Sunday, October 23, 2011

Philosopher? What's that?

Since I ought to be commenting on papers and journals, now is the obvious time to write something for this blog.

I've been fairly busy of late (with "of late" being the last 6 months to year).  I've been fortunate enough to be viewed as having something worth saying (or being good at saying stuff) and so have been a speaker at a steady stream of conferences.  I thought I'd posted about this before, but as I look through my posts, I seem to have not.

Oh, what's the 'this' I thought I'd posted about but didn't?

Well, let me share.

At these conferences I'm essentially talking about learning theory and some stuff about the brain.  So, basically psychology and neuroscience.  And, no, I'm neither a psychologist nor a neuroscientist.  And, that's the thing.  I stand up in front of a whole bunch of folks with a microphone, go through my slides, give a presentation that is well-received.  Then folks tell me how much they appreciate a philosopher's perspective.  A friend of mine, when I asked for feedback on my presentation, prefaced it with "first of all, don't lose your 'philosopher voice'." But the thing is, I don't say anything that I consider to be remotely philosophical.  I keep wanting to ask folks "what, exactly, did I say or do that you think was philosophy?"

The best I can come up with, at this point, is that I have a particular 'take' on things (aka the world) and this is, in some way, a 'philosophical' take and thus, no matter what I'm discussing, I'm doing philosophy.

I'm not at all opposed to this interpretation, but it does really make describing what I do or bring to a conversation difficult.  It's like being an interpreter/translate except what I do is translate ideas into my way of thinking about them and connecting them.  I don't really add new ideas, I just put them together in ways that people find interesting/charming/mildly elucidating.

Really?  Is this what philosophy is?  Well, I suppose when I look at my favorite philosophers, maybe this is what philosophy is.

This brings me to the next topic:  what, in addition to my special little twist on things, do I have to contribute to conversations?  I can't keep going to these conferences and saying the same thing over and over (not only would that get remarkably boring, but there are folks for whom psychology and neuroscience actually are their area of expertise).  What do I have to say that is different from what everyone else is saying that is worth hearing?  What insight in terms of actual content or 'angle' do I have to add to the conversation?  I mean it's all fine and good to be a good public speaker but shouldn't I have something original to say instead of just sharing what other folks have said?

So far, I've been largely walking in other people's footprints in my shoes, but I suspect that I could start making my  footprints talking about something that isn't already being discussed.  But what is that?  The suggestion given by one person (who I really respect) is that I might be 'the next Parker Palmer' — how cool would that be?  I really do like Palmer's work and I think that it does need to be updated.  I suppose that instead of waiting for him to update it, I could start thinking about those things and be the updater.

I suppose.

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about.

Oh, article that I've been working on for forever has been accepted (I still do not understand the 'fused participle' grammatical error that I apparently make willy-nilly.  And, yes, I've read H.W. Fowler's discussion of it and it still makes no sense to me) and I've got two other articles out and not yet rejected.

AND, in even bigger news, I'm still off of facebook.  I appear to not have been spending as much time on facebook as I thought because I haven't experienced any sort of increase in productivity and I haven't really supplanted facebook frittering away of time with another way to fritter away time.

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