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I Was A Philosophy Wannabe Who Was Put In His Place.

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Posted by John Morgan Powell on April 19, 2001 21:25:16 UTC

I have to admit that my view that "cosmology philosophers" today have to look to scientists was based on my own interpretation. Someone may have mentioned it and I thought it again later, I'm not sure. I will admit my knowledge of philosophy is very weak.

In High School, I read a few short explanation books on the world's most influential philosophers. I found the effort to understand and distinguish the different ideas very challenging. I wanted to be as smart as I could be.

I noticed that some ancient philosophers decided the way things were (like the Earth is flat, it's the center of the universe, the planets are attached to rotating crystalline spheres, dirt falls and air rises because that's its nature, etc.) without necessarily doing experiments.

At BYU, I took a philosophy class in hopes of proving to myself that I was as good a philosopher as I and my High School classmates thought I was. I didn't get the usual A I got in my other courses. Why? Because in the teacher's judgement I was not as good a philospher as those he gave A's to. Well, maybe he was justified, but I was peeved. Physics grades were not so dependent on what the instructor subjectively thinks about your ideas, but more objectively on how well you correctly answer the math and physics questions.

Also at BYU, I took a course from the most famous professor on campus, Hugh Nibley. He was considered the number one scholar-defender of Mormonism. All semester he would lecture (to huge audiences). Our entire grade was based on attendance and a single book report (on the scripture our course was based on). He didn't like my book report, so he gave me a C in the class. In later years, I imagined that he might have judged the reports on how many new ideas it would give him in his further efforts to defend Mormonism. The impression I got from his syllabus is that it was a sort of "pass-fail" thing. You attend class and do a reasonable report, you get an A (well maybe a B if the report was bad.).

When I was preparing to get my B.S. in Physics from BYU, I had never taken Freshman English. Since I was High School Valedictorian and my mother was a College English Instructor, I always figured I could test out of it. As a nearly graduating senior at BYU, I finally went in to take the test. I easily passed the grammar part, but I failed the essay portion.

I was supposed to write a paper on one of the books they had listed. I chose Victor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning" about the Nazi prision camps. I wrote what I considered a remarkable piece. (I'm thinking of Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes or the kid in "Christmas Story" with his Red Rider BB gun essay). It included ideas I and maybe whoever read it had never heard before.

The grammar, spelling, etc. were not faulted. I failed, the coordinating professor said, because I didn't write to the correct audience. I was supposed to write a basic Freshman-level paper to other Freshmen. I was supposed to write something simple like a paper on Dolphins. "What?!" I thought. I'm supposed to look up something in the encyclopedia and put it down in my own words? This is nothing NEW. What I wrote were new ideas, new insights into man's search for meaning and they want me to say that Dolphins are not fish, but mammals, that they locate their prey by using high frequency chirps, etc.? They wanted me to write what I considered a High School paper. I was upset.

On the test sheet, it never said who my audience had to be. If they had been more specific about the kind of paper they wanted, I would have done it. To pass the requirement I had to stay At BYU another semester and write a basic paper. I think I did it on dolphins. The professor in charge passed it. Later, I enjoyed contemplating that part of the problem was that the English student who read the paper didn't understand it (I didn't do a good enough job explaining my ideas) and concluded that if he didn't understand it then it was too poorly written to pass. Since he failed it, the professor felt bound to defend his helper, although the professor would have passed it since it was obviously beyond Freshman level.

So, I was a philosophy wannabe who was put in his place by a BYU Philosophy Professor. I was a religious philosophy wannabe who was put in his place by the most famous BYU Religious Professor. I was an English expert wannabe who who was put in his place by a BYU English Professor for not speaking about simple things. I was a physics student praised by Physics professors but discounted by the Humanities. Does it surprise you I felt great relief to see that philosophers were no longer able to sit in their ivory towers independent of experimentation and contemplate the fundamental questions of the universe? They couldn't do that anymore and have a serious audience if the questions had anything to do with what science was doing.

It seemed to me that scientists were trying to fill in where philosphers were missing (for lack of mathematical background, maybe?). They were trying to answer the "meaning" questions reporters and other interested listeners had.



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