Friday, January 27, 2012

I Hate "Boring"

What students say:

“This is boring”

What I hear:

“I am unable to connect this material with any part of my regular patterns of thought in any way which I perceive to be interesting. In other words, it just might be the case that this material is so far above my understanding that I don’t even have a conceptual grasp about what it might be saying. Or I might be saying, that I am unable to connect this material with any real basis from which I make decisions, either due to inexperience or ineptitude in my decision making faculties.”

I don't mean to be cheeky, but I wish students understood that using the word "boring" says more about themselves than about the subject matter. Boring is not a descriptive term without the context of a reader.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Being an Academic and a Churchman

I think one of the reasons it can be frustrating to be both an academic and a church man is that for an academic, a question can be raised and he will spend 35 years pursuing an answer. For a churchman, if a question is raised, it seems like it must be answered and put to rest in 35 minutes. The heuristic passion which is brought about by open questions and which drives academic inquiry is looked upon with suspicion by churchmen. For the churchman, questions can be corrosive to faith, or worse, idols themselves. For the academic (understood charitably), they are the means to worship.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

PK: Intellectual Passion

"The function which I attribute . . . to scientific passion is that of distinguishing between demonstrable facts which are of scientific interest, and those which are not. Only a tiny fraction of all knowable facts are of interest to scientists, and scientific passion serves also as a guide in the assessment of what is relatively slight. I want to show that this appreciation depends ultimately on a sense of intellectual beauty; that it is an emotional response which can never be dispassionately defined, any more than we dispassionately define the beauty of a work of art or the excellence of a noble action."
Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, 135.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Polanyi and Words and Meaning

“If, then, it is not words that have meaning, but the speaker or listener who means something by them, let me declare accordingly my true position as the author of what I have written so far, as well as of what is still to follow. I must admit now that I did not start the present reconsideration of my beliefs with a clean slate of unbelief.  Far from it.  I started as a person intellectually fashioned by a particular idiom, acquired through my affiliation to a civilization that prevailed in the places where I had grown up, at this particular period of history. This has been the matrix of all my intellectual efforts. Within it I was to find my problem and seek the terms for its solution. All my amendments to these original terms will remain embedded in the system of my previous beliefs. Worse still, I cannot precisely say what these beliefs are. I can say nothing precisely. The words I have spoken and am yet to speak mean nothing: it is only I who mean something by them. And, as a rule, I do not focally know what I mean, and though I could explore my meaning up to a point, I believe that my words (descriptive words) must mean more than I shall ever know, if they are to mean anything at all” 
Polanyi, Persaonal Knowledge, 252.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Kant on Empiricism and Rationalism

 "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions witthout concepts are blind."