Report on my ARF Fellowship – R. L. Victoria Pöhls
January 14, 2016 to April 7, 2016
I first got in contact with the Advanced Reasoning Forum when Richard Epstein emailed me about my paper „Testing the Untestable? Guidelines for advancing Empirical Research in the area of Linguistic Relativity“ that was published online by RIFL magazine. We then started conversing about it and the research he was currently working on, mainly „The world as process“. I enjoyed our conversations hugely and felt honoured when he mentioned the possibility of an ARF Fellowship. After finishing my master’s thesis in Germany, I formally applied and was very happy when the other members of the Forum approved my application, even though I did not have such an explicit logic background compared to former holders of the fellowship.
Speaking of former “Arfies”, Richard Epstein wisely suggested talking with Esperanza Buitrago-Diaz, who had stayed at Dogshine multiple times, before making the decision to come to New Mexico. This helped me to get a (vague) idea of what to expect, e. g. what it means to live in a desert. She was as helpful as she could have been – and it was a very pleasant surprise when I later learnt that she would be there for most of my stay as well.
After settling in at Dogshine I continued reading the draft of An Introduction to Formal Logic, which Richard Epstein was currently working on. Even in this first draft it was a book I wish I’d had as a first year student; the following weeks we went over every chapter till the book got near its final shape. This was a very interesting process and we had heated discussions about a few paragraphs and formulations, which were fun and useful to my deeper understanding of some of those matters, and, I hope and think, also helped to make the book even clearer and more convincing. For me it was a special experience to see how a book was formed: It was great to witness the earnest process of altering, which I’ve seen in myself when writing papers, in someone else so experienced in writing philosophical works. But it was also worthy to note how much more work goes into it – after all the content-related considerations and formulation-issues, e. g. the decisions about layout or the best marketing of the books.
After working through this book, I concentrated on reading material about “Experimental Philosophy”, a movement I had ambiguous feelings about – on the one side I feel it was an important move for philosophy to draw on interdisciplinary research when discussing interdisciplinary topics, on the other I shared some of Epstein’s concerns and reservations about the methodology used and maybe some over-use in certain areas of philosophy. Richard Epstein suggested some interesting papers we discussed the following weeks. These were discussed over lunch, on the walks in the surrounding beautiful lands, over dinner and over some late drinks. One can conclude surely, that Dogshine is a great place for people who cannot (or don’t want to) stop talking about “their” topic!
When we weren’t talking, I was able to use my time freely and choose my readings independently. This was in stark contrast to my last few years: in both my master degrees, in Cognitive Science and Literature, I was confronted with not only a heavy course load, but also lots of weekly assignments and presentations, which, if wanted to be done well, took a lot of the time I was now able to use just for reading. Dogshine has an extensive library on most philosophical issues and I was able to study some of the classics, especially by Bertrand Russell, W. Lyon’s interesting work “The Disappearance of Introspection” and A. Castell’s “The Self in Philosophy”. But there isn’t only philosophy: Some very interesting books I skimmed were on animal cognition and I was especially intrigued by those researchers’ view on personality expression and culture – even though if read with a philosopher’s eye some of the terms, e. g. personhood, are rather undetermined.
I also used my time at the Advanced Reasoning Forum to research Ph.D. opportunities and I was glad I was able to discuss my prospects with Esperanza Buitrago-Diaz, who understands the challenges for young academics very well because of her own background, and Richard Epstein, who could give me a glimpse into the American university system – a system very different from the German and Irish ones I knew – with its own lot of unspoken rules. I’m very grateful for the advice and encouragement I received.
Another great academic experience I’d like to mention at the end of my report was the APA meeting in San Francisco that I had the privilege to attend while being on the Fellowship: I enjoyed the variety of the talks given and was able to speak to some philosophers with strong opinions (either against or in favour of) Experimental philosophy – which was special, because this field of work is not so well known in German philosophy departments yet. The only negative aspect of the meeting was that I missed meeting Bill Robinson in person at the ARF exhibitor table, because I was at a talk when he stopped by. But I enjoyed talking to Peter Adams, who had many stories and anecdotes to tell about the changes that publishing has seen in the last few decades (and about other things as well)! I think one can truly say that meeting all those wonderful people truly broadened my horizon. This is probably not the best way to thank all of you I was able to talk to (in person or via mail) during my time as an ARF fellow, but I’d like to nevertheless express my gratitude to all the before mentioned as well as the weekly participants of the Peace Vigil in Socorro and Magdalena – there I learnt so much about the Native culture of New Mexico, American society and it was always a pleasure to discuss recent politics! Last, but not least, I would like to thank Richard Epstein for his hospitality at Dogshine and the great opportunity he gave me by suggesting the ARF Fellowship.