Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Next Semester's Schedule

I can hardly believe it, but next week I'll be finished with my first semester here at Columbia.  I'm planning on posting a retrospective discussing my initial impressions of graduate school then--I'm still writing final papers right now--but in the meantime, here are the courses I'll be taking in the Spring, for any who are interested.


The logic of inquiry in natural sciences: substantive as well as methodological concepts such as cause, determination, measurement, error, prediction, and reduction. The roles of theory and experiment. 

This should be fun.  It's being taught by a professor that I've gotten to know reasonably well this semester, and have enjoyed working with immensely (Jeff Helzner).  I'm very interested in the philosophy of science, but have never had an opportunity to take a formal course on the subject.  I'm looking forward to rectifying that.


A survey of the various attempts to reconcile the macroscopic directionality of time with the time-reversibility of the fundamental laws of physics. The second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy, statistical mechanics, cosmological problems, the problems of memory, the possibility of multiple time direction. 

This course is being taught by David Albert, who achieved minor celebrity status a few years back because of his participation in the rapturously terrible "pop metaphysics" film What The Bleep Do We Know?! , which was, in Prof. Albert's words, "wildly and irresponsibly wrong."  The film purported to explore the connection between quantum mechanics, spirituality, and free will, but more-or-less just ended up as propaganda for J.Z. Knight's cult.  I've been toying with the idea of trying to pick up an MA in the Philosophical Foundations of Physics (which Columbia offers) while I'm here, and this class will hopefully give me an idea as to whether or not that's a good idea.


Parts, wholes, and part-whole relations; extensional vs. intensional mereology; the boundary with topology; essential parts and mereological essentialism; identity and material constitution; four-dimensionalism; ontological dependence; holes, boundaries, and other entia minora; the problem of the many; vagueness.

This one's taught by quite possibly one of the coolest professional philosophers I've ever met: Achille Varzi.  He's got a great sense of humor and seems sharp as a tack.  This will probably be the toughest class I'll take this semester, but it sounds interesting.  Basically, it seems like we'll be covering how parts of things relate to wholes; it's usually the courses with descriptions that I don't understand that I end up getting the most out of.


The course aims to promote weekly writing by each student. A paper, or section of a book, wioth which every philosopher ought to be familiar, will be selected each week, adn one student will make a presentation on that target paper, while the others will hand in a brief essay about it. Essays will be returned, with comments, before the next meeting of the seminar. Each week a different member of the faculty, in addition to Professor Rovane, will participate in the discussion.

And, of course, the Proseminar.  It sounds mundane, but I actually got quite a lot out of the first half this semester.  It's great to get to meet the various members of the faculty, and the individualized attention and constant feedback on my writing were helpful.  Also, my cohort pretty much rocks.

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