Thursday, December 01, 2005

An academic says thanks ...

Americans celebrated Thanksgiving Day a week ago, and combined it with the weekend to have a long weekend of family gettogethers, food and fun.

I read, via Cosmic Variance, a short, and truly wonerful essay by the philosopher and academic John Perry. Among other things, there is this gem hidden in there, which can be taken as a perfect thanksgiving message, not just by an academic philosopher, but also by many other kinds of academics.

Here is the key extract:

... how wonderful, and lucky, [it is] that the world has managed to find a niche for us. Even if philosophy had no real intellectual content at all — was as silly as astrology or numerology certainly are, or as I suspect, in dark moments, that certain other parts of the university are— it would still be wonderful that it existed, simply to keep these people occupied. Especially me. What would I be doing without this wonderful institution? Helping people in some small town in Nebraska with their taxes and small legal problems, I suppose, and probably not doing it very well.

Amazing, isn't it? And quite humbling.

If an academic philosopher living in the US felt so lucky about the world providing a niche for him and his peers, I wondered what I should feel. I mean, as an academic living and working in a country that also has so many poor people.

Just consider the kind of support that this society has given me, in spite of all its tremendously more pressing obligations to its poor.

Not just support, but also freedom. Freedom to do what I wish to do. Freedom to pursue my own little niche in science and enginering. Freedom, in fact, to do pretty much anything, irrespective of whether it is useful -- now or in the future. Freedom to even throw tantrums every once in a while!

It is my own little Thanksgiving Day today.