ARIANA MARMORA: Welcome. My name is Ariana Marmora, and I'm the editor in chief of Logo, Cornell's undergraduate journal of philosophy. On behalf of our members, I'd like to thank you all for attending the first annual Life Raft Debate at Cornell. Logos is an entirely student-run organization, and each year, we strive to publish a journal which showcases exceptional scholarship from undergraduates at domestic and international institutions working in various traditions of philosophy. In addition to producing the journal, we are committed to hosting formal guest lectures as well as more intimate philosophy discussion groups for undergraduates.
The latest issue of our publication is available at the back of the lecture hall. So feel free to pick up a copy on your way out. I would also like to encourage any students in attendance today who might be interested in joining Logos to speak with me after the event.
The Life Raft Debate was created by the philosophy department at the University of Montevallo in Alabama in 1998. And the concept was publicized in a March 2010 segment of the public radio program, This American Life. The Life Raft Debate requires you, the audience, to imagine that you are the sole survivors of a global catastrophe floating on a life raft with one remaining seat.
When you encounter a group of professors stranded on an island who represent different academic disciplines, you decide to hold an inquiry to determine which Professor deserves the last seat on the raft. The question is, out of the five disciplines represented here, which will prove indispensable to you in your efforts to salvage civilization? Who do you need in order to overcome the obstacles ahead of you and to ensure that you will survive in these most uncertain times?
Thought experiments are very dear to philosophers. They require a certain type of conceptual play, but simultaneously allow for the serious consideration of problems and issues. The Life Raft Debate is a thought experiment, and as such, it is playful in the sense that it is premised upon a fictionalized scenario that I sincerely hope none of us will ever have to confront. But it's also quite serious in the sense that it highlights the importance of facilitating discussion about the value of giving equal weight to humanities and scientific disciplines in this critical moment of economic adjustment at Cornell and other institutions of higher education.
In closing, the members of Logos would like to thank the Student Assembly Finance Commission and the Sage School of Philosophy for their support of this event, as well as our two local sponsors, Give Me Coffee, and North Star House Restaurant for donating our prizes. At this point, I'd like to hand the mic over to Matt Clemente, the primary organizer of our event, who will be introducing our speakers and moderating the debate. Thank you.
MATT CLEMENTE: Thank you, Ariana. So our debate today will have two rounds. First, each professor will be allowed at 10 minutes to give their main argument. And then in the second round, each professor will be allotted two minutes to either rebut the arguments of the other debaters, or to conclude their argument. At the conclusion of the second round, as the survivors on the life raft, you will get to vote as to which professor wins the debate and deserves the final spot on the life raft.
So hopefully, you picked up a ballot. If not, feel free to just jot down your vote on a piece of paper. We'll be collecting it afterwards and then announcing a winner. And if you need a pen, we can provide pens.
So let's introduce our participating professors here. First, you will hear from Antonia Ruppel, who will be representing the Classics Department. Professor Ruppel focuses in classic comparative philology, that is the study of the Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit languages. Next, you will hear from Karen Bennett, Professor Karen Bennett, who will represent the philosophy department, and who focuses in metaphysics and philosophy of mind.
Next, you will hear from Professor Melanie Dreyer-Lude, who will be representing the Department of Theater, Film, and dance. Professor Dreyer-Lude, directs plays at the Schwartz Center as well as teaches acting there. Next, you will hear from Professor Masha Raskolnikov, who is very cross listed, but will be representing the English department here in our debate today. Finally, you will hear from Professor Andre Leclair, who will be representing the Physics Department, but would also be playing a special role in the debate here today as our devil's advocate.
As you can notice, all of the other contestants here are representing departments from within the humanities. Professor Leclair as the devil's advocate will be arguing that in our hypothetical situation, in the new world what you need is not a professor of the humanities, but instead, a professor with a background in science and mathematics. So without any further ado, I bring you our first debater representing the Classics Department, Professor Antonia Ruppel.
ANTONIA RUPPEL: Friends, Carnelians, raftsmen and women, why would you want me on your raft? Well, I represent the classics, which is the study of pretty much any aspect of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations over a period of about two millennia. We study these cultures over that period because they are one of two major sources of European and thus, ultimately, Western civilization.
Two millennia, rather long time. And so it would take me ages to list all the fascinating aspects of all the great things that we study and can therefore, teach you about literature, like our epics, our tragedies, our comedies, our letters, some of which are like 2000-year-old political blogs, which is rather cool, our historical texts, our philosophical texts, our love poetry, other poetry, parodies of poetry, science fiction tales of trips to the moon, satires, novels. Material aspects of culture, beautiful buildings, sculpture, coins, frescoes, mosaics, some understanding of the aspects which make these things beautiful. Our experience with politics, with wars, with conspiracies, cool linguistic phenomena, such as the ablative of degree of difference, compensatory lengthening, quantitative metathesis, or bahuvrihi compounds.
So as I say, this list would be rather long, so I won't list all of these things. But rather, I would like to tell you what would make classics very important for the society that we'll be trying to build once we are off this raft here. So classicists first of all, know a fair share about rafts. Odysseus spent some time on a raft. And we having read the Odyssey, will be able to give you very hands on advice on how to avoid lovely enticing women, who to ask for help and how, what to do when you run into a cyclops and so on.
We'll also be able to keep you well entertained. Our mythology alone should keep us enthralled for quite some time. And also just as a side note, all our texts are in the public domain easily available on the internet. So if you know that the end of the world is nigh, you'll be able to collect them rather easily and quickly. If you prefer the already printed versions, those too come in rather raft friendly formats.
But let's say we found a place where we want to leave our raft and we want to build a new society, classics will be able to help from all sorts of sources. Plato, in his Republic, wrote about how to build a civilization from scratch. Greeks, 2,500 years ago had the oldest democracy that we are aware of. So we will be able to tell you lots about democracy, things that you might want to do when you build democracy, things you might not want to do. We'll be able to tell you about all sorts of other forms of government as well, aristocracy, ochlocracy, believe me, you don't want that.
I assume you'll want to build buildings. For that, we have sources such as Vitruvius, a Roman architect and engineer who wrote about all sorts of things such as how to build aqueducts, various simple machinery, how to construct central heating, which I think if we end up in a place that's anything like Ithaca, will come in rather handy. We'll need sustenance for that. We can turn to sources writing on agriculture, such as Cato the Elder writing in the second century BC, Roman Hesiod writing in the seventh century BC Greek. Hesiod, by the way, writes on agriculture in the form of poetry. And I mean, how cool is that?
But I think the main contribution of classics is going to come when we will go beyond the essentials when we'll think about how to live life well, how to live life meaningfully. Take for example, if you want to look at things from a theoretical, from a philosophical point of view, we can give you people like Socrates who as described by Plato, went out into the streets, went to dinner parties, sat down on lovely hills outside of Athens, and then asked the people around him questions, questions such as, what is justice? And then what is injustice? And how do you react to injustice?
And he lets them answer these questions. He asks follow-up questions, and thereby, shows them and also us how many of the things that are comfortable, intuitive truths for us are actually rather unfounded ideas. And so he shows us what the boundaries of our knowledge are. He shows us how to inquire. He shows us how to think methodically. He shows us how to discuss, which is something that is extremely important for any society that wants to have any kind of public discourse wants to develop, wants to improve. And also, when you see Socrates interrogating some innocent individual in this way, you'll see that it's a lot of fun, which is also quite nice.
Then when we turn to classical literature, when we read works that have been written 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, and we read them in their original languages, because we teach you those languages, we get a whole lot of perspective. We'll get perspective on where we come from. And I have to say when I say we, I do mean Western civilization. I do need to make that limitation. We get to see what is specific to a society, Roman, Greek, ours. And we get to see what is common to the shared human experience.
So for example, when you read Roman literature that was written just after the Roman Republic had turned into the Roman Empire, you can see how people adapt to all of a sudden being under autocratic rule, living under an emperor. You can see how they find their voices in this new oppressive situation. And when you read of it, you can see how these voices can be a whole lot of fun. Fun, at least for us, not for Ovid. He got exiled by the emperor for some of the things that he wrote. And yes, we can tell you lots more about that too.
We have stories like that of Antigone told by Sophocles in the fifth century BC, which is about what may happen when your feelings about what is right are at odds with that which is the law. Think about don't ask, don't tell, used to be the law. Well, I guess, strictly speaking, still is the law, but used to be fully the law. People felt it wasn't right. They did something about it with success. That is basically what we have in Antigone in a nutshell, minus the final success. Antigone is a tragedy, after all.
When you read authors such as Aristophanes, who wrote comedies, you can see how you can voice biting, absurd, and thoroughly entertaining criticism in a situation where the political leaders were all too willing to send all the young men into wars, which is something that has reoccurred since. When you read authors such as Marshall, you find epigrams talking about living in a society, or living in a time when being good isn't enough anymore. You also have to be lucky. Anyone who's ever been in the job market knows exactly what he means.
Sometimes, we don't want to think about these big questions, right, wrong, justice, all that stuff. Sometimes, we just want to enjoy ourselves. We can help you with that too. Horace, for example, talks about what to do when you run into someone on the street who just won't stop talking at you. Or you may be lonely, you may want a girlfriend.
Well, there is a book for that, or rather, there's two books written by Ovid 2,000 years ago, two about how to find a girlfriend, one about how to find a boyfriend. And even though the main purpose of these books is to entertain rather than strictly to instruct, there is some advice in there that over the period of 2,000 years has remained rather common sense, which is quite cool. When we look at these people, their thoughts, their writings, their buildings, their wars, their history, we do something that generations before us, many generations before us have already done. So we become part of a very long lived heritage. Western philosophy, all of Western philosophy, including Roman philosophy, is basically a reaction to the Greeks.
When we look at the oldest Western writers of history, so Greeks such as Herodotus, or a little later, Thucydides, we see what we-- or they help us understand what we mean by history, or perhaps, also what we don't mean by history. When we turn to literature, entire literary genres were invented by the Greeks, for example, tragedy. If you read Shakespeare, he didn't write just about Julius Caesar, Pericles, Timon of Athens, Antony and Cleopatra, he also took entire stories such as Romeo and Juliet, pretty much straight off Ovid's Metamorphoses.
The Renaissance as an entire period is a reaction to classical antiquity. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, they got their ideas of form, proportion, beauty, from classical antiquity. Studies have shown that classicizing architecture is very popular among McDonald's restaurants. And what would Battlestar Galactica be without the Lourdes of Cabal, i.e. the Greek, the Olympian gods, Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, and so on?
So classics basically, is everywhere. And when you engage in the classics, you learn not just about them, but you also learn about yourself. And when you-- 30 seconds-- when you look at these things, you will be able to find out, you will be able to learn all sorts of things in ways that are interesting, that are thought provoking, that are usually entertaining. And so I very much hope that you'll want the classics to survive by letting them onto this raft. Thank you very much.
MATT CLEMENTE: Thank you, Professor Ruppel. Our next debater representing the philosophy department is Professor Bennett.
KAREN BENNETT: Thanks. I was going to turn up in like a whole beard, toga outfit, the whole nine yards. But the thing is, we actually don't really wear togas very often. We are, as it turns out, kind of weirdly fond of beards. There are way more beards in our profession than you would really expect. But mustaches in the department here is what seems to be really big.
But no, philosophers are not all dead white guys, right? Some of us are not guys. Some of us are not white. And very few of us are actually dead.
So OK, so why should you let me onto the life raft? Three reasons, three reasons to let me onto your life raft. The first reason is that we ask and answer really special kinds of questions, OK? And some of those questions are directly relevant to our survival and prosperity in this new civilization, this new world we're going to have to build.
So I have particularly in mind questions in political philosophy and in ethics, right? I mean, political philosophy, we've got to get a government going here, right? We need to set up a legal system. I mean, how should we make those decisions? Do we need a democracy in this terrible time? Do we need one leader?
How should we allocate scarce resources, right? Who should have control over the spring where we get the fresh water from, right? What's the just way to set up the political system? Questions about justice, no offense to Professor Ruppel, those are philosophical questions, right?
And not just about political philosophy and government type questions, but questions about how we treat each other more generally, questions in ethics, right? Would it be a soft-hearted mistake to think that we should be doing anything other than being completely out for ourselves in this new planet? Should we bother to care for the elderly and the sick? Should we just leave them behind, or should we bring them with us?
Should we force people to say, have babies against their will because we need to repopulate the civilization? Is that OK? Is that not OK? These questions and ethics are philosophical questions. So we ask these special kinds of questions, some of which are directly relevant to our survival.
Now, admittedly, we also ask a lot of questions, so these special kinds of questions, that are less relevant, directly relevant to our survival and prosperity. For example, what is beauty? What's causation? How do you get conscious experience, like, the experience of eating a three-month-old ration bar? Or how do you get that kind of experience out of this lump of meat in my head, right?
Do we have free will? I meant to bring a paper airplane and I forgot. But if I throw a paper airplane into the audience, right, it doesn't have any choice about where it lands. It's just governed by the laws, right? Are we like that, we're just buffeted around by forces we don't control? I mean, do we ever act freely? Is there a God? What's our place in the universe?
Now, I'll be the first to admit that those questions, they're not going to matter a heck of a lot to getting food on the table or to making sure we keep reproducing, right? They're not going to matter a heck of a lot for that. But it doesn't follow that they don't matter at all. It doesn't mean that they don't matter.
They matter tremendously, right? Because the very fact that we ask those questions is part of who and what we are, right? Look, we're animals, but we're fancy animals, right? We're complicated animals. We've got a lot more going on than like sea slugs and so forth, right?
And part of what makes us special, what makes us complicated is that we're reflective creatures by nature, right? We reflect upon those big hard questions and our place in the world. It's the human condition, right? We can't stop reflecting. We're not going to be able to stop asking questions like that. So you might as well bring me along to help you ask them better and help make some progress towards answering them.
OK. So all of that is my first reason. The first reason to let me on the lifeboat is that we ask and answer these really special kinds of questions, some of which are directly relevant to our survival, some of which are less directly relevant to our survival, but which, are nonetheless really important to our humanity, right?
Second, second reason to let me on the boat, let me on the boat is that it's not just-- it's not just those topics that philosophers talk about that's important. It's how we talk about them, right? Philosophers are really good at careful, rigorous thought about really delicate, difficult matters. We're good at reasoned discussion.
We're good at being calm, and rational, and logical. We prize arguments and reasons. We hate things like appeals to authority, or using complicated jargon, and stuff like that, right? We're good at reasons and arguments, and we don't mind being convinced that we're wrong as long as you have good arguments for it, right? So you should-- perhaps, you should bring me along to help adjudicate things, right, help make some of the difficult decisions that we're going to have to make as we soldier forth in this desert island or whatever it is.
Now, obviously, the real point here is that philosophy teaches critical thinking skills, critical reading, critical writing. There is no better way to hone critical thinking skills than by studying philosophy. And that brings me to the third point.
So third reason to let me on the boat, eventually, things will get better, right? Sooner or later we're going to move beyond eating twigs and raw squirrels, and we're going to reinvent farming, and department stores, and Xboxes, and law schools, and graduate schools, and business schools. And when that day comes, when that day comes, you're going to be really glad that you brought me on board, because philosophy crushes the rest of the humanities in standardized test scores. LSAT scores, philosophy majors do better than everybody except for physics and math.
GRE scores, the mean verbal score, we crush everyone else in the university, right? We're the best in all departments. Similarly with analytical writing on the GRE, philosophy wins. Quantitative part of the GRE, OK, the physicists, the mathematicians, they do better on that. But philosophy actually does-- it's the highest of the humanities, and it does better than any social science other than econ, right? The GMAT, the mean score is all again, the best of the humanities, better than any business major. So all right, those are my three reasons.
First reasons, first reason that we ask and answer these really special kinds of questions that are crucial sometimes directly to our survival, but certainly, to being the kind of creatures that we are, something we don't want to lose, right? We don't want to lose that stuff as we have to rebuild civilization. Second, that we do, that we ask those questions with a lot of clarity and rigor in a way that's incredibly good training as third, demonstrated by our test scores. So in conclusion, in conclusion, I won't eat very much. I promise.
MATT CLEMENTE: Thank you, Professor Bennett. Our next debater is Professor of Theater, Film, and Dance, Professor Melanie Dreyer-Lude.
MELANIE DREYER-LUDE: Thank you. I get to stand behind a podium. I don't get to do this very often. I've been reflecting on why Matt chose me to participate in this debate. It's no secret that the arts aren't considered a crucial component of education in this country. And at Cornell, he has lots of humanities disciplines to choose from. So I wondered, why me?
And then I thought, oh, I get it. He wants me to do something crazy, ride In on a Harley, wear a clown outfit, appear in a puff of magic smoke. Well sadly, I'm not going to be doing any of that. I'm not really the wild and wacky sort. In fact, as a theater artist, I take my role playing very seriously.
My department actually represents three artistic disciplines, theater, film, and dance. But I'm an expert at only one, so I'm here to represent theater. I think you'll find over the course of my argument, however, that many of my ideas apply to both of these forms of artistic expression. So film and dance will be there with me in spirit.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with my friend, Itai Cohen, a complex matter physicist.
And when I described this event to him, and the fact that I was going to have to defend theater as the most important discipline for the last group of surviving humans, he looked at me and burst into laughter.
Good luck was all the advice he gave me. Itai's response is not uncommon. But in truth, artists often have trouble articulating to society their value, even though they're convinced that they have something significant to offer. This particular challenge came to life for me last June when I took four Cornell students and a colleague to Kampala Uganda to teach theater games. To be honest, I felt a little silly.
Uganda's a country that struggles against crippling poverty. Children don't have the right to go to school but must pay a $200 tuition fee every semester, and many cannot attend. HIV/AIDS, lack of clean drinking water, and a constant battle with malaria are a part of everyday life for these people. And I was bringing theater games.
Well, OK, not theater games exactly, but a special form of theater called forum theater developed by a Brazilian revolutionary named Augustus Boal. You see, in forum theater, the facilitators ask the audience to identify a problem or an oppression, to then come up on the stage and act out that oppression. And then the remaining members of the audience are encouraged to coach the actors, rewrite the play, change the way the story unfolds until it plays out just the way they want it to. In effect, they become the authors of their life stories. Sounds pretty amazing, doesn't it? Well, it was.
We walked into our first classroom unsure what we had to offer. And over the course of two hours, we began to see minds light up with the recognition of personal power. We couldn't bring fresh water or a new AIDS vaccine, but we could bring the knowledge that Ugandans could solve many of their own problems if they could only learn to believe in their own ability.
Tony Wagner, the author of The Global Achievement Gap describes three basic skills essential to living well in a contemporary society, critical thinking and problem solving, we've heard that referenced, communicating effectively, and the ability to collaborate. Doug Reeves from the Leadership and Learning Center concurs, but adds creativity to that list. None of these skills are going to get you a perfect score in an SAT test, but many of them will be really useful in a life raft situation.
I'm going to use these four categories, and I'm going to add one more to my argument, and that is tenacity. So let's start with critical thinking and problem-solving. The process of putting on a show involves the recognition and resolution of a whole collection of problems. What stories should we tell? Where are we going to tell it? Who's going to play the parts? Where will we get the audience?
These are the obvious problems we must solve with every production, but each individual production offers its own unique challenges. How can I keep Spider-Man from falling into the audience every night might be an example. Because our profession is a continuous series of problems to be solved, theater people are resilient and adaptable. Change is constant, and therefore, not unwelcome.
As members of the life raft community, we may or may not decide that we want to put on a show. What we will do together is to face an ongoing series of problems from the mundane, our last water filter system failed and we're almost out of potable water, to the more dimensional, what sort of political, social system will we use to structure our decision-making process. Which leads me to scale number two, communicating effectively, storytelling is by definition a process of communicating. How a story is told whether through music, fables, or standard narrative is up for debate. But whether or not we're trying to communicate something is certain.
A theater production allows us to witness some aspect of the human condition. Sometimes, we see something we recognize. Sometimes, we see something that offends us. Often, we get a glimpse of something that allows us to find context for our day-to-day experience. More practically, actors are brilliant at controlling the messages they send with their voice and their bodies, and at reading what they receive in return.
How often have you been frustrated because you've been misunderstood? We'll need to learn how to say what we really mean and to hear what is really being said in order to survive in our new environment. We'll also need skill number three, collaboration.
I am a big believer in groupthink. When brainstorming to solve problems, one plus one can easily equal more than two. And if one is able to bring an idea to a group of people and then let that idea transform into something new as everyone responds to it, something extraordinary can happen.
As a theater director, one of my primary jobs is to solicit and sort a collection of ideas. Theater is a team sport filled with artists who represent a variety of skill sets, playwrights who write the story, designers who create the world in which the actors play, actors who bring the story to life, marketing people who persuade the public to come. Every artist brings ideas and an agenda to the table. And my job as director is to guide this collision of impulses into the most exciting evening of theater our combined talents can create. Our raft will be filled with people who have a variety of areas of expertise. We might find it useful to have someone on board who can help structure and organize those ideas so they can be effectively implemented.
Skill number four is creativity. As with all the arts, theater exercises the imagination. Even the hardcore business world has begun to recognize that in order to stay competitive, their employees must be creative. But the imagination is like a muscle that can atrophy with disuse.
Do you remember when you were a young child and an empty box and a handful of crayons was all you needed to entertain yourself? Imagine handing an empty box and a handful of crayons to an adult today. Would they do something amazing with that? Or would they stand there wondering what to do next?
The fact is, as we grow older that we forget how to use our imagination. The world will find when we get off our life raft will be very different from the one we know now. It will require all of the imagination and creativity we can bring to bear just to survive on a daily basis. But perhaps, more importantly, we'll need our imaginations to help make that life worth living. The daily grind of survival will seem meaningless if we can't find some time to relax, to have fun, and to dream.
And finally, I bring you tenacity. Intelligence and creativity will get us far, but one additional quality will be essential to our survival. We will encounter numerous obstacles and impossible situations, and we'll encounter them over and over again, which may lead us to just want to give up. Artists who survive beyond the five year mark in the theater are by definition tenacious.
The average annual salary of an actor in the United States is $5,000. It is almost, but not quite impossible to make a living in the theater in the United States. Yet, hundreds of artists do it year after year. You might think they're crazy, but people who do what they love for a living are statistically much happier than those who work only for money.
More to our purposes, circumstances of this difficult career choice have created an unbending tenacity in many theater artists. Give up? No way. I'll find a workaround. I'll try one more time, but I'll make it work. They aren't afraid of hardship or of working hard, and we'll need that in the days to come.
So what do I have to offer you as the last member of the life raft? Power, the power of your imagination to solve problems, the power to talk to one another and work effectively together when encountering circumstantial and interpersonal obstacles, the power to weather the hard times and not give up, the power to remember to have fun and to laugh together. And most importantly, the power to dream, the power to envision a world in which the circumstances in which we find ourselves can never happen again. Thank you.
MATT CLEMENTE: Our next debater will be representing the English department, and that is Professor Raskolnikov.
MASHA RASKOLNIKOV: I have to say, I had a different beginning for this lecture, but having listened to my colleagues speak, I think I want to begin by arguing that you should not vote for the devil's advocate.
The devil's advocate is yet to speak, but I had the privilege of sitting next to him and looking over his shoulder. And I will tell you, we English professors, we are sneaky.
There is a reason why--
There's a reason why we're having this debate at Cornell. And it's not just for the fun of it. It is partly because the humanities are, in fact, being devalued. It is because the Department of Theater, Film, and Dance, and I very much respect Melanie for not bringing this up, has been heavily defunded in recent years out of passionate budgetary debates that I understand were very difficult for everybody involved. But it's true that in this University at this moment we have not valued the humanities as much as the humanities deserve to be valued.
So I'm going to say this again, every one of my colleagues has spoken about the importance of the imagination, the importance of creativity, and the importance of joy to you in the life raft. Let's remember that. Let's remember that those things are not things that should go out of the world just because 99% of humanity has now perished in a terrible cataclysm.
Now, I'm going to say why you should let me onto your life raft. But I'm going to say, just let one of us. That is ultimately the best thing to do. We shouldn't actually be pitted against one another. We should be working together. Let me just say that.
OK. So why me? The English department is obviously everything. I happen to teach medieval literature. But in my classes, we also cover the works of Plato, Descartes, Ovid, Shakespeare. These other disciplines can't stand a match for the kind of imperial power that the English department has acquired.
And you might notice that we chair half the departments in the arts college. Oh yes, it's true, the Society for the Humanities, History of Art. Until this year, the French department were all being chaired by English professors. Wait, there's more, there's deans, there's a provost, the English department is everywhere. And there's a reason for that.
It is because English is the lingua Franca, the language we all speak together. It is also because as a discipline, English has been amazingly successful. I teach medieval literature. And in that way, what I teach is the beginning of English literature, not of all literature. That can be a highly debated topic that Antonia and I could enjoy arguing about. But the beginning of English literature of this language that is spoken by more people in the world than any other, at least if they want to do business with the most powerful country in the world.
So here's how I was really going to start this lecture. I was going to say sometime in the fifth century of our common era, a monk named Telemachus was stoned to death for trying to interrupt a gladiatorial contest. The emperor who was by this point, a Christian emperor, was shocked that someone who was just trying to say gladiators while fun, Antonia, gladiators, while they're a lovely, lovely thing, that's a violent and horrible kind of reality show that ends in people dying. We haven't quite gotten to this level yet, but I'm sure we will.
Gladiatorial games are wrong. And the audience who was being interrupted, got really angry and started throwing stones and killed this monk. The emperor overreacted and canceled all theater. He canceled all theater because theater leads people into pleasure and into fun. I am not agreeing with the cancellation of all theater. And all public performances were banned in the empire, and there was no more theater.
Believe me when I tell you, because I have a hard time believing this, but I've been checking with my colleagues about this, it's really true. For centuries, the Western world, which is a tiny part of the world, forgot that you could do this, that you could stand in front of an audience and do anything other than declaim, preach. They forgot that you could act. They forgot that you could have that kind of experience that my colleague, Melanie, was talking about. And then they reinvented it.
In the ninth century, four centuries later, in the ninth century of our common era, a couple of bishops wanted to get more attention out of their parishioners who were sort of dozing while they preached. And they said, why don't we try to act out the story of the passion? Maybe we could just do some stuff. And they started to reinvent theater.
This is going to sound like I'm saying that theater is very important, and I do think it's very important. But I'm going to say something else. As an English professor, I know this history, I know what it's like to have lived through a cataclysm, which is what the dark ages arguably were, a time when learning is forgotten, literacy is limited. There aren't a whole lot of people, and the Black Plague is carrying people off. What is it like to come out of that kind of crisis and re-invent culture?
Well, for that, you need an English professor. You need an English professor who knows that we have done it before, and therefore, we can do it again. And you need an English professor who because historically, English has taken over every other department, has a general working knowledge of all these other kinds of fields that people can have.
Look, I could say to you now, I could say to you now that you need me because on the life raft you few, you survivors are going to need to-- it's true, but it's vulgar-- repopulate the world. And possibly, you need some love poetry. I could say that, but I won't, because the fact is the love poetry of others will eventually sound stolen in your mouth and won't be that persuasive. So you don't really need to steal another's love poetry. You need help from a creative writing professor, which I am not, but that comes under the umbrella of English to write your own damn love poetry in order to repopulate the world.
You do not need me to teach you how to woo one another or to find one another attractive. You do not need an English professor for that. But arguably, you don't need a professor period. What you might need however, is some way of thinking about the meanings of the things that you do and you might also want stories of the world that is gone.
Now, I teach medieval literature partly because I think that for medieval literature you do need a professor. This is what I say, and it might be a little bit unfair to some of my English colleagues, which is that if you read a novel written in the 20th century, you are reading about something that happened in your family's memory. Your grandpa could tell you about this, your dad. And you don't necessarily need a professor to guide you through reading a contemporary novel. Although, if you try reading some really high modernist novels, you do kind of need someone to hold your hand.
But I will say, that when you're dealing with imagination across time, when for instance, you're trying to understand what the hell Shakespeare is talking about not just at the level of language, but at the level of why is this important, why does this person do as they choose to do, you kind of need a professor for that. And this is the thing, you guys could probably learn everything over again. You could reinvent on your own. I have faith in you.
You could learn everything, and you could even learn the things that English literature learned over the last 20, 25 years in great struggle and great suffering, which is could learn to include things and people from outside the Western canon in what you consider to be important, right? English was for a long time the study of dead white men. And I teach those dead white men because I think you need help understanding difference across time. You need help understanding what someone meant in the 16th, 15th, 14th, 13th century when they wrote about their experience and their lives.
But you also may need help to try to understand the writings of people who are writing right now who are leaving a record right now in the world, a record that is somehow not about the same background that you come from, that is from a different history and a different culture. If you can't read that record because no one on the life raft can understand multicultural literature, let's just say this in more general terms, if no one on the life raft is able to be interested in questions like those posed by works by women, you will not be able to survive because there's lots of people in this life raft I can see who don't just come from the Western tradition.
So we need literature and we need help understanding literature, because we need stories and because we need to write our stories, because we need to express who we are, because we want to ask questions about love. But we also need literature because we need to have compassion for one another. I'm going to say one slight jab at a fellow discipline. I'm going to say that some disciplines like philosophy will tell you those things in the abstract, what is right to do in the abstract, what is a good life in the abstract, but stories are what is going to give you the specific, the concrete, the unrepeatable. The civilization that is lost now that everything is gone and you are the only survivors, you're going to need help understanding across that distance, and you're going to need help understanding across the distance that separates my flesh and yours. Thank you very much.
MATT CLEMENTE: All right, so our final debater of this round representing the Physics Department and the role of our devil's advocate here today is Professor Lechler.
ANDRE LECLAIR: OK, thank you. Well, when I was originally asked to participate in this thing and agreed I was not told that was going to be the devil's advocate. And I'm not totally clear on what the role is, but I think it gives me a little more license to be a little bit mean.
Anyway, and furthermore, whenever I've been asked to be the devil before, I've never refused. So why-- I might as well represent him. And there was a Holocaust, and it hasn't been stated that the devil was actually the cause. So I'll play the role as best I can.
OK. So the premise of the debate today is very interesting. I eventually got the gist of it once I saw the line up and I was the only one representing science. You get the idea that the humanities feel they are under attack and they want to defend the importance of a liberal arts education.
Now, within the Cornell community, I think everybody sees the value of a liberal arts education. And incidentally, it's not really that obvious that the humanities are under attack. I just read an article just last week by George Will. And according to him, in this country, of all degrees awarded to undergraduates, only about 16% go to the natural sciences or engineering. So there's a lot of people majoring in the humanities.
Budget cuts, well, we're all suffering because of that. The humanities have been cut, the sciences are also being dramatically cut. They were cut about 50% over from 1970 to 1995 according to the same article. So we're all under attack, actually.
Anyway, I was supposed to represent all the sciences. That's a little bit unrealistic. So I'll speak as a physicist, a theoretical physicist. That doesn't mean I'm theoretically a physicist.
Although, some of my colleagues think so.
It means that I don't have a lab. All I need is a pen, paper, and a laptop like a lot of you, my colleagues here. Incidentally, Newton was not referred to as a physicist in his own time. He was a natural philosopher, and so are we.
So-- so anyway, let me turn to the premise of the debate now. From now on, I will address the survivors, you guys. I'd like to start out by saying that all of us here share a lot in common. When we were younger, I imagine we all thought about some of the big questions in life, and questions like where is our place as humans in this universe? In other words, porque estamos aqui? Yeah, I speak Latin.
Well, Latino, Latino, Latino, OK. That's close enough, right? OK, now, that was a side remark where there was the purpose behind it. The point here is that you don't have to be an English major to go home and read Shakespeare in your spare time, or learn another language. But it is different in the sciences and the hard sciences like physics.
I seriously don't think you can make significant contributions to physics and really understand it without a very rigorous training. Just the way it is. Physics is hard. I still find physics difficult after studying it, working on it for 30 years. OK. But eventually, our approach is once we got older, our approaches all kind of diverged, a theoretical physicist, as far as approaching these big questions.
So a theoretical physicist might ponder the cosmos, cosmology, why is the universe expanding, where did it come from, where is it heading. A biologist may think of all the various other life forms and try to learn something about our own lives. A humanities professor may contemplate himself.
Others, others, and others, and what others think about them. OK. So I mean, why is it called the humanities, right?
That being said, I would be concerned about taking any of these people on a camping trip to New York State Park on the shores of Cuba Lake, all right, much less taking them on a life raft, OK? And I think I could make a strong case that I should be your man.
OK, the time scales here are important to my reasoning. So there's a short-term versus the long-term, and either way you look at, I think I'm the person you should vote for. So let's first consider the short-term. Sadly, the universe is not a hospitable place. It's mostly empty and it's cold. The Earth is an exception. But still, in the short-term, you need to survive. Period. You need to survive.
You don't get bedtime stories, lullabies, pretty pictures, and dancing lessons, not yet. Wittgenstein is irrelevant now, because if you have any philosophical doubts about your particular situation that you're floating, and the shark's out there, you'll probably perish anyway, OK? What you need is food, water, energy, medical attention, and an internet connection. And the internet was invented by physicists, by the way.
Now, I will admit, my own current research, it's a very specialized and esoteric, and is going to be of no help to you. But physics is arguably the most fundamental of the sciences. It underlies all the chemistry and engineering. That's why it's a requirement for all engineering students and all science students.
When I teach introductory physics, and I'm in fully support of brain-based learning, I define physics as a study of matter and energy in the universe. That's pretty broad. And I ask my students, can you name something that's not encompassed by physics? And it's very hard to come up with anything. There are some right answers like thoughts, feelings, but that's pretty small. So physics has--
A lot to say about a lot of things. So a good foundation in physics means that you understand light, you understand electricity, heat, atoms, radiation. You know what's going on inside the sun. And I know why your life lifeboat is floating, why it might sink. So that might be important knowledge.
I can make electricity. I can make electricity right now, all right? Here it is. Here's a quote by Margaret Thatcher. She was a chemistry major at Harvard. She said, "The value of Faraday's work today must be higher than the capitalization of all shares of the Stock Exchange." Faraday had a principle you can make electricity by doing this, this little device based on Faraday's law. Gentlemen philosophers, I know what you're thinking.
You're not going to repopulate the world this way. But anyway, so I created light. See, I made some light. I made light. So I know how to make electricity. I can scale this up and make a generator, and give you electricity within a few weeks. And I think you're going to want that.
What about medical attention? In case some of you are in some need of medical attention, there's no doctor. Well, the human body is an amazing design in a newly devised reason, but never violates the laws of physics. So I understand how I feel about the flow of fluids, bodily fluids, breathing, mechanical work, what the muscles do. And although I've never done it, I'm confident that I can perform some elementary surgical operations.
In particular, if the majority of you want a particular person castrated, I think I can pull that off. It's a simple operation. By the way, how are you going to navigate? Do you know where you're going? Do you know If your life raft is heading toward the Arctic, Antarctica, or where it's going?
Well, I know enough about astronomy that I can get you on the right track. I know enough about electricity and magnetism I can make a compass. And I won't take you back to Ithaca.
We're going to Rio. We're going to Rio de Janeiro. I was there last fall for three months, two months. I learned a lot of things besides physics there. And if they're still alive out there, well, we're going to want to-- well, if they're swimming, they're not there, but anyway, we can start having fun there. I know how to distill alcohol, and I know how to I know how to make-- I know how to play samba. OK.
So OK, what about the long-term? I guess I only got one minute. So in the long-term, there will never be another Newton, Einstein, Shakespeare, nor Rembrandt. These are unique human individuals. But there will always be the same laws of physics.
If you start from scratch on this lifeboat, you don't have my help, you will eventually discover the laws of physics. But it might take 2,000 years. It did take 2,000 years. The Greeks were great thinkers, philosophy, mathematics, politics, but they never got the laws of motion right. it took 2,000 years to finally get it right, and that was Newton. And that's sort of the start of the Scientific Revolution.
Scientific knowledge increases incrementally. So it could take a while to rediscover all of this. Give me like 30 more seconds, 30 more. OK. Now, what about arts in the long-term? Well, historians may try their best to help us learn from history, but it's not clear that we're doing that if you look at the current state of the world.
And furthermore, even though art is very closely tied to the times in which it was created, you're going to be creating a new world, you're going to be creating your own art, your own literature, your own music. And that's going to be much more important to you than the art and humanities of the past. Thank you. Sorry.
All right, so that concludes the first round of the debate. And now, we're going to do another run through here. And each debater will be allowed two minutes to either respond to what has been said, or to conclude, do a quick synopsis of their argument. And so our first debater in round-- or the first debater of round two is Professor Ruppel.
ANTONIA RUPPEL: So I think we've just heard that basically, all of these disciplines are quite important and should all survive, which is why you should vote for classics, because if you think of classics as Adam, then all of these disciplines were taken from our ribs. Philosophy, it has been said that Western philosophy can be safely characterized as a footnote to Plato. And I just want to point out they sent our graduate students to us to learn Latin and Greek.
Then theater, well, that has roots from us, from our tragedy, from our comedy. Take us, we won't be able to do all of this immediately, but with us, we'll be able to do these things over time. English, well, as Mash said, English is the lingua Franca. Lingua Franca is Latin.
Physics, well, a physicist will be very, very handy in the beginning indeed. But for that as well, we can offer you Aristotle who wrote not just the physics, but also the metaphysics. So we will be able to get there in the end. So take classics, and you'll have everything. Thank you.
MATT CLEMENTE: And now, Professor Bennett with philosophy.
KAREN BENNETT: OK. So I think I'm actually going to instead of fully defending my own spot on the life raft, I'm going to sort of echo what Masha was saying about letting us all on. I mean, one of the things that's been really interesting in this debate is how much-- so Professor Leclair is talking about how various people were natural philosophers, and they were, because philosophers did science, you know? And Antonia is telling us about how all of this stuff has its roots in the classic tradition. And it does, right?
I mean, there's something a little artificial about saving one department, because the humanities, we've just been fragmented into different departments. I mean, once upon a time, this stuff was a lot more unified than it is these days. That said, if you let us all in the boat, keep an eye on the English professor if they've got the imperial power they're talking about. They're take it over the dean's office and all the other departments. What's next, Poland?
So finally, you know, obviously, an engineer would be handy. The debate here is really supposed to be of like which humanities professor is it that we need. But one thing I do want to say is not wanting to even take us on a camping trip. I mean, look, the laws of physics do explain why fire burns, and that's all the matter of fundamental physics, right? But the fact that fundamental physics explains why fire burns for example, does not mean that a physicist can start a fire.
MATT CLEMENTE: And now, Professor Dreyer-Lude.
MELANIE DREYER-LUDE: So Karen kind of stole my thunder because I think-- and Masha alluded to it earlier o-- what I was going to suggest at the point in the debate where we're supposed to rip our opponents apart is that we start to think about the impossible, and think outside the box, and figure out how we can include all of these members of this debate team on our life raft, even the physics professor, I'm afraid.
And I just want to suggest that it's a dubious moral platform to begin our lives together by deciding to dump a few of our colleagues. And I think we have the opportunity to work together and to start over. We live currently in a social and economic climate that's a little scary. And the idea of a do over might not be such a bad thing. So I want to champion the idea that we figure out how from the resources on this little island, we can take everybody, and we can work together to make a brilliant future.
MATT CLEMENTE: And Professor Raskolnikov.
MASHA RASKOLNIKOV: It's Raskolnikov, but it' OK. It's foreign. So word on the imperial power of English, the reason that so many of my colleagues are running this University does allude to the inherent superiority of the English, of English as a discipline. I have to say it. The thing that guided me to go to graduate school back when I started this out was fervent, burning curiosity. And I think that that's probably what led you guys to be the survivors that get to be on this life raft.
I was curious about the world. I was curious about what people in the past have thought. I wanted to ask big philosophical questions. And I'm sad to say, I discovered that in philosophy departments often what we get are debates, but not answers, debates, but not examples. And I kind of wanted stories. I felt like I was really hungry for stories, but that's a preference.
What really led me to graduate school was that I wanted to continue to learn. And one of the things that's great about English as a discipline is that it is so broad and so badly defined we have professors in my department who really do teach French literature, and professors who really do teach art history, and I teach a little bit of classics, and a little bit of philosophy along with Shakespeare and Chaucer. And the fact is we all should go on the boat because you are all here because you're curious yourselves, because you want to learn.
So let's do that. Let's build a new civilization where learning where the humanities, where curiosity are deeply valued. It may be a certain civilization that does not go down in flames like the one that you have survived has done. Thank you very much.
MATT CLEMENTE: And finally, our devil's advocate Professor Leclair.
ANDRE LECLAIR: Well, I think I'm still supposed to be the devil, right? So I think one-- four of us have to go. You know, the physicists, we don't change the rules in the middle of everything.
The parameters are clear. And the parameters are there. This is the law. And four of us have to go, all right?
Now, I don't need Ovid to find a girlfriend. And now, if you still care about your GRE, I'll personally throw you off the raft, all right? You're grownups now. It's not an SAT. You're not In high school anymore. Metaphysics, or I think means like non-physics.
And finally, if an English professor ever does become in charge of our department, I'm going to want to be a dead white man.
I have a full other minute? I did bring one other prop. And philosophy was a lot better when everyone smoked a pipe.
Well, I don't think-- there's one thing I did want to say, didn't get to say before. So I was describing how it's hard to reconstruct all of technology and science, doesn't come very quickly. So just think for a moment how long it would take to reconstruct some of the secrets that Corning has here in making optical fibers, or Intel, they have all kinds of secrets in making computer chips. If you have to get all that information from scratch, it will take a very, very long time, I assure you. I'm sure I could not build a computer if I started from scratch and tried to do it in the remainder of my lifetime. So science builds upon itself, and it's a tradition we want to continue. Thank you.
MATT CLEMENTE: I'd like to pause and thank all the participating professors for a lively debate with around of applause.
As well as our generous sponsors, Give Me Coffee, who will be providing the consolation prizes, and North Star House for generously donating a dinner for the winner. And now, our 2011 first annual life raft debate winners are-- it's a tie between Professor Bennett from philosophy--
And our devil's advocate, Professor Leclair, from physics.
KAREN BENNETT: We need the sciences.
MATT CLEMENTE: We present them with this.
ANDRE LECLAIR: What we do with it?
MATT CLEMENTE: One of you can keep it. You'll have to share.
ANDRE LECLAIR: OK. You can have it.
KAREN BENNETT: Well, we'll sort it out after.
ANDRE LECLAIR: OK, yeah.
MATT CLEMENTE: So thank you everyone for coming and making this such a great event, and thank you for your votes.
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The premise is that there has been an apocalyptic event and the survivors (the members of the audience) are all on a life raft with one spot left.
The survivors stumble upon a group of professors, all from different fields. As a result, the survivors decide to hold a trial. Each professor argues why he or she, and his or her discipline, will be necessary in the new world.
1) As students of the humanities in an age in which the education system urges students to pursue mathematics and the sciences, the members of Logos feels that it would be intellectually worthwhile to afford professors an opportunity to defend their fields of study. This is especially true when the universities across the country are slashing humanities departments (a topic Pres. Skorton recently taken up in his "state of the university,") 2) As professors will be explaining the utility of their different courses of study, we feel that this event could serve as a smorgasbord to assist undeclared students in picking a major. We hope to get in contact with the freshman writing seminar program, so as to urge freshmen to attend this event with this end in mind.