Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Academic update

This quarter has consisted of:

A logic course on the meta-theory of sentential and first-order logic. I've done more than enough logic before, but I think it would be a good career move to be able to teach logic in the future, so I wanted a refresher. Turns out a fair bit of the material is new to me - as far as I can remember, which isn't saying much, considering that I learned some of this stuff a decade ago (eep).

A course on medieval philosophy. I'm not going to do much with any of this, but I think it's worth having filed away in some compartment of my brain.

I'm also sitting in on a course on the New Testament in the Divinity school. It's interesting, sometimes-despite / sometimes-because it's not presupposing any sort of Christian perspective.

Plus some of us have been doing a reading group on the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which is just marvy.

My coursework gets wrapped up next quarter. Looks like I'll be getting deep into Freud territory. I'm planning on taking a course titled "consciousness", which is really about the unconscious mind (it should be titled "the unconscious"). I've also just found out that another department is giving a course on "neuropsychoanalysis" which has me intrigued and somewhat excited. I plan on taking that, too, so I might end up getting to make use of some of my cognitive science background, which is a little unexpected.

I'll also have to start work on my "preliminary essay", which is like a mini-dissertation. First I'll have to find a topic. Then I'll have to write about it. Both are daunting tasks.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Things you can learn in college

The office of the President of the University set up a task force on sexual ethics, which has produced, among other things, a useful poster providing some "Educational Guidelines for SEXUAL CONSENT!"

Informative excerpts:
Some POOR Practices

VIOLENCE: The threat of or use of violence or force negates any previous consent or subsequent assumptions of consent.

COERCION: Like physical force, coercion and intimidation negate consent.

DRUGS & ALCOHOL: GIving someone drugs or alcohol with the intent to impair his or her judgment or make them unconscious violates the Illinois law.

HARASSMENT: By the very definition, when someone is sexually harassed, the behavior is unwelcome; therefore, any form of sexual harassment is non consensual. For instance, masturbating in front of someone without their agreement and/or touching and groping someone at a party is not considered consensual.
Well, I'm glad that got cleared up.

(At the risk of depriving some wayward college student of this wisdom, I decided to take the poster home to decorate my apartment.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Windy winter wonderland

I just got back from a quick trip to the store. Or, it should have been a quick trip the store. It took a bit longer than normal, because I had to contend with the odd 3 foot snow drift, and 50 km/h wind gust.

Woo! Great fun. For me, I mean. For people who actually have things to do and places to go, it's a terrible inconvenience, but, me, I just got to bound around in the snow and get blown around a bit, and share a chuckle with a guy using a briefcase to plow his way to his door.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Whose God is it?

An untranscribed portion of the video for this ABC News story on the prejudice faced by Muslims in the American military begins:
It is a sign of their devotion when Muslims bow 5 times a day towards Mecca and pray to their God.
See anything weird? Let's try a little substitution:
...when Christians pray to their God.

...when Jews pray to their God.
It's quite unlikely that ABC news would ever air a statement like that. Because the God that Jews and Christians pray to is just: God. "God" here is a proper name, and identifies its referent quite nicely without anyone having to stick a possessive adjective in front of it. In fact, maybe I should remove that capitalization:
It is a sign of their devotion when Muslims bow 5 times a day towards Mecca and pray to their god.
Yep, that's starting to look icky.

So by identifying the object of Muslim prayer as "their god", the article (which is meant to address anti-Muslim prejudice) also perpetuates a kind of anti-Muslim prejudice, by suggesting that Muslims worship some freakish alien deity completely unrelated to the one that normal people worship.

This was probably unintentional. As Slacktivist has noted on occasion, journalists tend to be pretty much clueless when it comes to issues of religion. But there are people who really do think that Allah is something entirely distinct from God; some Christians even think that Allah is Satan or some such. Hearing this sort of thing on the news isn't helping matters.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Defending the faith, Maimonides style

I'm studying some medieval philosophy this quarter, and so far the star of the show is clearly Maimonides, a leading Jewish jurist and philosopher (and a member of a Jewish community which flourished under Arab, Islamic rule - something worth keeping in mind for those who think that religious differences (particularly those involving Muslims) are an irremediable threat to the public peace).

Maimonides' major philosophical work is The Guide of the Perplexed, which deals with, among other things, the problem of people who raise objections against scripture. At one point, he addresses a representative example (of someone who criticizes the story of Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden). Never mind the substance of the objection and Maimonides' response - just feast on how he prefaces the response:
O you who engage in theoretical speculation using the first notions that may occur to you and come to your mind and who consider withal that you understand a book that is the guide of the first and the last men while glancing through it as you would glance through a historical work or a piece of poetry - when, in some of your hours of leisure, you leave off drinking and copulating: collect yourself and reflect, for things are not as you thought following the first notion that occurred to you, but rather as is made clear through reflection upon the following speech. (Guide, I, 2)
Sadly I was unable to "reflect upon the following speech", for I was laughing too hard at the time. (Maimonides presents this as something he actually said as part of a real conversation. If only we could go back in time and bring him into the present to have a chat with Richard Dawkins.)

And here is a diagnosis of why some people are limited in their abilities to understand religious matters:
There are, moreover, many people who have received from their first natural disposition a complexion of temperament with which perfection is in no way compatible. Such is the case of one whose heart is naturally exceedingly hot; for he cannot refrain from anger, even if he subject his soul to very stringent training. This is also the case of one whose testicles have a hot and humid temperament and are of a strong constitution and in whom the seminal vessels abundantly generate semen. (Guide, I, 34)
One of those is, in fact, a major difficulty I have faced throughout my own studies.

I am awesome!

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Boo yah! Plus 15 God Points for me!

(Dawn points out there's a scriptural reference there: "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22). Except "reader" has been substituted for "doer" - a questionable adaptation.)

(h/t Scott)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Edification but not maturation, up-building but not growing-up

A bunch of us are doing a reading group on Kierkegaard/Johannes Climacus' Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. The other day, this passage came up:
A person in love, for instance, to whom his erotic love is his very inwardness, may well want to communicate himself, but not directly, just because the inwardness of erotic love is the main thing for him.
It was Dawn that brought it up, and read it out, and then all the guys started giggling.

Erotic love! Hee hee hee.

From a bit later on in the Postscript:
Here erotic love manifestly means existence or that by which life is in everything, the life that is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite. According to Plato, Poverty and Plenty begot Eros, whose nature is made up of both. But what is existence? It is that child who is begotten by the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal, and is therefore contiually striving.
Striving... erotically!

Kierkegaard makes existence sexy. Oh. Yeah.