Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

Philosophy and PR have “how” in common

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

If you’ve read my “about me” section, you know that I majored in philosophy, not public relations. Seemingly unrelated fields, yes, but I guarantee you my college degree has been a major contributor to my success in and enjoyment of my profession.  Today, I’d like to explain why. If you’re seeking work and have been forced to look outside your existing realm of education and experience, this might help you discover what you might enjoy doing, what you’re capable of, and why your “soft skills” are assets to potential employers.

As many people do, I had an intense existential crisis upon graduation, sparked by the certainty that I no longer wanted to devote my life to professordom. How, exactly, do you make the quantum metaphysical applications to the study of consciousness into an asset for a potential employer who’s not a unraphael-Plato-Aristotle_yoestiversity or a book publisher?

I figured it out by accident. I was poring through job listings, and came upon a PR position at a marketing communications agency. I read the description and applicable skills and thought “Boy, that would be fun, and I would be really good at that.” I read the required qualifications and thought, “Boy, I don’t have any of that.”

Despite having no coursework, let alone a degree, in communications, and despite a glaring lack of the requested three to five years of agency experience, I sat down to figure out why I was so convinced I could do the job.  I finally figured out that nobody cares about the content of my study, but they might care about how I studied it. Let’s take a look at “what I was doing” (the processes and skills applied) when I worked, rather than “what I did” (the actual product).

As I studied and worked in philosophy, I learned how to research; how to critically analyze a concept or thought sequence; how to apply external influencers to understanding and elucidating concepts; to construct and communicate an argument; to write elegantly, concisely, and persuasively; to think strategically to anticipate and mitigate problems; and to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated concepts. All this, coupled with my enjoyment of talking to strangers, made me a prime candidate for the field of public relations.

I sent in a resume and an aggressive (and slightly arrogant) cover letter describing who I was, why I was applying, and why they really ought to hire me. Turns out, poise, tenacity, and chutzpah are also hallmarks of a successful PRer, because they decided to bring me in for an interview. A second interview and a couple of writing assignments later, they hired me.  I was lucky to find a firm that believed enough in me to train and guide me, and I’ve benefitted ever since from the intelligence, talent, and patience of the principals at that agency.

If you find an open position that’s outside your comfort zone but you think you can handle it, ask yourself why. It probably lies in what you know “how” to do rather than what you know.  Sing it in an A+ cover letter. With luck, you’ll find someone who’ll take a calculated risk on you, too.


What is going on?!??!

August 19, 2009 2 comments

[For the precursor to this post, please read my previous post, The Riddle of Fluid Points of Reference.]

I hate to break it to you, but you have no idea what’s going on.

I mean it. Literally. You have an impression of what’s going on; you’re interacting with what you think is going on; and you’re rapidly and continuously storing information about what you think is going on to refer to later in making decisions and judgments.

Unfortunately, you’re flying blind.

The plain truth is, nothing guarantees that the way you perceive the world is the way it actually is. [Bear with me. I can actually make a case for this.]

“But I can see it and touch it and smell it!”

No cigar.

Here’s a case study:  So the milk you’re sniff-checking smells pretty rank. If you for some godforsaken reason drank some, it would taste pretty nasty. Swirl it around, and it’s kind of chunky; so, you determine, the milk has gone bad.

The unspoken assumption in that judgment is that “the milk.”

That is, that the milk exists. Do you know that for sure? What guarantees it?

Haven’t you ever been fooled about the world before? Obvious example: mirages. We get those on the road in South Florida all the time. The asphalt reflects so much heat that it bends light waves, making it appear that there are water puddles on the road ahead; but as you draw closer, the water disappears.

Or, dreams. Ever had a really, really realistic dream that you were shocked to wake up from? (In high school, I fell asleep in class and had a dream that I fell asleep in class and was suddenly woken up by the teacher. Then I woke up from the dream unaided, relieved that I hadn’t gotten caught snoozing. Then I woke up again – for real (?) this time, realizing I’d had an infinite regress series of very, very realistic dreams – like looking in a mirror reflecting another mirror. I think I need therapy. Currently accepting donations.)

Maybe that’s just me. But fact is, despite what it seems like to you, you don’t perceive anything directly. Plop a few chunks of that milk onto your tongue. What we call “tasting disgusting milk” means that your tongue is retrieving information about the chemical reactivity properties of the molecules of the bacteria in the milk and transmitting them along a series of nerves to a piece of meat with information-processing capabilities (i.e., your brain), where that information is somehow translated into a (very unpleasant) sensation. (I’m going to do a post later on how weird it is that quantitative physical information can manifest as a rich qualitative sensation.)

The complexity and length of that chain of transmission means that your perceptions are sufficiently removed from the actuality of the world to cast doubt upon their validity – or accuracy. By validity, I mean you could imagining the milk all together; by accuracy, I mean that the milk could definitely exist but be perfectly sanitary and totally potable.

Well, some people would accept this and cast doubt upon their perceptions’ validity or accuracy; others would say that’s pretty a silly thing to even think about; and others recognize that their perceptions may be of dubious validity or accuracy, but refuse to consider the possibility of inaccuracy whatsoever because it casts doubt upon everything we do and are.  It makes us very lonely. Because if you can’t be sure that milk exists, you surely can’t be sure your boyfriend or mom or cat exists. (Why, they could even be a zombie or vampire or a very sophisticated robot.) That’s called solipsism, and it’s a much-despised but unfortunately irrefutable tenet of philosophy.

Fact is, whether it’s true or not, who really cares? We human beings instinctively live in a state of trust: that the world and beings we interact with exist and exist more or less as they seem to. Even though, as an amateur philosopher, I recognize the persistent and annoying resilience (“undisprovability”?) of solipsism, I have a whole lot of fun being in the world and talking to people. Hypocritical, possibly; so what?

You have to ignore the doctrine of solipsism, or you turn into a very suspicious, sad, and lonely person.

To heck with that. Throw the milk away, hug your mom, and rub your cat’s belly until it bites you. Have fun.

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The riddle of fluid points of reference

Couple weeks ago, @laermer posed the riddle: “When you go from here to there, why are you still here and not there?”

I’m still thinking about it. The riddle isn’t actually the question… it’s the answer.

“Here,” like “now,” is a fluid point of reference. It changes meaning more quickly than we can really keep up with it. That’s why, by the time you say “now” – actually, by the time you think “now” – it no longer means what you meant it to mean.

What I mean by saying that this answer is a riddle is that it opens up a can of wormy questions.

“Now” is, ostensibly, the boundary between the past and the future. But by the time we perceive “now,” it’s already over. Consider: it takes less than 150 milliseconds for you to visually perceive the world around you. In other words, the time difference between your eyes (as sensory organs) receiving information and you actually being cognizant of it is – 150 ms.

By the time you perceive your surroundings, they’ve already changed. So in a sense, human beings are irretrievably trapped in the past. We’ll never know  – indeed, are physically incapable of knowing – what’s going on around us “here and now.”

(So the statement “He died before he even knew what hit him” can be literally correct.)

So you thought you had a good handle on what’s currently up? Don’t be disappointed. You didn’t for even more reasons. Future post: you have no idea what you’re looking at.

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