• Tag Archives Wabash
  • The Humanities. Yeah.

    Spring                                                         Beltane Moon

    “Reminding us that “professor” means someone professing a faith, Delbanco exhorts us to keep the etymology alive: “Surely this meaning is one to which we would still wish to lay claim, since the true teacher must always be a professor in the root sense of the word — a person undaunted by the incremental fatigue of repetitive work, who remains ardent, even fanatic, in the service of his calling.” ” Stanley Fish, “The Case for the Liberal Arts.  Again.”

    It has been a while since the last impassioned plea to see things clear, at least those things important to a liberal arts education.  To see them clear and to embrace them as important, even necessary elements of an education.

    In the days since college its impacts still effect me on a daily, even hourly basis.  Here are a couple of examples from my freshmen year.  And the key to them both was the professor.

    The first and maybe most important impact came in the sheer joy of learning, a joy I didn’t grasp or even experience in high school.  Two courses at Wabash gave me a jump start.

    CC, or Contemporary Civilization, required of all freshmen, started at the beginning of human history and, over two semesters, brought us up to the present.  The professor, a man whose name I have forgotten, gave lectures that were narratives, heroes and villains, fools and knaves who blinked on and off as our species made its way from the past until today.  His lecture on town versus gown tensions in the middle ages was so famous among Wabash men that some would return for it each year.

    The second class, again a two semester course, an Introduction to Philosophy, was taught by J. Harry Cotton.  J. Harry wore tweed, smoked a pipe as he taught, a pipe with a paper wrapped plug of tobacco, and often rattled off paragraphs of Plato or Aristotle in Greek, finishing with a flourish on the black board, pointing out the intricacies of denotation and connotation.

    CC showed me that history was exciting, that I could expect it to be not only illuminating but also interesting.

    But Intro to Philosophy.  Ah. That one peeled back the entire cultural project of late 50’s, early 1960’s middle america and laid it bare.  I could see its sinews and its ligaments; its veins and arteries.  And more.  It was possible to critique it, to create a new way of understanding the world.  The only thing required was the mind and the courage to engage.

    In fact, it went deeper than that.  The intellectual content of my small town faith simply didn’t stand up to the rigors of philosophical thought.  When you march back through the argument from design to find yourself at the point of unmoved mover, it is possible, even urgently required, to ask one more question.  What made the unmoved mover?  Oh.

    So, there was this liberation, this vast opening, a vault of stars under which I could begin to stand as my own man, not a man made by tradition and custom, but a man made by saying yes and saying no.  Philosophy, for that reason, has been at the center of my life ever since.

  • Imagination

    Mid-Summer                                            New Honey Extraction Moon

    “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

    Logic revealed itself to me in Symbolic Logic I at Wabash College.  Professor Larry Hackstaffe taught it and I struggled like a flopping fish for six weeks, right up to the first test.  I studied and studied, but it made no sense to me.  On the day of the first test I went in and Bam, it was there.  Locked into place and flowing.

    This anecdote shows a strange reality about logic.  You have to learn how to use it and when you do the learning curve is not necessarily progressive, moving from one logical step to another, rather it proceeds in the manner of insight and intuition.  After you get, logic will get you from A to Z and show you how you got there.  You can also show others how you got there.  You can use it suss out weaknesses in the arguments of others and in your own arguments.

    Here’s the rub, though.  Beginnings.  Assumptions.  What do you assume when you begin your logical journey?  If we accept the two ideas of mortality and Socrates, we can use the famous syllogism, if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal.  If, however, we believe in, say, reincarnation, then this syllogism cannot make sense.  Or, to take a more current example, if the debt ceiling is not a critical political issue to you, then all the arguments in the world about how to control it will be nonsense.

    Logic has a power in its crisp, repeatable steps and its ability to say whether one thing truly follows from another, but it has only limited use in the realm of the good, the true and the beautiful.  Truth, even.  Yes, truth lies outside logic’s realm.  Logical can tell whether you a conclusion follows from its argument, but it cannot tell you whether it is a good conclusion or a bad conclusion.  That is the realm of value.

    Imagination allows us, encourages us, to consider conclusions not dreamt of in your philosophy.  Or mine.  Imagination allows to go all non-Euclidean on geometry.  It pushed past Newton and into General and Special relativity.  Imagination flows into realms never conceived and into ideas never before entertained.  Our imagination may be the most wondrous organ of all.  The imaginal lobe, wherever it resides, dreams and schemes, rearranges and redesigns with no necessary allegiance to fact, truth, goodness or badness.

    Imagination is dangerous, yes, but also beautiful.  I’m with Einstein, I want to go every where.

  • On the Banks of the Wabash

    Fall                              Waning Back to School Moon

    Lafayette, Indiana on the banks of the Wabash River.  Home of Purdue, the Boilermakers.

    Got in here at 8:58 last night Minnesota time.  But, this being Indiana, it was 9:58 here.  Indiana suffers from chronic ambichronicity with the rest of the country and from county to county within the state.  A pleasant night for a stroll took me past the county courthouse and several college bars to the Holiday Inn.

    Tuckered out, as we say in Indiana, I went to bed not long after.

    Up this morning with a significant amount of work to do for the Sierra Club; we’re in the legislative priority setting process, so I ordered room service breakfast and tap, tap, tapped my way through saving files, sending attachments and setting up a meeting wizard for a late October meeting.

    After that the friendly folks at Enterprise entertained me by sending a man who stood right next to me talking to Kate and asking her where I was.  When he realized it was me, he hung up, saying, That was your wife.  Well.

    Now back at the  Hotel, finishing up this and that before heading out to Chesterfield Spiritualist Camp.  If you feel any spiritual vibrations, it means I’ve arrived.  At the camp.  Not the great beyond.

    BTW:  I carry this netbook with me as well as my Blackberry and my  Kindle.  An electronic menage a trois.  Keeps me connected, informed and well read.  Not bad for under 2 pounds.

  • Logicomix

    Samhain                           Waning Wolf Moon

    Sigh.  The Vikings.  Going to the Cardinals for a big game has proved unhappy for us.  Again.  I don’t even know the final score because I turned it off with 6 minutes to go.  Not a pretty sight.

    Logicomix is a great read.  If you love philosophy and logic.  Which I do.  I had forgotten my passionate affair with logic until reading this graphic novel.  In my freshman year of college I took Symbolic Logic from Professor Larry Hackestaffe, most famous for wandering the main yard of Wabash College with a six-pack of Budweiser fastened to his belt through one of the plastic can holders.

    This was logic in the formal sense with proofs and theorems, logical symbols and head breaking chains of reasoning.  This was my second semester in college.  The first had been tough because German and I did not see eye to eye and I dropped it to avoid failing.  After my valedictory year at Alexandria-Monroe High School, that defeat stung.  The grammar and writing guy was also not impressed with my work, giving me a C for the first term.

    Symbolic Logic came along because philosophy was what had been missing in my life up till then, intellectual rigor, unafraid, thought seeking understanding at the most basic, essential levels, colorful characters like Heraclitus, Socrates, Aristotle, William of Occam bursting upon the stage, contradicting each other, going one step further or pulling others one step back.  God, it was exciting.  That was the first semester at Wabash, the same semester as Freshman English and German.

    In history and philosophy I did outstanding work, so I dove into them the next semester with a second course in the history of philosophy and the course in Symbolic Logic.  It was hell at first.  The kind of intellectual rigor required for logical reasoning can bring on headaches.  The night before the mid-term I stayed in the library past midnight, my book open, pencil working out proofs, scratching out false starts, feeling dismayed.  It was German all over again.  I didn’t get it, wouldn’t get it.  This was impossible stuff.

    I do not remember the problem, but I do remember the moment when, like a lightning bolt, it came to me.  Like Moses parting the Red Sea, the path to logical clarity opened up.   I did very well in that course and learned something about persisting in an academic area that at first seemed impenetrable.  Intuition was a part of my learning style.