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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Hub of Wisdom on the UMB Campus

Philosophy is defined by Webster as: “Literally, the love of, including the search after, wisdom; in actual usage, the knowledge of phenomena as explained by, and resolved into, causes and reasons, powers and laws.” In other words, if you seek wisdom on the UMB campus, there’s no better place to start than the Philosophy Club, which meets every Friday at 2:30pm in room 47 on the 5th floor of the Wheatley building. The Mass Media attended last week’s meeting of the Philosophy Club to find out just what kind of wisdom was being dispensed there.

Well before the meeting began, two of the attendees had already arrived and were engaged in a rather heated argument regarding Hitler’s course of action during World War II [segued, interestingly enough, from a discussion of the previous week’s club meeting topic, which was vegetarianism]. During the argument, one of the two, Jon Howe [who had missed the prior symposium] mentioned that he thought of philosophy as, “bluffing your way through life,” and when the other [simply calling himself Tom] questioned his motivation in coming to the Philosophy Club conventions, Jon explained that, “It’s interesting and I just like arguing with intelligent people.” And as it turns out, about a third of those in attendance at this meeting were not philosophy majors, which certainly gives credence to the idea that one doesn’t have to be a specialist to partake in this discourse.

This particular meeting got kicked off about 15 minutes late, after having been relocated to the Political Science department lounge due to overcrowding. The topic of the day was the nature of consciousness; the speakers were Mike Brady and Jason Nash, a pair of undergraduate students in the philosophy program. Each speaker presented the cases of three different contemporary thinkers who formulated their own unique concept of the nature of consciousness.

Brady began by introducing the three movements within the field of philosophy in understanding consciousness: Dualism, which believes in the Cartesian view of the mind and body acting in tandem and the brain having a non-physical aspect; Idealism, which discards all notion of a physical world, and asserts that only the intangible and metaphysical truly exist; and Materialism, which is the exact opposite of Idealism, maintaining that every phenomenon has a rational and scientific explanation. He then went on to relate the theories of Thomas Nagel, the leader of the idealist movement; David Chalmers, the dualist who proffered a mind-boggling abstraction regarding the relationship between information, awareness and consciousness, which commanded use of the blackboard; and Daniel Dennet, the ultimate materialist, who expounded on his ideas by using a metaphorical wine tasting machine, which could spit out carefully worded wine reviews through chemical sample analysis.

If this wasn’t confusing and obscure enough, Jason Nash, the next speaker, presents three more theories that are even more bizarre and difficult to grasp. We won’t go into heavy detail here, but among the terms and phrases thrown around by Nash were “non-spatial remnants of the pre-‘Big Bang’ universe”, “protophenomena” and “consciousness on a sub-atomic level.” Needless to say, all of these roused bewilderment among the audience.

When he was finished, Jason added the disclaimer that all the theories he had talked about are mere works-in-progress and should be taken with a grain of salt [or several hundred], then opened up the floor. Before long, two attendees [Scott Guerrin, a Psychology major doing FMRI study at Dartmouth, and David Hammond, an MED candidate in the teacher education department who spent 20 years in software and is now working on putting deep ecology on a firm, philosophical foundation] were arguing over the relationship between physical and conscious phenomena… an argument that ended in an agreement to disagree, much like a lot of the arguments that go on during club meetings.

Of course, the main selling point of the philosophy club all goes back to that aforementioned quote from Jon Howe, who later elaborated, saying that even if it is bluffing through life, bluffing is important to gain a greater understanding of the world around you. To add to this sentiment, David Hammond also commented that, “Sometimes even trivial topics up for discussion [at the Philosophy Club], like should you be a vegetarian or not, can get pretty down and dirty.”

The bottom line is that the UMB Philosophy Club is definitely well worth your time if you enjoy deep, intriguing, challenging conversation in a roundtable format, with more than just a touch of obscurity and weirdness. It’s a place for thinkers.