Up@dawn 2.0

Friday, November 30, 2012


Meet Dr. James P. Oliver
When first reading this assignment, I immediately thought to interview Professor Mel Homan, my communications instructor.  At the last minute, I was unable to meet with her.  But as I always say, “everything happens for a reason.”  Had I been able to meet with my communication’s professor, an instructor of mine that I have already come to know well, I would not have been allowed the opportunity to also get to know, and allow others to get to know, the professor of my Introduction to Philosophy class—Dr. James P. Oliver. 
Dr. Oliver incorporates his personal blog site into his classes.  I find this a well suited idea for a philosophy instructor, being that the class is predominantly based on discussion and raising questions.  The blog is not only designated for my class, but for anyone interested in tuning in to their philosophical side.  Because this blog is open to so many people, I thought that I could utilize it in this assignment to share his thoughts with others.  Being that Dr. Oliver clearly is a remarkably sophisticated individual, as well as a great thinker and communicator, getting to know him better, as well as allowing my community of learners that opportunity, seemed rather intriguing to me.
Let’s get to the best part—hearing what Dr. Oliver has to say!  When discussing his background, Professor Oliver admits that he had actually wanted to go into either the field of law or politics.  However, he was not fond of the way these fields had failed to take philosophy into account.  He also states that as soon as he learned of Plato’s theory of absolute forms, in his allegory of the cave, his mind was made up—philosophy was his way to go.  You know, reading this first response really gave me the goose bumps.  All of my life I have wanted to be a lawyer.  For some reason, ever since I have learned about Plato and his theory that everything imaginable has a true, accurate form, I have found myself thinking in this way increasingly often.  I am still, after a semester of deep thinking about it, searching for a way to express my much agreeable thoughts on this.  One thing I would still like to ask Dr. Oliver is if he faced those same troubles when he first began his philosophical journey—expressing his deep, inner thoughts on philosophical matters, via speech. 
Dr. Oliver carried out his undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and then received a graduate and doctoral degree from Vanderbilt University.  Dr. Oliver found appreciation, and in some cases, friendship, in a handful of his instructors.  It was of no surprise to me, when he added John Lachs to this list.  His admiration for Lachs’ ideas and character is clear.  He assigns readings of Lach’s in class, namely Stoic Pragmatism, in order to allow his students that same element of appreciation.
When responding to his thoughts on MTSU, he emphasized his love for the friendliness, diversity, and creativity of the campus’ students and colleagues.  However, Dr. Oliver argues that the university ought to begin critically reflecting upon traditional assumptions.  I could not agree more.  I feel that so many university settings, as much as they would like to defend themselves of the accusation, do fall into this realm of adherence to questionable traditional methods and fear of structural change.
When faced with the question, “What do you hope students will remember about your course,” Dr. Oliver states:
I sincerely hope they'll remember that Philosophy class helped them establish a life-long habit of thinking for themselves, discussing ideas, listening to other points of view, occasionally even changing their minds about something important because of that habit. I hope they'll remember Einstein's statement: “The important thing is to never stop asking questions.” (Oliver)
I would like to tell Dr. Oliver, “Congratulations!”  Why?  Because I know that I will not forget these habits of listening, and discussing, and challenging assumptions.  I think it would be difficult for any of us to.  These habits are ingredients in the recipe for personal and life-long success.
I found Dr. Oliver’s response to his philosophy on teaching ironic.  All semester long, I have pondered upon these questions: How does he do that? How does he give an entirely extemporaneous, incredibly sophisticated lecture at the beginning of each class?  How can he stray from topic to topic, while still maintaining that high level of intelligent thought and knowledge?  I could never do it.  Well, Dr. Oliver answered by long pondered upon questions.  According to himself, his teaching philosophy “is to follow William James's advice: prepare by thoroughly immersing in the subject, then when you get in the classroom ‘trust your spontaneity.’  On life, Oliver claims that we must all accept the fact that we will die, but we must also remember how lucky we are to have gotten to live at all.  I admire his statement, “Try to make a contribution to the ‘continuous human community.’
Discussing with him his greatest concerns as a student, I was inspired by his response.  He claimed that he lacked confidence in his intelligence and discipline.  He was quick to be disappointed in himself when he couldn’t immediately understand certain ideas.  Hearing such an intelligent, confident speaker say that HE struggled with confidence, was certainly gave me hope that I, too, can conquer my insecurities.  We may not be as disabled as we think.
In his view of the ideal/successful student, Dr. Oliver hits the nail on the spot.  In order for a student to succeed academically, he or she must have self discipline, patience, and an eagerness to learn and engage with other individuals from the intellectual community.
Give yourself permission to think. Experiment with ideas and attitudes you didn't bring with you to campus. Really talk to your profs (go to office hours even when you don't have an issue or problem to resolve), engage with your peers, get involved with student organizations, remember that if you put more of yourself into it now you'll look back on your time in college with fondness for the freedom it gave you to discover who you are and can be. To paraphrase Thoreau: be good for something. (Oliver)
I am honored to have gotten the opportunity to get to know my professor better and hear his thoughts and responses.  I hope whoever reads my post can appreciate learning more about this remarkable man and what he has to say about life, MTSU, learning, and success, as much as I know I did.  Most importantly, I would like to profusely thank Dr. James P. Oliver for his time in this assignment, as well as for the opportunity he has given me, and many others.  Dr. Oliver, you will definitely be seeing me in a future philosophy class. (Namely, “the philosophy of happiness”

Arielle Roides

Did we invent God?

Nice eclectic batch of final report presentations in CoPhi yesterday, with plenty of good-natured dissent and controversy.  Just like I like it.

Journey, Landy, &Paul again collaborated effectively, this time with a film interview project inspired by John Cottingham’s “Meaning of Life” PB podcast, and nicely backdropped at our library. They should put it up on YouTube. I was struck by how many of their subjects said they think about the MoL either often or never, and by how many mentioned family, friends, and faith. Only one mentioned 42.

Edrell’s topic coincided with the Jesus & Mo “spiritual, not religious” cartoon I’d just re-posted, but which he says he’d not seen. His opening line to the class, not my favorite because we all hear it so often from the legions of small-minded hell-bent proselytizers around here: “Are you a Christian?” Not surprisingly, it generated the most heat but possibly too much passion to cast reflective light. If he’d wanted to really toss fire on the flames he might have also asked my question about heaven &hell, and Morgan Freeman’s..


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Meet Dr. James P. Oliver

My name is Arielle Roides.  I am currently enrolled in Dr. James P. Oliver's introduction to philosophy class.  I have recently been assigned a task for a different class of mine.  I was asked to interview a professor or adviser of my choice.  Being that Dr. Oliver clearly is a remarkably sophisticated individual, as well as a great thinker and communicator, getting to know him better, as well as allowing you all that opportunity, seemed rather intriguing to me. Aw, shucks. You're too generous, Arielle. But flattery will get you everywhere. I'll get started. JPO

Below are a list of questions I have asked Dr. Oliver to briefly respond to.  I look forward to reading what this brilliant thinker has to say about himself, our university, teaching, and life, in general.  More importantly, I would like to thank Dr. Oliver kindly for taking the time to respond to these questions.  I hope you all can appreciate learning more about our instructor, as much as I know I will.

1.  How did you choose to go into the field of philosophy?  How old were you when you decided to enter this field?  What other paths had you considered taking, if any others? I started out in college back in the '70s thinking I wanted to become a lawyer/politician. So my first declared major was Political Science. Those who know me now would probably never believe it, but I considered myself an ideological conservative back then: subscribed to William F. Buckley's National Review, never missed "Firing Line," campaigned for GOP candidates like Kit Bond and Jack Danforth, supported Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a hawk on defense, in the presidential caucus... But then became disillusioned with the way Poli Sci ignored political philosophy (focusing instead on electoral strategy, demographics, polling, statistical analysis etc.) and went looking for Philosophy and courses on Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Rawls, Mill, Marx etc.I heard about Plato's Myth of the Cave in my first philosophy class and was promptly, Socratically, gratefully "corrupted."  Voted for Jimmy Carter that Fall.

2.  Where did you go to college?  Why did you choose that school?  What teacher had the greatest influence on you? Why? University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou), '80. Then enrolled in grad school at Vanderbilt, moved to Tennessee, and eventually got the Ph.D. there. Married a Tennessee girl, have lived more-or-less happily ever after in the Volunteer State. Went to Mizzou because it was close, affordable (you can't imagine how much cheaper it was to go to school then), and my Dad had gone there for Vet school. My top undergrad mentors were Professors Peter Markie and Alexander von Schoenborn. In grad school, John Lachs & John Compton. Markie & Lachs are still going strong. Markie was an influence mainly because he was young, fresh out of UMass, and fun (met us undergrad Phil majors on Friday afternoons for beers at our "Hegel Society" gatherings, had us over to his & his young wife's apartment, joked around with us, took our callow and naive enthusiasm seriously). Von Schoenborn was the opposite: grave, serious, pipe-smoking... he impressed us with the importance of Heidegger's question of Being, and encouraged us to think of ourselves as fellow inquirers on a ladder of learning just a rung or two behind him. Compton was friendly, engaging, and introduced me to William James. Lachs was and is a model of energy and enthusiasm, and insisted on making philosophy relevant. He was and is "in love with life."

3.  What do you like best about working at MTSU?  What do you like least? I like the students, their friendliness and creativity. I like my colleagues. I dislike the bureaucratic entanglements of academic administration, the timidity and caution encouraged (despite tenured academic freedom) by our having to be funded by anti-intellectuals in the state legislature (representing anti-intellectuals in the general population, of course). Let me quickly add: there are plenty of things not to like about some aspects of the intellectual/academic professional life (narrowness, smugness, condescending attitudes towards "ordinary" people)... but the practice of questioning assumptions and challenging unexamined traditional inheritances is not among them. We need more of that, but those who hold our purse-strings tend not to be very thoughtfully reflective or self-critical.

4.  What do you hope students will remember about your course when the semester is over?  What do you hope they will remember five years from now? I sincerely hope they'll remember that Philosophy class helped them establish a life-long habit of thinking for themselves, discussing ideas, listening to other points of view, occasionally even changing their minds about something important because of that habit. I hope they'll remember Einstein's statement: "The important thing is to never stop asking questions."

5.  Do you have a philosophy on teaching?  Do you have a philosophy on life?  Explain. My teaching philosophy, which I don't always live up to, is to follow William James's advice: prepare by thoroughly immersing in the subject, then when you get in the classroom "trust your spontaneity." My life philosophy is: "memento mori," remember you must die... but also remember (as Richard Dawkins says) that you're one of the lucky ones who got to live. Try to make a contribution to the "continuous human community." I also like what Kurt Vonnegut said in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, when he offered these words of welcome to newborns: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

6.  What were your greatest concerns as a student? Was always afraid I might not be smart enough, or diligent enough, or disciplined enough to meet deadlines and do good work. Sometimes wasn't patient enough with myself, when trying to understand unfamiliar ideas. Worried too much, didn't always remember what a privilege it is to have an opportunity to study and learn. 

7.  How would you describe the ideal/successful student? The ideal student is not "perfect" but is diligent, disciplined (does the reading & class prep), patient, grateful for the opportunity to learn & expand personal horizons, eager to connect with professors and students alike, looks for opportunities to discuss course content with peers & profs after & outside of class, is not too worried about how it will all come out, doesn't consider education merely vocational training.

8.  Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work? Reading, writing, blogging, music, walking, hiking, biking, baseball, family, travel....

9.  What do you like best about MTSU (the university in general)? See #3. Also, I like the relative diversity on our campus, and the fact that it's a fairly enlightened & progressive enclave surrounded by a conservative community. I like college towns in general, in that respect, and (in my experience) midwestern & southern college towns in particular. Columbia MO and M'boro TN are "smaller" (so to speak) than the institutions they host.

10.  What advice would you give us to make our years at MTSU the best to improve ourselves and reach our personal and academic goals? Give yourself permission to think. Experiment with ideas and attitudes you didn't bring with you to campus. Really talk to your profs (go to office hours even when you don't have an issue or problem to resolve), engage with your peers, get involved with student organizations, remember that if you put more of yourself into it now you'll look back on your time in college with fondness for the freedom it gave you to discover who you are and can be. To paraphrase Thoreau: be good for something.

Thank you,
Arielle Roides

Thank YOU, Arielle. This was fun. And thank you all, students, for employing me! Maybe I'll see you again, in "Bioethics" or "Philosophy of Happiness" or "Atheism & Philosophy" or "Environmental Ethics" or in the Philosophy Club (they're looking for leadership, if anyone's interested) or...

Does the universe have a purpose?

Probably not the answer the Templeton Foundation bargained for.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sec19 Grp1: S.P. 28-36

We didn't have a discussion today, so I guess I'll just summarize some major concepts and ideas in the assigned pages.

Lachs introduced his pragmatic views about the past, how it should be treasured and historically regarded in order to improve upon the future. He also discussed various philosophers' viewpoints on this. Hegel basically lives in the past, not the future, and says history will repeat itself and learning from it isn't possible. In the end, the universe unravels as it should. Pierce believes in cause & effect, that we can predict the future by looking at the causes in the past. Dewey claims intelligence is "embodied in concrete individuals."

More, lesser known philosophers are mentioned, too, but... meh. Lachs himself said quoting obscure philosophers was the mark of philosophical intelligence... or something like that.

At least this time we had more material to cover. But I feel THIS medium isn't very useful, since it's one-sided for me right now.

7 and 1/2 Americans (Gr. 2 Sect. 19)

Today we talked about the philosophy behind not reacting to things in order to survive in a stoic manner. The example from the book was that of an island inhabited by savages who had to learn to get along and cope with what they had. We didn't really understand what they were talking about that much but we decided the only logical meaning of the example was to symbolize the harshest conditions where a person would most likely be put to the ultimate test of self control and self preservation. 
After we realized this we talked about self control and how most people in our society today don't possess this and really need to in order to make the world a better place. 

Matthew Zumwalt sec 13 group 4 final report Philosophy of Black Metal part 2/2

Thematically, black metal touches on a variety of topics.  In its nascent stages, lyrical content primarily reflected the anti-Christian and pro-Scandanavian viewpoints of its performers.  Black metal lyricists often make use of hyperbolic blasphemies against the Christian god.  Some of these are so outlandish as to seem almost comical in light of the grimly serious manner in which they are performed.
At the works of my gods
I glaze my heart to be
The nature of dark
Awake my soul to see
At the works of my gods
I glaze my heart to be
With an evil mind
...flamed my heart will be
(Lyrics from Immortal- Within the Dark Mind)
Unfortunately, many black metal musicians also transferred their nationalism and fascination with ancient Nordic culture into a disdain for other races and a flirtation with national socialism.  Varg Vikernes, the man behind the enormously popular black metal group Burzum has frequently announced his endorsement of Nazism and anti-semitism.  In fact, Vikernes spent much of the 90’s in a Norwegian prison for his murder of Mayhem guitarist Oystein Aarseth aka Euronymous of Mayhem.  It was this murder which brought the black metal scene under scrutiny and revealed that these teens had been responsible for a wave of church burnings throughout the area.  This would suggest that some of the early black metal musicians took their anti-Christian rhetoric quite seriously.  However, the young men and women engaged in these illegal acts were a small percentage of people playing this genre of music.

Other subgenres of black metal appeal to different niches of musical and thematic aspects.  Black metal has often focused on the natural world worshipped by many pagan societies, and this has given birth to a group of musicians creating what has been termed Cascadian Black Metal, a designation suggesting that these groups deal primarily with environmental concerns in their songs.  Groups such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Wold, and Velvet Cacoon encourage discussion of issues impacting the environment and, in some cases, even support eco-terrorism.

In the place of abundant life and constant song
Through pores of trees spoke ancient time
And how we can know this now
These patterns tumble through our minds
Refracting themselves through this warm prism
And are found projected and manifested
In this arching dome
Here, we come to pray
Thus I have heard, here the inner world rings
In memory of what will be
And on this night
The veil is lifted from the face of a bright inner Sun
(Lyrics from Wolves in the Throne Room- Woodland Cathedral)
Other black metal artists focus on more personal issues.  Black metal has always been seen as an outlet of extreme misanthropy and self-loathing.  Some artists deal exclusively with the subjects of suicide, depression, and a hatred for humanity at large.  This subgenre has been termed Depressive Black Metal by its fans.  Artists such as Xasthur, Leviathan, Austere,Coldworld, and Silencer perform in this style with music much more delicate and sparse than the over-the-top attack supplied by the 1st wave of black metal.  Their music is contemplative and droning instead of harsh and piercing, but it still maintains a clear connection to the original black metal movement and maintains many of the stylistic elements therein.   

These artists also reflect the global dispersion of black metal with artists operating on nearly every country of the world.  Although it is most popular in America and Europe, there are many Spanish speaking black metal bands from South America, and Japan has fostered a strong underground metal scene since the 1980’s.  Japanese black metal is particularly interesting because it often combines elements of Japanese folk music with traditional black metal instrumentation.  

As black metal continues to grow in popularity and scope, it will continue to appeal to new groups of people.  It offers a flexible mold into which can be poured any philosophical concept.  It works well as a means for expressing ideas of sorrow and depression, but many of its negative aspects have a cathartic component in which the musicians are not literally endorsing the acts they describe.  Instead, the music is meant as a harmless escape from the pressures of life.  The genre has maintained a degree of notoriety despite the fact that many black metal enthusiasts engage in no illegal or harmful activities.  Black metal is one of the most vibrant forms of music flourishing in the metal underground, and its artists will continue their outputs for decades to come.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Autodidactic Section 14 Group 1 (SP:1-6 Summary)

Today in class,  Group 1 discussed the first six pages and much more of Stoic Pragmatism. We talked about so many topics in such a short time frame!  One topic that we spent quite some time on was the battle bewteen mind and matter. One of our group members also managed to briefly touch on the subject of left and right brained people and how their views on certain questions of philosophy can be effected by such variables. Our discussion was extremely informative and long awaited!

Section 14 Group 3

Today we mainly talked about the idea of having a Council of Ethics staffed by philosophers to help advise the president. We thought that it seems like a good idea, however some problems may arise because everybody has different views on what is ethical and what happiness is. But if decisions were made based on the majority of the population, like if those on the Council surveyed the American population on various issues and then reported their findings to the president in order to help make decisions, that may work a little better than having a group of philosophers all trying to come to an agreement on some issue.

Matthew Zumwalt Section 13 Group 4 Final Report: The Philosophy of Black Metal 1/2

Beginning in the late 1980’s, there arose a strange new form of extreme music.  Fostered by Norwegian mythology, a harsh climate, and an utter distaste for the Christian culture of southern Europe, black metal emerged as one of the most baffling, polarizing, and shocking artistic expressions of the twentieth century.  It was birthed in underground metal’s storied tape trading scene but quickly achieved international notoriety due to shocking tales of murder, suicide, and arson which spread like wildfire and ultimately led to black metal’s rebirth as one of the most popular off-shoots of the 1990’s heavy metal renaissance.  Motivated by extreme misanthropy and a distaste for popular music, a small clique of socially awkward teens gave rise to a nationwide movement which some have reviled as blasphemous garbage and others championed as one of the few remaining niches of music unsullied by commercialism and corporate greed. Black metal grew from its primitive roots into a rich and diverse culture encompassing such disparate ideologies as reclamation of native culture, natural socialism, and even environmental ethics. More than music and fashion, black metal is a lifestyle for many who view it as a rejection of mainstream society and its morals and norms.

            Shrill, repetitive, atonal, evil: these are just a few words that one might use to describe the output of a typical black metal artist.  The music is marked by piercing, screamed vocals which often give the impression that the singer is undergoing intense physical and emotional anguish.  In its earliest incarnation, black metal was inspired by the most extreme of 80’s thrash metal, bands like Venom, Hellhammer, and Bathory who intensified heavy metal’s flirtation with themes of Satanism, pagan ritualism, and fascination with death and gore to never before seen heights of exaltation in evil, hatred, and all other negative emotions which are often suppressed by society as unseemly and unpleasant. 
Quorthon (vocalist/guitarist of proto-black metallers Bathory)
 The first true black metal bands arose in Norway in small, rural towns.  Norway, with its history of pagan Scandinavian conquest and eventual defeat at the hands of Christian entities from the south, proved the perfect breeding ground for a form of music which, at its core, prides itself on the rejection of Christian values and traditions in favor of mock-Satanic ritual or pagan idolatry so long maligned by the dominant churches of Europe.  The first wave of Norwegian black metal was centered around a small group of friends who shared an interest in underground music and pre-Christian Scandinavian culture.  These young men, most of them in their late teens, formed bands such as Burzum, Mayhem, Emperor, Immortal, and Satyricon as an outlet of expression for their teenage angst and dissatisfaction with the Christian paradigm presented to them since they were children. 
Black metal sought to be anti-everything.  As death metal rose in prominence largely due to the highly technical nature of its composition, black metal encouraged primitivism and simplicity.  The primary means of artistic output for black metal musicians in those days was the poorly dubbed, home-recorded, demo cassette.  The electric guitar is transformed by practitioners of black metal into a droning wave of white noise with only the faintest hints of melody still present in the unholy assault.  Likewise, drum machines provide a steady and unrelenting stream of blast beats as a form of rhythmic accompaniment.  As the sound and aesthetic of this genre grew more well-defined and distinctive from other musical forms, the Norwegian inner circle of black metal musicians developed a very particular style of dress for themselves and an artistic style which supported their grim, frostbitten mystique.  Traditional black metal garb, as witnessed by album artwork and promotional photos of the day, consists of tattered and beaten medieval battle gear, often buried underground for weeks to imbue it with just the right essence of death and decay.  Musicians will paint their faces in startling masks of black and white, referred to practitioners as “corpse paint”. 
Nattefrost in traditional corpse paint and brandishing the ubiquitous inverted crucifix
Enzifer of Urgehal
 These traditions were not original to black metal but were elevated to a new extreme during this period.  Imagery of Vikings and Norse mythology are adopted to underscore black metal’s emphasis on war, violence, and death.  It is an intensely negative and misanthropic genre with topics such as human extinction, holocaust, and suicide finding their way into many songs by black metal’s most well-respected artists.  Black metal displays a penchant for theatricality despite its emphasis on minimalist musical forms.  Artists often adopt monikers and personae which enable them to act as caricatures of evil, completely consumed by blasphemy and reveling in all that is unholy and vile.  Names such an Euronymous, Count Grishnack, and Dead conjure images of evil spirits and pagan warlords from an ancient past.  Black metal became a lifestyle for its fans, an all-encompassing worldview which motivated and drove its followers onward toward ever greater heights of gore and doom.
Logos of popular Black Metal bands