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Archive for February, 2010

So, would you want to live forever? 

Well, I would; I think.  Under the circumstances that once you got to about age 25, the doctors could just turn off your ageing process, and then you could go for eternity with the energy and mind of a 25 year old, only you get to add more wisdom.  It’s possible that your brain might deteriorate over a period of hundreds of years, but perhaps, they could keep the cells renewing themselves, or otherwise figure out how to keep them from atrophying.

I write about this subject, not only becasue it is inherently interesting, but also because the doctors tell us that very soon, within a few generations perhaps, we might well be able to ‘cure’ ageing – i.e., stop the human ageing process, genetically.  In other words, we might finally be getting very close to one of the great goals of mankind, which has occupied us as a species ever since we woke up from our animalistic stupor, and began to think critically, and to realize that, guess what, we’re mortal, and further, that that really sucks, in many many ways.  (more…)

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It is with some sadness that I feel I must write this, but, the situation has gotten so dire that people need to realize what’s going on in the humanities job market.  Although I’ve written about the value of degrees in history and english, and I’ve also written in my “Who am I?” section, about how much my wife and I have enjoyed being graduate students in the humanities, I must also say that all of those things are only fun if you know that you have a decent job waiting for you at the end of it all.  Even through the 1990s, when I entered grad school, the job market was desperate, but, still, if you were actually talented, you could expect to get a job within a year or two of graduating.  Only losers had to be ‘adjuncts’ for more than a year, and only true losers stayed being adjuncts for more than 3-4 years. 

Unfortunately, the adoption of the business efficiency model by MBA-trained administrators in universities throughout the western world, which began in the 1980s and has reached a cresendo in the mid 2000s, has meant that the ‘human’ spaces in the university job model have quite rapidly been squeezed out by professional ‘efficiency maximizers’ who have been hired to minimize cost and maximize revenue.  While that is a great idea in theory, what it means is that people, and their lives, have basically been squeezed out of the profession.  In sum, while up to 80% of university teaching was done by tenured full-time faculty through the 1970s, by the mid-2000s, something like 25% of teaching was being done by full-time tenured faculty.

Why is this?  (more…)

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(Note:  if you just want the list, scroll down.) 

From the middle ages through the 1960s, undergraduates began their studies with the liberal arts:  especially with grammar, rhetoric, and logic, that is, the thorough use of language in a scientific and logical way.  In the nineteenth century, with the industrial revolution, there came a need for lots of highly specialized and educated people, whose main field was science and math.  Since the knowledge in these fields now exploded, to the point that no one man could master more than a very narrow amount of these fields, it now became necessary to have long years of training in just these fields, in order to produce top-notch people.

This was potentially a problem, since for the first time, education for these people now threatened to become separated from the rest of the arts.  Interestingly, it took some time for this to happen.  Even at ‘engineering colleges’, which were increasingly set up from the 1860s, undergraduates were still admitted based on their proficiency in Latin and Greek through the 1930s.  It was only after WWII, with the advent of the Russian threat, and the obvious need to have top scientists in order to win the Cold War, that society accelerated its specialization of Maths and Science students, and basically began to divest these students of almost any non mathematical influence.

So before we can judge if this was good or bad, we need to understand what purpose the liberal arts had served until that time.   (more…)

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So, almost everyone who is about my age and who has a philosophical bent is a fan of Star Trek, the Next Generation.  I even went to school where a cast member’s father taught, and it was at the height of the TNG’s success, and the father was worshipped like a god for their offspring’s success. 

So, why are philosophy people so into Trek?  Why are there books out like ‘the philosophy of star trek,’ etc.?  Well, because Gene Roddenberry created a show on purpose which would deal with ‘big picture’ issues, which delve into the major problems in Western history, and, very often, which grapple with one of the more important myths, or topoi, of Western culture, including the Garden of Eden; and the whole point of each episode is that it’s supposed to grapple with some major ethical dilemma.   Of course, most people can watch the show and not realize this, which is why it enjoyed any success.  But their inner souls do get it – and that’s also why the show is popular.  Specifically, it’s why the show has become one of the major contributions of c20th culture to the Western canon, along with Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.  They all deal with those central myths, those ‘clashes of good vs. evil’ which belong properly to the genre known as ‘epic.’   So Star Trek was intentionally epic from the outset.  (more…)

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