Monday, May 21, 2007

Getting a Bachelor's Degree in "Thinking"

Just some rambling, probably incoherent, why-am-I-up-at-7:30am-for-no-reason thoughts: I am graduating from my fine undergraduate institution this weekend with a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy. My family and parents' involvement in all the ceremonial activity has prompted me to recollect and (re)consider a few things.

My parents have always been supportive of my choice to pursue a degree in Psychology, which was the first major I declared as an undergrad. "Ah, psych," they may have thought, "psychology can at least masquerade as a legitimate, worthwhile field of study. She can be a psychologist or a psychiatrist," both of which require Ph.Ds, the latter of which requires medical school. I think declaration of Psych as my first major may have been my saving grace when I told them I would also be declaring a second major, Philosophy. "Philosophy," they said, surely trying not to raise their brows, "really? What will you do with that?" Whenever people asked this question - which they did, nearly everytime I informed them what my chosen fields of studies were - I thought I was really clever with my standard response; "I'm using Philosophy to learn how to think, Psychology to learn how other people think, and one day I'm going to go to Law School to learn how to use it all against them."

Admittedly, telling people I major in Philosophy to "learn how to think" is kind of a cop-out. My real answer regarding my intentions as a Phil major is probably along the lines of "Shut the hell up, It's too difficult to explain to you that I secretly think I might figure out the meaning of life by majoring in philosophy but I'd rather not try to explain it to you, moron, because I'm kinda embarassed I actually think this way...," response. Eh. So, in a state of early-morning personal reflection I wonder if I have indeed figured out the meaning of life? I contemplate as I prepare to graduate with my degree in Philosophy later today.

In his 1911 satire, The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce has a definition for philosophy which is by far my favorite. I've used it as an away message for times I've wanted to inform my friends I'm presently attending a phil class or writing a 10+ pager about, erm, nothing, for years. Bierce describes philosophy as "a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." I've underestimated Bierce all these years, thinking to myself "Surely I'll come out with something." Well, no. Bierce was right. Philosophy is a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing. It is perhaps the only college major in which you come out knowing (and I use the term 'knowing' loosely, because at this point I'm not sure you can ever really 'know' anything...) less than you came in knowing.

I would, however, like to modify Bierce's quote slightly. Oh, how I wish that I would be so lucky to be able to maintain steady, methodical progress on my philosophical road to nothingness post graduation. But alas, I won't. I've realized that Bierce's quote seems to describe undergraduate study. One is 'nowhere' freshman year and, with a little luck, reaches 'nothing' senior year. After I walk across the stage today, clutching my pseudo your-real-degree-is-still-pending Bachelors in Philosophy degree I will no longer walk the road. Instead, I will be set out into the Sea of Nothingness - in Neurath's boat. That sounds wholly existential, I'm sure. But it's not. I'm kind of looking forward to my venture into the Sea of Nothingness. It'll be interesting to see what I find. Perhaps I'll be like the ancient mariners, gaining information and knowledge through faulty means (in this case, my own naive and deluded thinking, presumably), but manage to stay alive and intact and enjoy the journey nonetheless. I just wish I had taken a class in carpentry to aid me in reparing my Neurath boat and bought some new Topsiders for this journey, because mine have seen better days (my current pair has accompanied me for much of my journey down the road from nowhere).

I leave you with some of Bierce's other definitions from The Devil's Dictionary which I feel are/have been relevant to my time as a Philosophy major:

Education - That which discloses to the wise, and disguises from the foolish, their lack of understanding.
Learning - The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
Logic - The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.
Patience - A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.
Rational - Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
Religion - A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
Road - A strip of land along which one may pass from where it is too tiresome to be to where it is futile to go.
Zeal - A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced.

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