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Academic Smack Talk

April 12, 2013 at 3:08 am

Last Wednesday, Carleton’s Perlman Learning and Teaching Center held an event titled “Academia’s Judgment Day” that was exactly the kind of nerdy academic fun characteristic of Carleton. Five professors, respectively from the Chemistry, English, Computer Science, Economics, and Religion departments, fought for the right to a spot on the spaceship to a post-apocalyptic world in order to continue the study of their disciplines there.

Academia's Judgment Day
Tim Raylor of English struck at Chemistry’s historical mistakes (such as the treatment of syphilis with mercury--”ensuring that no one with syphilis died of syphilis”), while boasting that to study English was to be a jack of all trades (Trish Ferrett of Chemistry retaliated by calling English a sentimental non-discipline). Sherri Goings of Computer Science sported a ‘too-cool-for-school’ attitude by making fun of the written notes that the other professors had prepared, boasting, “We [computer scientists] just go off the cuff.”
“We’re misunderstood,” lamented Martha Paas of Econ as she described the current social standings of economists as equivalent to those of heroin addicts. Economics is the key by which we open the door to all other possibilities, said Martha, only for Tim to comment that economics is only the “key to some sub-prime real estate”.
I would go on describing the jabs that were exchanged, but you get the idea, right? There’s no better way to spend a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of a busy second week.
Roger Jackson described religion as the deepest and broadest discipline represented as well as the entire frame of the apocalyptical debate. The study of religion is necessary in the post-apocalyptic world torn apart by religion to provide comfort to the “transient, limited, anxious creatures” that humans are (to which Sherri replies, “Watching lolcats is as anxiety-relieving as any religion.”). Religion is a two-edged sword--for every bin Laden there is a Lao Tzu, and is that not “a good price to pay”?
Unexpectedly enough, Roger probably made the greatest impression on me by explaining that in terms of understanding humanity, whether or not higher beings, forces, or deities exist is irrelevant--what really matters is the fact that people through history have acted as if there are. This might seem obvious, but I’d never before thought about religion like that.
Side note: this is somewhat similar to how I feel about the ongoing discussion of deterministic versus indeterministic views of human nature in my current class on the philosophy of freedom. It doesn’t matter whether everything in our lives is predetermined or not because I’m used to thinking that I have a choice in the matter, and the idea that we have free will is well ingrained into every human’s way of thinking about the world. Adopting a deterministic view of human nature would, as my professor says, require a fundamental rethinking of myself, which I’m currently wrestling with.
Anyway, Sherri (CS) eventually won (mostly likely due to her closing line, “[Might I emphasize] you’re on a spaceship,” but I voted for Religion (Roger’s last line: “Nobody goes as wide as we do, or as deep...Oh my god! *stares up into the sky”). Somehow the physical pragmatics of Chemistry that I walked into the event expecting to vote for didn’t make as much of an impression on me as Roger’s appeal to the more emotional side of us. Besides, if everyone studied religion, would not the current state of the world be less grim? (That’s debatable.) All the more reason to look into a greater breadth of classes during the remainder of my Carleton career, I say.

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