Opening Minds

Dome of Radcliffe Camera

Dome of Radcliffe Camera

What a long and torturous road it has been to this new website. A major learning experience. But very interesting.

I found the same thing with Twitter and Facebook. Until I taught myself how to use them I was sniffy; waste of time, no proper conversation, only for the young….

Now I find them fascinating and absorbing. Where else can you chat on a daily basis with an Egyptian physicist or a Russian geneticist? (I was right about the amount of time one can waste.)

When email first came out I was adamant I was happy with snail mail and the pigeon post (Oxford’s internal mail service). Now I can no more imagine being without email than you can.

As for the web…..

FearOne problem is fear. Fear of the unknown, certainly, but also fear of being found wanting. Better, surely, to offer reasons for not doing something than to admit to not knowing how to do it?

Another problem is time. When one already has a huge amount to do it is daunting to take on something new and different. This is so even if that thing promises to save time.

Finally some have a tendency to patronise people trying to learn something new. It is not nice to be patronised. Better, perhaps, to have one’s excuses ready?

This applies quite generally. To have a ‘closed mind’ is to have reasons for not being interested in something one knows nothing about.

The Courtyard Garden at Rewley House (OUDCE Headquarters)

The Courtyard Garden at Rewley House (OUDCE Headquarters)

I teach mature students. I love their willingness to learn. Forget the gardening and housework. They spend evenings and weekends learning about philosophy. For some philosophy is completely new. Can you imagine how daunting it must be?

I hope I don’t patronise them. But if I do I am the one at fault. Lecturers in philosophy know it is the ‘naïve’ questions that are useful. These are the questions everyone wants answered. But it takes courage to ask them.

Time is relevant of course. It is unlikely, given the demands on my time, I will ever learn much about football. There are always going to be things I’d rather learn about.

But an open mind is relevant here too.

If I find my neighbour at High Table talks of nothing but football then I have a choice. I can pay lip service to his enthusiasm, and stay ignorant. Or I can genuinely try to see what excites him so. Surely (up to a point) anything can be interesting?

It has taken me ages to get to grips with websites. But I am glad I have. I hope you like it. What will you learn this year?


About Marianne

Marianne is Director of Studies in Philosophy at Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education
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31 Responses to Opening Minds

  1. joanneroach says:

    The problem with new web apps or social media is that there is a new ‘big thing’ every month. It is very easy to get sucked into a black hole of feeling you have to be on everything, all the time. The main thing is to be sure who the people are that you want to communicate with, and find out where they are already. Then get good at using those places and those media, because you’ll be in good company. No point learning to be awesome on Vine if your customers / colleagues / friends are all text readers, or conversely no point creating visually beautiful long blogs if the people you want to influence are audio consumers on their school run, better to write a simple but well worded blog and spend the time you would have spent on visuals to turn it into an audioblog. What I will be learning this year is how to set up and run a podcast and video show. It’s very daunting, but that is where a lot of my people are migrating to, and I’m missing the opportunity to help them if I don’t meet them in their own space. Wish me luck! And P.S. Good job on your learning curve – it was worth it, site looks great!

    • Marianne says:

      Thank you for your kind words about the site Joanne. And of course I wish you luck. Let me know when you run your first show. You are talking good sense – especially about the perils of wasting time doing something unnecessary (‘being awesome on vine’ I like it!)

  2. Adlai Englard says:

    Marianne, this looks like a most interesting forum which you have developed. I look forward to reading the comments which you and others will submit.
    Let me also congratulate you on having the courage to explore, learn, and use the new technology.
    Since this is a philosophically oriented forum, I’d like to bring up the matter of how technology has affected learning. I recently attended a university class in the States.
    It was the first time I had entered a lecture hall in over 30 years.
    What a difference three decades made! Every student had a computer. In earlier times, when students got bored, they would daydream or doodle. Now, the students do their shopping or house hunting on the Internet, while the professor is lecturing. What I found to be most disturbing, however, was that despite the technological sophistication which students abundantly possess, they lack what in an earlier time would have been considered common rudimentary knowledge of history, especially. I have found this to be true of students not only at the particular university where I took a class, but amongst the younger generation wherever I have travelled.
    I wonder what effect this deficiency in knowledge will have when these people go out into the world. Does it matter?

    • Marianne says:

      Thank you for your kind words Adlai. I am SO aware of what a difference 30 years can make! I wonder, Adlai, how good your own historical knowledge was when you were thirty years younger than you are today? I know that, for me, it is only as I have grown older I have understood the importance of history. I feel as if much of what I did in my youth IS history! I wouldn’t worry about the young. They seem to me to be admirably equipped for the life they are going to live. I suspect also that people our age have always thought the next generation would be so much better if they were a little more…er…like us! But delighted to hear you are taking classes. Are you enjoying them. What are YOU learning?

  3. Adlai Englard says:

    Thank you for your kind reply, Marianne.
    The course I took was a survey course on computer applications.
    Most of the students were within a few months of receiving their B.A. Degrees.
    I made a Powerpoint presentation as a class assignment, and I chose to do a short biography of Adlai Stevenson. Everything was going smoothly until I mentioned that Mr. Stevenson lost the presidential election to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The students’ eyes glazed over. I thought that something was wrong with my PowerPoint program. No, everything was fine in that regard. I then thought to ask if anyone had ever heard of
    President Eisenhower. Not a single one of the students had ever heard of him!
    Actually, I’ve always been fascinated by history, and when I applied for admission to graduate school in history, I was told that my score on the Graduate Record Examination in History was one of the highest ever recorded.
    I don’t expect others to be as conversant in history, but I am disturbed that rudiments of relatively recent history are so soon forgotten.
    I learned of your website through my having taken the course
    Learning to Look at Modern Art, in 2010.
    I hope to soon take a course in Philosophy from Oxford Continuing Education.

    • Marianne says:

      I know that every ten years or so I must revise all my examples. Mention of Mother Teresa now has the effect you describe!It is just a fact, I fear, that most people aren’t as interested in what happened before their birth as what is happening now. Do take a course, I’m sure you’d enjoy it. Let me know how you get on.

  4. Ghazi says:

    so far what have i realised is, if one has got a hunger to learn, one will learn regardless of the nature of the object or the objective. As you said, if someone’s keen to talk about football, either you’ll be ignorant or you’ll be curious to know what makes him to be that interested in it. So, reasoning leads to framing our minds. Secondly, what am i going to learn this year, well learning for me is a never ending process (certainly it will once i am dead) so for this year, i am hoping to get nearer to solve few of the problems in philosophy that has been persistent for ages because i believe, it takes a vivid imagination for a nice formulation and the more i ponder more i get closer.

    I hope i will go through blogs on a regular basis, site has been designed beautifully and certainly better than what it was. Hoping it to see as a great success and hoping to see more and more active participation of philosophers, physicists and Trios who are interested in philosophy.
    thank you.

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Ghazi, I am sorry I didn’t see this before. I agree that a hunger to learn is the most important thing. I am interested that you want to ‘solve’ a few problems in philosophy. Mostly in philosophy we have to content ourselves with getting nearer to an answer to our problems.

      I shall look forward to your comments on the blogs here!

      • Ghazi says:

        its okay ma’am, i love philosophy but what i don’t like about philosophy is, there is no solution to a problem, always the best argument dominates. Is that why you have emphasised on ‘solve’ 🙂 ? I believe if there is an empirical answer guided by a sound and flawless logic, it will leave no space for dispute and that answer won’t just be an answer it will be more like a fact or an axiom.

      • Marianne says:

        Interesting. Empirical answers actually cannot deliver certainty. Logical (philosophical) answers in principle can. But It certainly doesn’t seem like this in the – er – real world. But I sympathise. Philosophy can be frustrating because it doesn’t often lead to answers – just to more questions (getting closer to the truth, but never getting there).

      • Ghazi says:

        “Empirical answers can’t deliver certainty, logical can.” that empirical answer will be a consequence of logic. So basically, philosophy is like, something tending to close but can’t ever be at that point. Ah!!

      • Marianne says:

        Empirical answer will be an answer of inductive logic. That’s the difference. Only deductive logic gives certainty. But inductive logic gives as good as!

  5. ghaziphil says:

    I shall try my best but according to Steven Weinberg, deductive answers are just different forms of one kind of answer. And that one kind must be induced and hence no deduction assures certainty but i shall definitely try every bit i can. Love the philosophical arguments. It has really broadened my horizon of thinking ability and has been a big aid to my imagination, making it more vivid. Thanks to you and your sincere support.

    • Marianne says:

      Um…I am using ‘induction’ and ‘deduction as technical terms of logic. Check out the third podcast in my critical reasoning series:

      Delighted you are enjoying it Ghazi – always happy to help.

      • ghaziphil says:

        i checked it out, it was very helpful thanks again 🙂 and what i concluded based on that podcast is, there is just no certainty of neither deductive answer nor inductive or empirical because we just don’t know the nature of truth. Ah!! guess this is why mathematicians and physicists have repulsive nature towards philosophy.

      • Marianne says:

        Hi Ghazi, it is not so much that we do not know the nature of truth. But you are certainly (!) correct that the only certainty we can get is conditional certainty (IF this then we are certain).

        Yes, I am sure it is why physicists and mathematicians do not like philosophy – but if they think there is non-conditional certainty in their own fields they are wrong!

  6. Ghazi says:

    talking about conditions, i have a very basic point to raise and best part is, it doesn’t have conditional certainty, all universe is made up of energy and all these things existing in the universe are the diversified forms of energy. Now, if a physicist proves it then that could be taken as certainty and there is no boundary values in it.

  7. Ghazi says:

    yeah, actually i thought a lot about this problem ( quantification of certainty) and i realised, it doesn’t have degrees how can it be ? neither in terms of science, what i find weird in these questions, is, certainty can’t be quantified but is a relative term ( sometimes whilst comparing we say, degree of certainty is more or maybe i am confusing certainty with probability). i would like to know, what you meant by degree of certainty? please

    • Marianne says:

      I said there are no degrees of certainty – i.e. certainty does not admit of degrees. ‘Strong’ does – something (an argument?) may be more or less strong. But one is either certain or one is not.

  8. Arjun Jain says:

    You had asked what I’d do this year that is new. After much thought, I’ve decided not to plan long term and just act. After 5 years studying physics, I am becoming an artist.

    • Marianne says:

      Wow, Arjun, that is quite a change. But if by ‘just act’ you have decided to ‘follow your gut’, I believe you are doing the right thing. That’s what I have always done. I gave up a very well-paying job to become an undergraduate philosopher. I have never regretted it. I hope the same is true for you.


  9. Kenneth McGrath says:

    Since I can see nothing newer than 2014 I am not sure you monitor this page anymore? I am 58 years of age and am doing my undergraduate in BA with my major as philosophy. Why? Why did I wait so long, because like Descartes I have arranged my affairs to allow me time to think. Why am I doing an undergraduate degree, because it is the only way I can study philosophy and at the same time get a degree, ie a piece of paper to say that something has been achieved. Why philosophy, because it is not about knowledge but about understanding, Empirical knowledge I have, what I am made of, why my cells reproduce the way they do, why when I drop a rock it falls, but I want to have the understanding of it. I dont know if this makes any sense but it is the why questions that have fascinated me all the my life, not the scientific why the conceptual why. Why do I think, who is that thinks, does anything truly exist or is it all a matrix, is my brain my mind. There are so many questions and so little time but the journey is so much fun not least of all in philosophy, cheers, Ken

    • Marianne says:

      Dear Kenneth, you gave me a bit of a shock telling me I hadn’t posted anything since 2014. But when I checked I see that I posted a blog on causations (See monthly conundrums) in March 2015. Still too long ago,but at least not five months ago! Don’t forget I have a full time job! You’ll also see that many of my replies to comments here have been made since 2015 started! Phew!

      Plato would have approved greatly of your taking up philosophy at 58. He thought no-one should start philosophy until the age of 50.

      Of course your desire for understanding makes sense to me. That’s why I too am a philosopher. Thankfully THERE are so many questions – we shan’t be short of work.

      Good luck and let me know how you get on.


      • Kenneth McGrath says:

        My apologies Marianne I did not mean to give you a shock I was only referring to the posts I could see on this page so I was not sure how often you would see them, shows my lack of understanding of how a blog works obviously. I have been watching your lectures on youtube and am enjoying them immensely and it is helping learn so many new concepts, so thank you very much for making these available, Cheers, Ken.

      • Marianne says:

        Oh! But there’s quite a lot of comments from 2015?

        Anyway, I am delighted you are enjoying the podcasts, thank you for taking the trouble to write and tell me. Yes, paying attention to the new concepts and distinctions is important.

        Where are you studying?


  10. Kenneth McGrath says:

    Hi Again Marianne and thank you for replying as I can understand how busy you must be. On the page that comes up on my laptop I could see no comments latter than 2014 Sept. the 2nd so that resulted in my perceived reality? that there was no later posts, as I said I am not familiar with with how blogs work so will have to learn and get up to speed. I am studying via Open University Australia and doing a BA online with MacQuarie University in Sydney which is 800 kilometers from where I actually live. 30 years ago my friends and I discussed this very possibility when the net became available as living in remote areas access to higher education was very limited in those days. Thankfully that dream has been realised with great benefit to people outside of the main centres something I am sure you are well aware of. I have loved the net from day one as it gave me access to every online uni and library in the world from my lounge room in the bush, what a wonderful experience to someone who craves knowledge and understanding to have available some of the greatest thinkers of our age, awesome! Thanks again for taking the time to reply, hope you are well and at peace with your world, Ken

  11. Karel says:

    I have 24 philosophy lessons downloaded from you. I’m starting to repeat them now because it’s good for my English and my better understanding of philosophy. Your explanation of the philosophy in the lessons is very good, because you also give more examples. In the next lesson, you then repeat the previous lesson. I really appreciate that. However, I am not a young man, I will be seventy years old next year. After retiring for seven years, I studied the history of my country, and I completely changed my mind about the history of my country.

  12. Karel Konečný says:

    This year, I will be doing lectores for seniors. I am offer this topics: Entomologia, genealogie, history, philosofy, and filmmaking.
    I am interest about it.

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