theory + practice = solutions

Dear Global Circle,

What *exactly* can . . .

a) an undergraduate student
b) a student applying for postgraduate qualification
c) a student in the middle of postgraduate qualification
d) a faculty member
e) a fully-fledged Professor

. . . do to make step-by-step progress today?


Allan McKenna

P.s. feel free to change and improve this question set in any way. It is just a beginning.

(Copied here as a blog post with permission of the original author.)

4 thoughts on “theory + practice = solutions

  1. O.K. but I posted these questions 10 days ago! Talking about global problems and the shortcomings of academia in vague terms is not going to create any genuine, lasting change in the World. We need to shift our perspective to precise action steps.

    Thank you kindly,


  2. Hello, Allan–

    My simple suggestion is that, at all these stages in life, the person can make an effort to visualize _what’s really going on in three dimensions_ when taking in or putting out information linguistically.

    I mean this 1) at the level of the sentence–can the meaning be “depicted,” if necessary through the use of consistent metaphors, so it’s clear what is being conveyed? Or are the words just syntactically, grammatically, correct but presenting a confusing portrayal of reality, or sufficiently opaque as to block visualization altogether? I think the secret to clarity of writing is integrating the intended meaning into a kind of visual (if abstractly conceptual) form so that the reader can “see what you’re getting at”; speaking, ditto.

    and also 2) at the level of actively trying to “image the globe,” to maintain a continually updated picture of what the “whole ball of wax” looks like and how incoming information about any particular part of it must fit into that whole. An enormous typhoon has just hit the Philippines, for example; we should make an effort to envision the event, the destruction and human and nonhuman suffering consequent to the event, and also the likely constellation of geophysical factors behind it, if not in any scientific detail (the “chaos” involved would make the particulars unpredictable by even the best meteorological science) at least so far as to take into account the increasing energy in the oceans and atmosphere, the contributions to this by all the human activities spewing out GHG, the contributions to that (and to the scale of human damages incurred by such an event) by an increasing human population, etc. The Earth is finite, three-dimensional (though one might want to conceptualize a much larger number of dimensional “levels”), and actively under scrutiny by many sorts of academic disciplines, all of which should converge on one basic reality–our “ontologically objective” ontology. Lee has indicated that he upholds a “correspondence theory of truth,” and so does John Searle, and so do I; there is a reality out there, which includes us human primates doing the things we do, and we need to get a right-hemisphere kind of “closure” on what’s happening with it, acknowledging that the kind of minutely detailed, partwise kind of knowledge craved by the left hemisphere can only be obtained in a patchy, open-ended fashion–and so letting it rest, shifting our attention back to sketching in the broad outlines of our reality that need to be grasped conceptually by all in order for wise judgment to be exercised.

    And, to help with the process (maybe to work on this in “stepwise” fashion), I would suggest 3) that students and faculty at all stages practice making a shift in perspective, up and out from the “first person” viewpoint (which is our natural way of seeing the world, as we go about our everyday lives in our own phenomenal bubbles) and into a “third person” perspective from which we can see the big-picture happenings on our globe as if we were perched above it looking down like the eyes of Google Earth (see, for example, Libby and Eibach, “Visual Perspective in Mental Imagery: A Representational Tool that Functions in Judgment, Emotion, and Self-Insight,” _Advances in Experimental Social Psychology_ 44 (2011): 185-245). Will Eisner presents a dramatic example of how such a shift in perspective can be empowering: in one panel, a monstrous figure looms over the viewer cast in the “worm’s eye view,” terrifying and seemingly inescapable, while in the next panel he’s just a man, if muscular and aggressive, when the viewer is allowed to see him from above, having “escaped” entrapment (_Comics and Sequential Art_, p. 92). In our case, it is entrapment by a paradigm that we are collectively imposing upon ourselves, but to find “the way up and out” we will need to make such a perspective shift, to see our own prison walls, and their threatening enforcers that keep us cowed within them, clearly enough that we can undo them.

    That’s my one concrete suggestion on a step everyone can take to start to change things; visualize as thoroughly and accurately as possible, but “holistically,” what’s going on now, and then, as Lee says above, “Envision the wise world we want.” It can also help avoid what Ian offers regarding “How not to confuse your job with your work”–he sends us to Richard Russo’s caution against finding yourself with “a life that happened to you when you weren’t paying strict attention, either because the money was good, or it made your parents proud, or because you were unlucky enough to discover an aptitude for the very thing that bores you to tears . . .” Taking steps to visualize what’s going on in the big picture _and how you would choose to live “a good life” within it_ from a perspective that strives to SEE a whole life “from above,” could surely help with that.

  3. Allan, a lot of specific advice there from Lee – which maybe I could sum up as “take any wise advise NOT connected to your discipline” – there’s a lot of it about. A favourite little story I frequently quote to sum this up is a 2004 Colby College commencement address by Richard Russo, which I was moved to reference most recently here

  4. Allan,
    Each person can:


    Lee Beaumont

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