I understand something and unsurprised if I don't. But that conversation had not been one of self-awareness. If it had I would have known to keep quieter. As it was I was entirely wrapped up in ethics and stories and had no idea of myself or anything else, except possibly my roommate.

"Then why would you be talking so loudly?" He asked, "Obviously you want everyone to hear you because you think you are so intelligent. But you're just pretentious."

Now what he says has a bit of merit. In first year I had Latin 101 at 9:30am. I lived far away and the bus ride took an hour. Every day my friends and I would give up studying for Latin and have absurd conversations. More than once I was approached when riding alone by people who had heard our conversations, found them interesting, and thought it pleasant to speak with me. I was embarrassed by these encounters but also slightly pleased. So I had good reason to suppose that if people overheard our conversation they would know it to be what it was, two happy university students discussing things they loved.

I muddled the poor man, I think. I kept quiet until I stood up to get off the bus. Then I told him not to be afraid of intelligence, and pointed out that it is only a danger if misused and that ignorance on the other hand should always be feared. He disagreed and informed me that intelligence was dangerous and ignorance right way. He actually said that! I think he was terribly confused at this point or he would not have made such a blunder. I do realize that I was in the wrong, but I also see him as an example of a failed attempt to control the thoughts and speech of others. He felt threatened by me and that was why I responded so poorly. Had he known that he was in the right in asking me to be quiet I would have responded positively. That brings up an disturbing issue of how easy it is to control people with the right attitude and at the right moment.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm a witch, burn me!

Today in our Rationalists class my roommate and I discovered that I am a witch. The teacher commented about how in the past witches were supposed to be people doing harm or mischief and now it tends to be people into organic gardening.

I organic gardening. I attend old growth rallies. I am a vegetarian.

All these things are presently the activities of witches in BC. Therefore I must be a witch.

I am also a dualist and a moral realist. I think this is why I have problems talking in my philosophy classes. Because I'm crazy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dreaming Aristotle.

The acorn has a the potential to become an oak tree. It may not succeed but given various conditions it can actualize that form. A cat cannot become an oak tree. If the animal dies and rots the soil can fertilize the oak tree but that is not the same. It does not contain within it an unactualized form. Nothing about a cat can be enmattered such that it will become an oak tree.

I like Aristotle's ethics. I like them because I feel as if using them I can actually aim for being a good person, as averse to simply knowing the appropriate thing. In a given situation I will talk as if I am a Utilitarian, but in my moments of reflection I think as a Virtue ethicist to the degree that I can. In my reflective moments I realise that a month's study of the Ethics isn't really enough for a forgetful creature like myself, but no matter.

My Medieval History teacher keeps talking about causes for the renaissance. There are various types of causes necessary for a renaissance, he says. He talks as if he has read Aristotle. I do not think, however, that he has done so. I dislike self-help books, but I find the Aristotle in them interesting. Self-actualization is a lovely concept. Why? Because it's got Aristotle in it. The only trouble is the Self-help people confuse it. A sparrow has the potential to fly. If it does not there is something wrong with it. If I have the potential to make friends but never manage to actualize it I cannot defend myself with, well I had great potential! Potential says nothing. It cannot speak. Lack of actualization can make us less human, but potentials are equal to everyone and do not make us more human.

The same goes for many people. People keep talking about actual and potential, various causes, the nature of the caused, the essential qualities of things, and so on. But I don't think they have read Aristotle. Aristotle is in our way of thinking. Hume may come along and talk about cause and effect. We may have overthrown Aristotilian logic and science and cosmology, but we still dream Aristotle. I often have vivid dreams. I have dreampt of streets and buildings but I have never dreampt of using a computer or being in a car. I think it is the same way with Aristotle. Our knowledge and our tools advance but unless we overhaul our entire conceptual framework we will still have Aristotle in there. We give him breath and voice two thousand years after his body is gone to dust. Now that is immortality!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Omnivorous tomato plants!

Last Fall I put off pulling out my plants. It seemed cruel in some irrational way. They might keep growing! Maybe they were happy! But I knew if I put it off too long I wouldn't have time to prepare the bed before the ground got soaked. So one day I picked all the remaining green tomatoes and pulled out my plants. I had to scrub my hands clean afterwards because they were covered in this green goo from the stems of the tomatoes. I was somewhat surprised but nothing came of my curiosity until last Friday.

On Friday I read about carnivorous tomato plants. It isn't true. They are actually omnivorous if anything. It is never good to ignore a plant. Tomatoes are the worst. A recent study has shown that a tomato plant's use flies as fertilizer. The theory is that without a high enough nutrient content the tomato goes carnivorous. See those little hairs on the stem of the tomato? When a fly lands there the hairs close on the fly and hold it until it dies. After that the fly is released and acts as fertilizer for the plant. Why didn't we know this before? Because tomatoes kept in captivity don't need to function as omnivores, much like people. Also on the list are some potatoes, petunias, tobacco, and maybe eggplant but I can't remember.

But you probably know all that. Why? Because in a very short time this information has spread across the internet and between people. It is the epitome of random knowledge. I may not know about the wars and the floods and the fires but everyone around me is now talking about carnivorous tomatoes. When it is something that will change our conception of the world we spreed it as fast as possible. Maybe because it fascinates us. Maybe because it will disturb others. But the important question here is does this pose an ethical dilemma to vegans? And is this why the macrobiotic diet bans foods in the nightshade family?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why don't you blog about it?

My roommates and I are loud overdramatic people so when I disagreed with something my roommate said instead of responding politely I yelled, "you're weird!" and ran into my room.

He yelled back, "Why don't you blag about it?"

This is his usual response when I comment on or complain about something. If I take his advice I'll be blogging about the dishes next.

I sometimes mention that I have a blog. I do not particularly want my friends reading my blog because there are only so many things I can be excited about on one day. It just gives us less to talk about. But that isn't the issue. The issue is that people often react negatively when I mention blogging. Somehow each time it happens I forget, because the reaction just doesn't make sense. If I told them I had been writing poetry or working on some personal work they would be fine, but somehow blogs are different.

There are issues in blogging. Sometimes people are always looking around for a new topic, or spend all free time reading other peoples blogs and updating. But those aren't issues everyone has. There are many worse things to be doing with spare time. Really that doesn't sounds like being a writer.My friends don't think I'm spending all my time working on my blog, so that can't be the issue.

No, it's the perception blogging a sign of mental ill health. In spite of all the great blogs out there most people still think that blogs are a place for high school kids to rant and moan about how hard they have it and how no one understands them, and assert their pretentious understanding of the world. This is a sign of ill health because it displays a level of obsession with personal experience that prevents any focus on the external world. I have always believed it is better to focus outward. There is only so much you can understand, and like a windows os there is much more that can go wrong then right.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Me and my Nanonovel

I got a letter from Chris Baty (from National Novel Writing Month) a few weeks back. He said he ran into the novels all us nanoers write. They miss us, I guess. He told me I should give mine a second chance now that the heady November writing spree is in the past. That in that little novel I might just will a lasting relationship.

I loved 2009s novel. I wrote the better part (and the best parts) of it in three bursts. I sat down from time to time and spent eight hours typing and plotting and losing my sanity. Somehow this year I ended up with protagonists that I love. I write fantasy, and every time I want my characters to be heroes. The more so because somehow whenever I write they turn into this horrid creatures who betray their friends and destroy themselves. It is rather depressing. But this year I managed to write characters who were not exactly heroes, but were close to it. I think it is probably because I did not aim to write heroes. The characters I chose as my protagonists weren't meant to be from the beginning. The story was about the antagonist and a bunch of people trying to get rid of him. But these two characters just ended up being so lively and interesting that they took over the story.

So I think I will start editing. To be more accurate I think I will start some major surgery and then grow a bunch of new story-matter. At that point I might start editing. I have a bit of hope. I knew going in that what I was writing was not necessarily worth publication, because that is what everyone knows going into Nanowrimo. But I did feel that the story was good enough to try for, and I came out feeling the same.

So over the next few months I'll post a bit on my editing adventures. This is my first time with major editing. I guess it will be good practice for my thesis. Eep!

Monday, January 4, 2010

"To Harvard."

I took a philosophy of film class last Summer. One day before class I was siting in the corner reading the newspaper.

"Anxious for class to start?" Asked the student sitting in the hall. I recognized him from class He was dressed in a suite, like the law students do, and obviously took care of his appearance. Most of us are scruffy. All us girls seem to have the same sort of casually messy hair, and the boys never have time to shave. Whenever I see him I am startled.

I remarked that I usually felt too shy to talk to the other students, and he discouraged this. He pointed out that there are lots of us who are shy, and that is why the classes tend to be so quiet. So it isn't that the other students are aloof, just that we appear aloof to each other. Over the last year I have seen this to be true.

But this story isn't about me. It is about him. There is a scene in certain movies where the father pours his son a drink and toasts 'to Harvard.' It does not need to be Harvard. But somewhere with equal prestige. No one toasts 'the the University of Toronto,' and really who would toast 'to Uvic?' I might toast 'to Victoria' but as great as these schools are it has to be better then that. But these are movies. This is the American dream of higher learning. Sending the son off to law school. Off to Oxford. Off to somewhere where anyone who gets in has a grand future ahead of them.

My roommate and I arrive early to the Philosophy Christmas Party. There aren't many people yet and there is a loll in conversation. Over by the bar the student who encouraged me to do things like go to Christmas parties is talking to his friend. I glance over in hopes that someone I know has arrived and see them raise their glasses. I hear over the noise of the room, 'to Harvard.'

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New years resolutions

There are times for originality but New Years is not one of them. In other words I couldn't think how to meta-blog New Years resolutions so I'm just going to post them.

1. More adventures: I have a bike now, which makes this easier. Adventures of the physical and mental kind. Somewhat equivalent to Nanowrimo's 'big, fun, scary.'

2. Pursue my personal projects: I need to edit my novel, paint more (I haven't done much art in a while but my grandmother sent me water colour pencil crayons for Christmas and inspired me to start again by telling me how much talent she thought I had,) write some short stories, and suchlike.

3. Learn social skills: I'm going to take a public speaking class and I might consider going to some nicer parties and trying to smooze. I also want to make sure I stay in touch with people better.

4. Less procrastination:  I am going to very slowly increase the amount of work I do and encourage myself to use my time productively. I have come to terms with the fact that this is not something that just changes. I did better last semester and I will do even better this spring.

Kitchen garden planner provides a lovely online planner.

Select the space you have available and the plants you want to grow.

It provides planting time. Spacing. Days to harvest. Hints and tips, temperature, and more depending on the plant.

If you are thinking of gardening this spring it is a nice little applet to check out. Kitchen Garden Planner.