It’s official: At the end of the semester, I’m leaving the philosophy program at Notre Dame. I’m going back to UW-Madison as a special student, to prepare for applying to graduate school in neuroscience.
To some of my friends and almost all readers of this blog, this will sound like something out of left field. It’s not. If you had asked me about my graduate school plans late in my junior year, I would have told you I was considering both philosophy and neuroscience graduate school, and that my philosophy interests were mainly in philosophy of mind.
Two big things made me rethink the decision to go into philosophy, one negative and one positive. On the negative side: I came into Notre Dame not thinking it was the perfect place to pursue my phil. mind interests (I hadn’t gotten in to the perfect place), but thinking it was an OK place. During my first year at Notre Dame I slowly began to suspect that even that was a mistake. Finally, this semester I was told flat-out by one of the phil. mind people here that if I was interested in that, I should go elsewhere.
(Note to philosophy grad school applicants: before accepting any offer of admissions anywhere, insist on interrogating any professors you think you might want to work with, so that they tell you that stuff sooner rather than later.)
On the positive side, last summer I attended a meeting of The Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, and couldn’t help but think, “this stuff is so much cooler than anything I’ve studied at Notre Dame in the past year.” I honestly feel like I’d be wasting my talents if I didn’t get involved in that kind of research.
I emphasize that these are my main reasons for making the switch, but they’re not the only ones. One, which I mention only because I know I’ll end up writing about it later: I’ve gotten increasingly skeptical of the worthwhileness of philosophy.
Notre Dame didn’t make me skeptical, I had my doubts before I got to graduate school. But they’ve gotten more serious over the past year or so. To put it very briefly: while almost all philosophers would admit that philosophy gets few settled results, I think philosophy gets even fewer real results than the meager results that philosophers have sometimes claimed.
I’ll go further than that: If a philosopher tells you that philosophers have discovered x, this is reason to be very, very skeptical of x. Such claims all too often covers weak arguments. In a similar vein, I’m frankly embarrassed by the flimsy justifications that some philosophers give for dismissing what non-philosophers have to say on topics like religion, ethics, and reason.
I won’t elaborate on these points here. I just want people to have a heads-up for where my writing may be going in the near future.