Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Start Up and Explanation

Hello All.

This is the starting post for a blog called WhooshUp - my particular favorite phrase of Professor Hubert Dreyfus when teaching his now classic "Man, God, and Society in Western Literature" at UC Berkeley. You have to listen to that course to really get this phrase, but if you do, you will frequently find that things just "whoosh up" and take over - at least when you are in tune and ready to get whooshed. How's that for an over-arching explanation of mankind under western civilization, especially his interaction with Pagan, Platonic, Judeo-Christian, and Modern belief systems? Well, at least it might be some small thing to blog about...

I am in an "outer circle" of students of Dr. Dreyfus. His regular students go to UC Berkeley and sit in his classroom. If they get turned on to existentialism, they earn PhD's, I suppose, and go on to teach and practice philosophy in the world of academia. But this outer circle of students listen to him via webcasts. They listen, read, think about, then go back to work or family. I am not an ordinary scholar - I have a Dilbert job, in a cubicle, on a computer. I don't know all the basic prerequisites, or have lots of time to read comprehensively or discuss a class with graduate assistants. I will never get a degree in this stuff. But I love studying it. If you are a member of this outer circle of students, this blog is for you too.

This blog is an attempt to start a discussion centered around what he teaches and how he does it. The first question is so incredibly deep and seemingly unfathomable that I can't even begin to explain it - largely because I have just begun to learn anything about it. Others will hopefully take a stab at describing what he teaches - for now I will just suggest that it concerns the nature of reality, and the past and future of human comprehension of reality, and the way we do, can, and should try to interact with reality on an individual basis day by day - but all that is a very poor answer, I assure you! The subject area often gets piled up under this name: Existentialist Philosophy.

What I can describe, imperfectly, is how he teaches this subject. I can do this because I have listened to three webcasts, and I can just report my impressions. That's all. Anybody else could add to this list of impressions.

1. He has really done this thing called academic work, and it shows in his teaching. The highest praise for academic work comes when a prediction is made and later proves out true, especially when at the time of the prediction, the majority of opinion would fall on the other side of the question. Dreyfus strongly predicted, in 1972, that the standard approach to AI would fail. He based his prediction on the implications of Heidigger's existentialist philosophy which describes how human knowledge works. The prediction was correct, and most researchers in the field admit it now, after nearly thirty years.

2. He teaches his subjects with clarity and continuity. He knows what he wants the student to understand, and in what order the topics need to be absorbed. Often the concepts involved are very difficult to grasp. I am not any kind of expert in philosophy, history, or literature - which are normally all mixed in to his lectures. But I get it. He is able to explain things so a non-specialist can, with a little work, figure out some of the deepest philosophy our civilization has produced.

3. He teaches with such comfortable authority that he is constantly asking for reaction and correction from his students. He does this first by working very, very closely from a selected text - normally an important source book for the topic under study. I mean line by line. He will read or summarize what the source is saying, and explain it, or expound what possibilities can be derived from it. Then he invites the class to go into the same text and come up with examples that do not fit his own explanation. In other words, he empowers the student to disagree with him, only insisting that the challenge be a valid, sustainable, and topical analysis - like those he has demonstrated by making them over and over himself in the lecture.

I hope that if you have never heard a lecture like this, you will get one and try. It's not your ordinary class.

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