Thursday, November 30, 2017

--- Local philosophy and psychology: college tour ---

On March 31 I walked up to the Oxford station and took a couple of trains to the University of Denver. I enjoy college campuses. They're like huge, sprawling museums. Many of the schools keep exhibits in their buildings and this university is no exception. I don't understand why edutourism isn't more of a thing.

The University of Denver, just a street over from the light rail station, is a nice mix of old stone buildings and modern brick and glass. Streets surround a large campus devoid of street traffic. Like most campuses I've visited, there is a large building, in this case, a golden spired carillon tower, that can be seen from most points on campus and serves as a landmark that can prevent a visitor from getting lost. The first point on my agenda when visiting a new campus is to identify that landmark, for colleges campuses are typically labyrinths. I've never seen the big, bull-headed guy, but I always expect to.

Here are a few pictures:

The Frontier Building, home of the Psychology Dept.

A chapel on campus

The Sturm Building, home of the Philosophy Dept.

Art on campus

The carillon tower

More specifically, I wanted to visit the schools of philosophy and psychology. As usual, they were tucked away in small corners of huge buildings housing liberal art schools. Groups of new students were being shown around and all of the students were working out the classes of a new session, so I didn't learn much over what I have seen on the websites, but I did learn that I look so mush like one of the anthropology professors that several people thought I was him. On looking him up, I felt quite flattered, although, well, accident of appearance - right?

The University seems to focus on Continental and Asian philosophies, and Analytic philosophy. I am particularly interested in philosophies outside the conventional Western Philosophies. They tend to caulk up the gaps. Maybe they'll offer some lectures. They have one coming up, presented by Professor Naomi Reshotko, who believes that we take Plato too literally when he talks about forms.

I, frankly don't know if Plato was completely serious about his "heaven of forms". Certainly it would be a bit much for modern humans to swallow, but, regardless, it is certainly a productive turn. For instance, was Zeno being literal about his arrows. Take the allegorical turn. Perhaps he was not commenting on reality itself, but he might have been pointing out glaring gaps in the philosophy of his day. Why couldn't philosophers reconcile the impossibility of infinite regress with the obvious fact that an arrow can, and often did kill people?

It can be difficult for people of one culture to nail down what people of other cultures are really getting at.

My own position is that these forms do actually have a form of existence - it's an existence that can't support itself and needs a substrate. And that's why I feel that Asian philosophies fill gaps in Western philosophies. They have categories of existence beyond the Western, exist/nonexist dichotomy. Information doesn't actually exist. Show me a circle - and I don't mean a round drawing. That isn't a circle since a circle doesn't have any thickness. It is a string of points, all of which have the same distance from a  single point. But how the circle has played a part in the history of humanity. It certainly must have some kind of existence. It resides somewhere between existence and nonexistence. And now I hear (from the Teaching Company's  lecture tapes on the Higg's boson) that modern physicists hold that matter doesn't exist - that matter is only a way that we perceive fields. And what is a field?

I told you that philosophy is dangerous. Didn't I tell you?

I rejoice to see (on the website) that this university emphasizes integrative psychology. I shudder at the memory of a time when, if you had any aspirations of being a psychologist, you had to claim a particular school of thought. (Grph!)

I find myself remembering what I liked about college before graduate school burned it out of me. I could have very happily been a student for life, and, in effect, in my retirement, I've returned to that, but in a rather altered manner. But college campuses and newsletters still make me happy.

On the 27th, I took buses and trains for a two and a half hour trip to Boulder and the University of Colorado campus. It's a beautiful place with the Flatirons towering over rough stone buildings. Since tourism is a priority alongside academics, there are things to do in Boulder. The Museum of Natural History is well known for it's paleontology exhibits and there are other museums and theaters. I checked out the schools of psychology and philosophy and found....bulletin boards.

Hellems Arts and Sciences Building
home of the Philosophy Dept.


The Muenzinger Building
Home of the Psychology Dept.

The Flatirons from campus

Well, as you have probably gathered, psychology and philosophy are not terribly visual fields and exhibits in those fields do not abound. But I talked to students and almost collided with faculty - as busy there as on any other college campus. I had a short but interesting conversation with the Boulder Socialist Revolution. Too bad I'm not focusing on social sciences this year.

It looks like, from the website of the psychology department, that they have a particular emphasis in neuroscience with current work on marijuana and a researcher (Dr. Tor Wager) becoming pretty well known for his work on the placebo effect. (It's on the Internet, folks!)

Meanwhile, the philosophy department (again, not a huge draw for academic tourism) seems to have a focus on ethics with a social flavor. That shouldn't be a surprise since Boulder has been on the leading edge of human (and nonhuman) rights. Boulder was one of the first cities in America (maybe the first) to extend legal rights to pets as active members of their community. And there is, of course, an active group (PAWS) on campus for animal rights. If that excites you, you should check out this site:

They're working to obtain legal recognition for the Colorado River as a person. Some of you are laughing - I know you are, but more power to them. Trans- and Posthumanism is most definitely a thing and it isn't going away anytime soon. Maybe it will get people thinking about how they connect with the world around them.

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