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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some Announcements



1) My colleagues Eric Wiland and John Brunero are putting together a conference on reasons and rationality. It's an annual event. The official title is: St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality. This year's event will take place May 23-25, 2010. It's looking great already. For more information on the conference, click here.

2) I have started a new blog. It's not a philosophy or psychology blog. It's meant to be for the general reader and focuses on the irrational and unconscious elements of love. Occasionally, philosophical or psychological issues may come up but they would be in a format that can be understood by the gal on the street.

3) As some of you may have guessed, writing is my passion. I once wanted to be a writer but didn't make enough money to pay my bills. So, I went into philosophy. I have just recently started doing some freelance writing again. My articles are on all sorts of topics and usually completely unrelated to philosophy or psychology. When I get around to it, the articles will be posted here. When they happen to be of relevance to students, I will post them in the sidebar of this blog under "Tips for Students and Other Job Seekers".

4) I hold a secondary position in psychology now. I am only barely starting to get acquainted with my new department. But in the future Lemmings will also occasionally contain some posts on psychology.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In an Ideal World...

Old classic:

In an ideal world...

1) the baseball players would be American
2) the policemen would be English
3) the car mechanics would be German
4) the schools would be Danish
5) the cooks would be Italian
6) the stand-up comedians would be Australian
7) the innkeepers would be Swiss,
8) and the lovers would be French


In a living hell...

1) the baseball players would be Australian
2) the policemen would be German
3) the car mechanics would be French
4) the schools would be American
5) the cooks would be English
6) the stand-up comedians would be Swiss
7) the innkeepers would be Italian
8) and the lovers would be Danish

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stereotypes

Stereotype for 'philosopher' (outdated): old-looking, man, suit, pipe smoker, whiskey drinker, a serious look on his face, sober analytic writing style, not prolific, secret meetings at philosophers’ houses to study dead philosophers, knows that to steal ideas from one person is plagiarism but to steal from many is research, fails to respond to mail from people below himself, is obsessed with ivy-league universities, interviews female job candidates on hotel beds.

Stereotype for 'philosopher' (up to date): young-looking, man, poorly dressed or Euro-trash, beer-drinker, fun, endearing analytic writing-style, prolific, confuses career with life, tardiness in responding to emails from people below himself, has a mental list of good and bad people and good and bad philosophy, travels frequently, changes jobs often, contributes to one or more weblogs, has a webpage with links to all published articles and works in progress, is a member of Facebook, has at least 200 Facebook friends, owns a MacBook, owns an iPhone, is obsessed with department and journal rankings, frequently attends the meetings of the American Philosophical Association mostly to be seen and to hang with the inner circle, obsessed with media presence, surrounded by female groupies.

Stereotype for 'The Eastern Meeting of the American Philosophical Association': over-prized hotel rooms, poorly attended talk sessions, scared job candidates, obsession with the university affiliation listed on people’s name tags, free-beer smoker, over-prized beer smoker, hitting on female students, parties in hotel rooms, drunkenness, the Presidential address.

Stereotype for 'man': doesn’t go to the bathroom when he needs to make an emergency crotch adjustment, doesn't need to schedule sex around his reproductive system, never lets hot wax near his pubic area, his orgasms are real (always), his last name stays put, people don’t glance at his chest while he is talking to them, nobody secretly wonders if he swallows, can have great sex with people he doesn’t like, sorts laundry into "filthy" and "filthy but good enough to wear", wonders how service stations keep their restrooms so clean, can walk down the street with a balding head and a beer gut and still think he is sexy, can be president.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek


The 4-Hour Workweek immediately hit the media spotlight. It got raving reviews and has created countless debates on blogs around the web ever since. Its author, Timothy Ferriss, coined the term "the new rich". The new rich are not rich. They don't own oil companies or Manhattan nightclubs. They are not bestseller authors either. What they have is a regular flow of cash which they obtain without working much, and which they use to fund their dream lifestyle. Tim aims at showing anyone how to achieve just that: a luxury lifestyle without putting in the hours. And by 'anyone' he literally means 'anyone', from the Midwest academic on a 4-4 course load to the single mother working a 9-5 job as a coffee bitch. The book is smack-full of neat tips. Here are just a few of the "how-to" promises of the book. Tim promises to show you:

• How to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want
• How to read 200% faster in 10 minutes
• How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
• How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent "mini-retirements"
• How to train your boss to value performance over presence, or kill your job (or company) if it's beyond repair
• How to cultivate selective ignorance—and create time—with a low-information diet
• How to get free housing worldwide and airfare at 50–80% off
• How to fill the void and create a meaningful life after removing work and the office

What the heck is the guy thinking? Well, there is a bit of history to it. After college Tim took a wearying sales job at a tech-y firm. When he left to start a successful business of his own, he went from 40 to 80 hours a week. Despite making good money, he felt like every little piece of his soul was slowly being sucked out of him.

Tim then decided to change. He streamlined, eliminated, automated, outsourced. Not exactly the geeky type, Tim took off to tropical paradise, and then decided to write a book about achieving the true American dream. He also created a blog devoted to experiments in life-style design.

So what to do if you want to be Tim? Well, first stop your 9 bad habits and then start outsourcing. It's that simple. Tim's 9 bad habits undone are plainly adorable:

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
4. Do not let people ramble
5. Do not check e-mail constantly — “batch” and check at set times only
6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm — prioritize
8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

I must admit that I haven't been able to stop a single one of these killer habits (except the first one, but I never answer the phone anyway, unless I really like you). But the thought is a good one. What about outsourcing? The trick is to find a job that doesn't require your presence. Then, and only then, will outsourcing work. You then hire some poor Indian guy to do business for you and then you book a discount trip to Hawaii or Greenland. It sounds burlesque and irresponsible but, Tim argues, it really isn't. We are simply socially conditioned into thinking that we have to work our asses off to be successful. Get over your fears and hit the road, guys!

But outsourcing seems to rub people the wrong way. It feels a bit atrocious to hire some stone broke virtual guy from a third-world country to do an exhaustive search of the world's boutiques in order to find a talking or dancing Elmo for your spoiled child or to arrange for a team of tech nerds to set up a countless number of speed-dates with oblivious young women looking for true love. Tim has done all of that, and more. The most hilarious part of the book is the section where Tim describes how he is outsourcing his love letters to his wife! I am glad I am not married to him (though I do have to admit that he is quite a handsome young man). But back to outsourcing. Is it really that bad? We live in an outsourced world, don't we? We pay people to clean our houses, wash our cars, fill our SUVs with gas in Jersey, walk our dogs, house-sit our cats, baby-sit our kids, cook our party food, teach our classes, grade our quizzes, conduct our X-Phi quasi-experiments, add footnotes to our book manuscripts (yes, some people really do do that!), you name it. But it's not just paying people to work for you that fuels people's concerns about outsourcing. It's the fact that Tim pays $5/hour to have young starving men and women from India run his company and personal life while he tangos in Argentina and eats at 5-star restaurants. Ever thought of donating, Tim?

But if (and that's a big if) outsourcing really ain't that bad, then the question arises, is it really true that you can get away with working only four hours a week? Not really. By "a 4-hour workweek" Tim means four hours spent on work you really despise doing but which nonetheless brings in most of your income. Many of us (academics) are fortunate enough to have a 4-hour workweek in this sense. Not all academics are where they want to be, but a huge number of us are doing exactly what we want to do 90% of the time. So, the book is not really geared towards academics. But I think even academics can draw something useful from the book. If nothing else, you can get a good laugh out of it. Plus, it's all the rage, it's been on New York Time's bestseller list for years. Actually, this is the second expanded edition (100 pages of added material!), and it's still on the lists. Of course, the fact that it has been on the lists for years just shows that people buy it for whatever reason (a lot of marketing buzz and a catchy title?), not that it's a great book. But it really is quite a useful book, full of little nifty tips on how to use your time more efficiently and find more time to do what you really enjoy doing. One wonders, though, whether Tim actually wrote the book. Or did he follow his own religion? This could be a true Gödel-Schmidt story.

[Nota Bene: I appreciate the sudden flow of free books from trade publishers after I started posting book reviews to my blog but it is still my prerogative to pick and choose which of them I review. Yes, I do have a life! So, no follow-up emails please. Or maybe I should think about outsourcing my reviewer responsibilities!]

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Courses This Fall

I am teaching two seminars this fall. Here are the course descriptions:

Introspection (graduate level)
Conducted this fall by Dr. Berit Brogaard
brogaardb@gmail.com

There is little doubt that we undergo conscious experiences. There is also little doubt that we often describe our conscious experiences. For example, I might convey to you the content of my current visual experience or the character of my pain sensation or the level of detail of my visual image. Whether or not we can describe inner experience, and can do so reliably is an important question. Various kinds of scientific research depend on the possibility and reliability of these types of report. But is it actually possible to describe inner experience? And if it is possible, can introspective reports serve as reliable evidence in scientific studies? This course addresses these and related questions about introspective reports through a study of the Method of Descriptive Experience Sampling, a method developed by psychologist Russ Hurlburt. The method was critically discussed and tested in a series of studies conducted by Russ Hurlburt in collaboration with philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel in 2003. The results of these experiments and Schwitzgebel and Hurlburt's conversations were published as the book Describing Inner Experience (MIT, 2007). The book will serve as the main textbook for this course. Upon completion of the book we will read William Lyons' The Disappearance of Introspection and Hurlburt's Sampling Inner Experience in Disturbed Affect. We will furthermore discuss selected sections of David Dunning's Self-Insight and Tim Wilson's Strangers to Ourselves. The first three books must be purchased on eBay or Amazon, or at the University bookstore. The last two books can be acquired through inter-library loans. The class will meet for approx. 2 hours every Monday from September - November. No prerequisites are required, though some general background in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science or related fields of study is recommended.


The Nature of the Unconscious (graduate level and upper-level undergraduate, cross-listed)
Conducted this fall by Dr. Berit Brogaard
brogaardb@gmail.com

While Freud was responsible for popularizing the notion of the unconscious, the notion of an unconscious mental state was not given any serious attention in modern-day scientific circles until around the 1970s. The notion then emerged independently of the Freudian tradition in cognitive psychology. In cognitive psychology the notion of an unconscious mental state first seriously entered the picture as a result of studies of amnesiacs. While amnesiacs cannot remember words they have just read, they nonetheless are able to do as well as normal people on cognitive tests that do not require short-term memory. Daniel Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, introduced the notion of 'unconscious memory' or what he called 'implicit memory'. Implicit memory is the effect of a past event on a person's current experience, thought, and action in the absence of, or independently of, conscious memory (Schacter 1987). Implicit memory involves implicit episodic knowledge, that is, implicit knowledge of a specific event, as opposed to procedural knowledge. If you have ever been so drunk that you couldn't remember how you ended up in fetal position on the couch, what you were missing was explicit episodic knowledge but you may still have had implicit episodic knowledge. Even if you cannot explicitly remember what you did last night, your implicit memories of what you did last night may still guide your current actions. Your brain knows what you did and is out for revenge. Readings for the course include: The Hidden Brain (http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Brain-Unconscious-Presidents-Control/dp/0385525214), The New Unconscious (http://www.amazon.com/Unconscious-Oxford-Social-Cognition-Neuroscience/dp/0195149955), and selected readings from The Freud Reader (http://www.amazon.com/Freud-Reader-Sigmund/dp/0393314030). The class will meet for approx. 2 hours every Monday from September - November. No prerequisites are required, though some general background in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science or related fields of study is recommended.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Two Papers

I am back from the Pacific APA. In case you missed my talks (and care) I have posted links to them on my website here and here. The first link is to my comments from the author-meets-critics session on Uriah Kriegel's book Subjective Consciousness. The second link is to a very brief version of my paper on high-level properties in perception.