A blast from the curricular past
As a person who went to a quite expensive liberal arts college myself "Saint John's in Santa Fe", I can say with experience that it was one of the most awful and wonderful experiences of my life. The worst of it was the "don rag" where adults far more studied, more ingrained in the culture, and far more educated than myself "assessed" my skills and weaknesses as a student. I got quite depressed hearing my faults of being a "contrarian". That one in particular disturbed me because I was unaware of just how argumentative I was capable of being. Took many months to figure out how to undo that quirk of mine (not that I don't argue endlessly still).
However, there was a singular moment that entirely changed my view of the educational program. I was in a science class at the end of the school year and it was supposed to just be a "talk about what we've been through". At that time, I learned how to have an honest dialogue as equals and I was incredibly excited to fill that hour and a half of class with productive conversation. In fact, I was so lost in the ideas I had learned, I had forgotten about how little everyone else had anything left to say. I certainly don't mind filling the hour and a half up if I need to do it alone. I am a rather quiet intellectual with little interest in socializing. Other people had many other things they were thinking about during the year I am sure. But what killed any interest in going back to that school was a single man in the room.
He was sitting on the opposite side of the classroom of me. He just wanted to leave class as quickly as possible. I didn't (my Mother had to pay for the entire school year herself!). I had no intentions of wasting the moment. But what silenced me without any extra effort was the look in his eyes. He HATED me for being an intellectual enjoying learning. And I don't just mean "fuck, can he shut up already!". I mean unadulterated malice that would make me not want to show up to class in the future. The look a criminal gives even if he was never going to act on it...
That is the educational world we live in today. It's not the fault of the tutors at that college (though I am sure some aren't great as with any place). It was the students. That's what killed it for me. It's a person telling me to get the hell out of there because I was looking to learn.
Ironically, in that same class, a black kid from Zimbabwe with a struggling understanding of the English language, and a heart of gold, came up to me after class and said, "hey, you should keep doing what you are doing. I have never seen a classroom be so animated about a class discussion before." The horrible irony being that a kid who probably needed a language aide to even understand the English just to get by was more interested in the art of education, than the 10 other kids who just wanted to feel good about being smarter than everyone else. I even said in the lunchroom I was going to give a scientist crap for being a reductionist fixated on how science is the power of control over nature. A philosophical principle that started in around the late 1700's because science was struggling to produce an effective theory on anything. So instead of being better, they became quicker and we live with that paradigm of dangerous science today because of it. His name was Claude Bernard.
The essay or thesis or whatever you'd like to call his control scheme of nature, was called "An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine", Part Two: Experimentation With Living Beings. It was written in 1865 and although his theory was highly productive, the further I read into the paper, the more and more I saw how in order to prove himself correct, he has to negate interrelational dynamics of living things. This meaning that if someone has high blood pressure, we give them blood thinners. And if further analysis says, "Oh hey, he needs more X, Y, and Z because his liver isn't being nourished properly, "Give him the blood thinners. That's your JOB as doctors." That is why today, instead of having "pro health" discussions, we have discussions of how to medicate people's lack of general health and well-being. Which isn't the fault of Doctors honestly. It's the fault of society saying the role of a Doctor is to be both a medically trained genius, a fully licensed nutritionist, a psychologist, a good friend and so on and so forth. Not even doctors get paid enough to do all of that... That and it goes against laws preventing doctors from deciding the lifestyles and behaviors of patients. Doctors are there to medicate, prevent and cure disease, not dictate our lives even if and when they know how best to do it.
Thank you for sharing this. I have been teaching (in a different subject area) for many years but your podcasts and writings have informed and transformed my own teaching. It inspired me to be more creative and freer. Looking forward to more pedagogical posts!
ooofff - okay, reading the course requirements just gave me massive anxiety. If your class were only one of two or three, then doable, but with a full course load? It would have been difficult to accomplish, and to do well without worrying about all of the other work that had to take a back seat to make room for yours. I would have struggled with whether or not to drop your course, the latter decision having been a lost opportunity...
As a side note, if you would like the papers I read Heather, I could probably take pictures of them and email them to you to show what I read. If you can't find it yourself that is, I sort of used my lab notebook as a notebook while I read so it is covered in writings especially that paper because it irritated me so greatly.
A quote I am sure you will appreciate was this one, "We must believe we are right. We must view living beings as machines and pull the parts of the machine apart so that we may understand how it works."
or perhaps, "Screw spirituality! Understand things only through a physiological perspective as It (spirituality) is a waste of time."
"Vitalists/lovers are dumb. Scientists/physicalists are smart and lead to actual discoveries"
"If they accept determinism, they can understand things that don't remain consistent."
"Exception doesn't exist. Exception means we lack an understanding of the conditions. Approximations are not tolerable." Although science has almost entirely been grounded on the idea that all thoughts are merely "theories" with very few exceptions.
And I could go on indefinitely with this faultiness.
I will end with this quote of mine while reading his work, "The core of life is the thing that if destroyed, it will cease to exist." That idea alone became the thesis of the "Modern 1984" I talk about. What in this modern day specifically are we killing that will make life itself, cease to exist. And although at the moment it is only a philosophically dead belief, I truly believe it is only a matter of time before we create the "apocalypse machine" we are so afraid. Modern day politics is only a symptom of this "death" eating away at life itself.
Sorry for the long windedness. It was fun to go back a few years and see what I was thinking that I agree with today like Heather's way of grounding the classroom in reality and education. Though I am a bit of a vagrant and trickster unlike her...
You had me at: "The natural world exists with or without humanity’s interpretation of it."
How thought-provoking! Typical first-day handout? Oh, TESC! Wait till I tell my tenure-track prof daughter. For one thing, Evergreen was a back-up college app in 2011.
How do I get you back in a classroom? Respectfully, lol.
Your initial couple of sentences give me pause. I'm pretty sure that even at 18 - I'm WAY WAY older now- I knew that the world existed before I scanned my peepers across it. That would seem a pretty elementary understanding (as in elementary school).
Yet, there is still so much to learn.
I was fishing on the Rainy River Monday, Canada a mere couple hundred yards off port. Let me tell you, there'd be far fewer illegal's trying to swim into America if the Rio Grand were 36 Deg f.
So much to wonder about.
We caught Burbot, Red Horse, Sucker, Sauger, and one grade school age sturgeon.
In this collection are fish with scales, fish with skin, and fish with armor plating and spikes.
How did species inhabiting the same habitat arrive at 3 different exterior surface design?
Are these sturgeon really like crocodile, little changed since before the dinosaurs?
Did the successive ranks of ice sheets that advanced and retreated across this land scape erase the biological etch - a -sketch every time and create a new blank slate to be re explored and occupied by life in all its variety?
So may questions to ponder while a guy tries to keep his teeth from chattering.
Wow the opening paragraph and opening line of Nature's Prose is amazing,
"The natural world exists with or without humanity’s interpretation of it."
This is something I have been considering throughout the last 3 years, I think if you combine that opening paragraph with the Medicine, Against Reductionism section from your book A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide To The 21st Century, you can gain a great insight into the root of the problems of the last 3 years. Humans hubristic belief in the conquest of Nature.
Humans conquest of Nature, the dreams of some scientific planners.
Humans create visions of how the world works. In modern times we have created numerous visions or dogmas that attempt to explain how a modern society functions. Politicians use these visions to attract followers and rely on the visions to explain why things occur even when there is no evidence to support such contentions. Autocrats use visions to strengthen their grip on power and punish or kill heretics and blasphemers who doubt their vision. The populists substitute these visions in place of facts or truth and even go as far as denying facts or truth when they do not fit within the scope of their vision.
As David Bohm says, Imagination, that miracle of inner image-making, lifts humanity to new heights and possibilities. At the same time, seduces with endless opportunities for self-deception. Most fail to understand the fundamental nature of this rare capacity, fewer still distil its use in ways that negate reification, believing, and treating concepts or mental images as independent things or reality. I am a human being, embedded in nature, not a Democrat, Muslim, American, or a machine. Imagined mental images are theatre, pure play. To mistake play, the mental image, for one’s identity is the beginning of self-deception and conflict.
C.S. Lewis Quote
“For the wise people of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue,” Lewis writes. “For some scientists the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of people: the solution is a technique; in the practice of this technique, some are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious…”
As a fun little game since I am bored and curious what others might come up with, can anyone answer this question. "How is a baby made?" But I want to see someone do it through a purely reductionist logic of nothing but mechanisms. In other words, the question I really want to know the answer to (Bret and Heather included if possible), is "how can something inorganic, nonliving, (chemicals, atoms, and so forth) create a baby?" I understand that material is needed to give a body form. That is pretty basic. But what about explaining to me why human beings can "create life" out of dead things? And I am not looking for a "God is here" answer even though I am a believer. And I do actually have my own answer if anyone would like to here it after some people have said a thing or two that might change my theory. Especially Bret, as I think he and I have a fundamental disagreement about the nature of living things that I don't know how he explains away. Specifically his belief against pan psychism which I don't believe in literally, but do believe in fundamentally as true and inescapable.