Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Scanning the papers

From the LA Times: "The New Insight"—Today's practical philosophers are finding a public hungry to dust off and discuss the big issues looming since Socrates' day, by Bettijane Levine.
The new practical philosophers are bringing critical thinking directly to the people. They are translating the dense, ancient writings of Socrates, Plato, Lao Tzu and Confucius into modern lingo and accessible wisdom. They are writing self-help books based on philosophical principles — books sometimes mocked by academicians for their dumbed-down approach but bought by the same hordes who seek answers from meditation, Oprah, psychologists, Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil.

Philosophy, its proponents say, is an alternative to all that. It's a way to think for yourself and to find satisfying guidelines for living. It's a way to analyze complex issues through the prism of values, ethics and character. Philosophy (which means love of wisdom) is a search for answers that have made sense through the ages.
I'm not so sure what I think about philosophers offering "philosophical therapy," as the article discusses. I do think, however, family settings (such as around the dinner table) are a great place to discuss how philosophical topics are relevant to, indeed stem from, everyday life. I lived with an aunt and uncle and their four sons for a while. One of my uncle's approaches to discussing what it means to live in a family unit was via the problem of the one and the many.

And while I'm on the topic of family dinner time conversation, which I think is a much more satisfying venue for wrestling with great philosophical questions than in a philosophical therapist's office, I love the story of Sir Thomas More, who, in the early sixteenth century, insisted his daughters be educated in subjects such as classical Greek and join the adults at the table when visiting dignitaries were dining so they would learn how to be intelligent, engaging conversationalists.

From the NY Times: The entire Science section. I especially enjoyed this article: "Making Science Rock, Roll and Swing From the Treetops," by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, about getting people to care about science.
[N]ow comes what may be science's blondest and most curvaceous attempt yet to reach the public, the Treetop Barbie. Outfitted with a safety helmet, crossbow for shooting ropes up into trees, field notebook and measuring tape, this Barbie, still a concept doll, does not worry about how hard math is or where Ken has gone. She is ready to swing from the treetops and take reams of data while she's at it.

Not sold by Mattel (at least not yet), Treetop Barbie is the brainchild of Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a highly respected treetop or canopy ecologist at the Evergreen State College in Washington. As a Guggenheim fellow last year, Dr. Nadkarni has taken it upon herself to find every way possible to connect trees, forests and their science to an often apathetic public.

So she has invented a line of botanically correct clothing whose textiles look like actual species of mosses and liverworts. ("People say, `Wow! That looks great!' " she said of the clothes, which do in fact look better than they sound.) She has developed skateboards whose wooden tops bear canopy logos and baseball cards showing players saying things like "Without trees, I'd be batting zero." And she is teaching prisoners how to raise valuable forest mosses. ("They have a lot of time on their hands, and you don't need sharp tools.")

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