The End Of Philosophy Classes (An Incidental Lesson On John Edward)

NOTE – Simon Taylor is NOW in Perth! Check out details of his comedy tour here – he’ll be catching up with the Perth Atheists and Skeptics tomorrow!

One of the many small surprises of the recession has been a significant growth in the number of philosophy majors, according the the Philadelphia Inquirer. It has slightly exceeded the growth of enrolments in the last ten years; many other humanities and social science fields have just kept up. At the University of California at Berkeley, despite or because of the state’s economic turmoil, the number of majors has increased by 74 percent in the last decade. - Edward Tenner, The Atlantic.

I forgot to mention yesterday (mostly because I was too busy doing my usual running-around) that I’m doing the final days of my Philosophy classes.

I really enjoy my classes and I rarely head-desk about anything, beyond my inability to find a working white-board marker anywhere in the building. Now lessons are more on an on-demand basis and I spent most of today talking about argument mapping with a student and discussing how to assess the strength of inferential moves.

I don’t know how many of my students will go on to study Philosophy, but I hope some of them will. There’s a number of articles that I often refer to when discussing the usefulness of studying the subject – usually Stephen Law’s ‘Why philosophy degrees are among the MOST useful. Evidence demolishing myths peddled by philosophy bashers.‘ More recently I discovered this article: Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?

What makes philosophy different? It can seem self-absorbed; philosophers themselves joke about Arthur Koestler’s definition: “the systematic abuse of a terminology specially invented for that purpose.” But it also is a tool (like history and religious studies) for thinking about everything else, and every profession from law and medicine to motorcycle maintenance.

I finished off a discussion during class about the fallacy of correlation and causation with an example about the proclaimed psychic, John Edward. Apparently some people aren’t aware of the disclaimer that appears at the end of John Edward’s show – probably because it appears and disappears quite rapidly at the end of the show.

I didn’t have to say anything about the ‘absurdity’ of believing in psychics or be rude about John Edward and the people who go to his shows. I simply read out what was on the disclaimer. You may note this part:

…are not meant or intended to be a form of advice, instruction, suggestion, counsel or factual statement in any way whatsoever.

A discussion then turned to whether it could be compared to World Wrestling Entertainment in terms of ‘entertainment purposes only’, and how it’s quite possible to believe that WWE isn’t staged – if you didn’t know what the techniques being used were.

At any rate, I thought it was a great way to finish off the lesson, by having people make up their own mind and work out what they thought about an issue. I think I’m going to miss these classes, after doing them for two years – but hopefully I can continue to create resources for them in the future.

Kinda Thinky – Now You Can Watch Online!
ATHEIST / SKEPTIC EVENTS – Perth, Melbourne, Bookclubs, Podcasts, Oh My…
ATHEIST / SKEPTIC EVENTS – Perth, Melbourne, Bookclubs, Podcasts, Oh My…
Australia And Friday 13th – A Skeptical Viewpoint
About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Lou Doench

    The difference between professional wrestlers and professional “psychics” of one of intent. The WWE is straightforward about their intent to entertain, and they are fairly straightforward nowadays about the level of verisimilitude to their product. I consider the WWE akin to Santa Claus, as an introductory myth. When you first encounter it as a youngster, it can be quite easy to get wrapped up in the show and accept the premise that its real. But we all eventually realize its scripted nature. Its a fact that performers like Mick Foley have written best selling books about the industry and made it plain how scripted it is (and, I’ll admit, how sleazy it can be).

    John Edward however, hides the purpose of his act behind a rarely viewed disclaimer. You will never ever see him interviewed on The Daily Show talking about how well his “act” went at the last big event. You will never see a documentary where he explains the inner workings of cold reading to filmmakers.

    As opposed to the show Pro Wrestlers put on, there is nothing John Edward is doing in his form of entertainment that he would ever admit to being proud of.

    That’s why the Rock is an action movie star, and John Edward is a glorified con man.

    • Aliasalpha

      The most amusing part is that wrestling tries to present an image of unpredictability as if they don’t know whats really happening next.

      Perhaps wrestling & stage psychicry (is that a word? If not it should be) are two sides of the same coin. The light side choice leads to a career of entertaining the public with displays of athleticism and what could generously be described as acting whereas the dark side choice leads to a career of duplicity, manipulation & being declared the biggest douche in the universe.

  • Aliasalpha

    White board markers? How quaint! All the cool kids are using smartboards these days

    So why are you not doing the classes any more since you enjoy them?

    • Kylie Sturgess

      I only intended to work for 2010! Then circumstances changed and I ended back there in 2011, which wasn’t my intention. I do enjoy teaching, but I became very unwell and overloaded with other commitments in 2007 after trying to:

      * teach English as a Second Language, English 1A/B to senior school and lower school English classes
      * staff coordinator and photographer for the Yearbook
      * acting Head of a sports house (after the head broke her leg) – we did a carnival!
      * finishing one M.Ed degree (units during the hols, assignments during term)
      * starting my second M.Ed degree (involving a thesis proposal)
      * post-grad distance education on a Psychology degree (online, some travel to Melbourne)
      …all at the same time in 2007. :(

      Oh, and there were these conferences I was going to, and the podcast… and I became unable to shake off illness and eventually contracted shingles. :/

      About then, I had an interview with my boss about what I was doing next in 2008 and I said that I had to go where I most felt enthusiastic – and that happened to be further study. So, I left school after nearly eight years there.

      …then I ended up working as a research assistant for two years – which was FANTASTIC as well, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t exactly the ‘focus on thesis’ I intended. It really, really helped with the thesis however, and I doubt I would have completed it if it wasn’t for the academics and experiences I had. But, it still seemed as if I was finding things to do when I told myself ‘just do this’.

      So, 2010 was the year I finished the thesis. But I ended up back working at a school at the same time, mostly because it was a chance to teach a subject I hadn’t before and I wanted to contribute to a subject I cared about and wanted to help maintain. Then 2011, circumstances had me stepping in again, but it wasn’t planned. Did I mention I’m still doing the Grad Dip in Psychology?

      So, 2010 and 2011 have clearly demonstrated that I’m really not good at ‘just doing X’. :(

      …Did I mention I’m thinking of doing a podcast-a-day in 2012? And appearing at two big conferences! Yippee! :p :)

      • Aliasalpha

        Pfft, slacker. What, do you need to sleep or something??

        • Kylie Sturgess

          What’s that?

          • Aliasalpha

            I think it might be that thing where I pass out from playing games or reading for 96 hours straight and not drinking enough coffee

  • Camels With Hammers

    I really enjoy my classes and I rarely head-desk about anything, beyond my inability to find a working white-board marker anywhere in the building.