The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Research Methods and Writing Metaphors

I’ve been casting about for a while now for a method or a metaphor that would help me with my research and my writing. I’ve managed to cut out a lot of the distractions at home and i want to fill that time productively. To be more precise, I want to better combine my research and writing. On the research side I’ve been wanting to implement the 4×6 notecard research system that Robert Green has developed over the years to write and publish several best-selling non-fiction works. I’ve been intrigued by the concept ever since I came across it. I believe it must work since several other well known writers such as David Fryxell, Kenneth Atchity, and Ryan Halliday have used essentially the same system to guide their writing and their research.

So far so good. I can see the value of the notecard research system. The biggest problem I am having is with the writing part particularly when it comes to my academic writing. I do not normally have a problem with writing since I enjoy it tremendously. However, I have been suffering from terrible procrastination the last couple of semesters and I’ve been looking for ways to get around it. Cutting down on the internet has been very helpful on freeing up more time but I want to find a way to make research and writing more enjoyable since I will probably be in school for the next several years.

Part of my problem is that I hate doing schoolwork. There is something in me that rebels when I have to read a book or I have to write a paper. A lot of this is sheer inertia since I have noticed that when I manage to get focused on a project I begin to learn more about the subject matter at hand and then I start to enjoy doing the research and writing. So too with my work related writing. Having to research and write daily products about damn near everything under the Sun I have managed to hone my skills so that I can be very productive while enjoying it at the same time. I have acquired a lot of the background knowledge that allows me to analyze a subject quickly and ferret out the implications so that I can write about it with ease.

The challenge as I see it is to develop a similar system that I can use at home that would allow me complete my schoolwork with a minimum of effort and angst. The problem is is that philosophy is hard. I am having a hard time writing about philosophy because I have not completely grasped the subject, internalized it and made it my own so that I can easily put it into my own words.

I would love to develop a system where I could, in due time, attain the background knowledge that would make my philosophical writing easier. I recall reading that Abraham Maslow developed a system where when he wanted to learn about something he would take notes and write them into a rough paper that would serve as his mental scaffolding for the new subject matter. Here’s where a metaphor might be helpful. Since philosophy is a systematic subject (at least in the academic sense), i thought to myself why not create your own encyclopedia to the subject? Why not create a list or outline of the major thinkers and trends in the field and then do some research on each of them, taking notes according to the Robert Green system and then write them up? And since the very act of writing about something would help to cement the material in my mind it would give me a framework to easily incorporate new material later on.

Having written this I recognize that it would be a lot of work on the front end but the efforts would pay immense dividends later on.


Take Back Your Life by Cutting Back on Your Internet Usage at Home

Over the past year or so I noticed something very disturbing. Compared to my earlier self which could easily read 60- 100 books a year, I was barely reading at all. To be sure, I was reading all the time – on the computer at work and on the computer at home- but it was either work related or it was on my RSS reader. But when it came to books I wasn’ t reading very many and when I did sit down to read I found that i had a very hard time concentrating on the book at hand.

At first I blamed it on being very busy, and of course I am pretty busy. I am a husband and father. I spend three nights a week at Judo and Aikido. In the past Monday night was the one night I watched television and then Friday night I spent staying up to all hours watching Youtube videos. Saturday night I usually spent preparing for my Sunday school class the next morning. So all of this cut into the time available for reading. But I couldn’t blame it all on being busy. There were other factors.

One of those factors was linux. For the past year or so I have become absolutely obsessed with linux to the point where I was wheedling all my friends and family to allow me to install linux on all their old computers. i started using virtual machines to test various linux distros and before you knew it I was spending hours every night fiddling with linux.

All of these were factors to be sure but one I thing noticed that really scared me was the amount of time I wasted just aimlessly cruising the internet. I would sit down at the computer to check a few sites or do some quick research on a subject and the next thing you know I had spent hours on the internet with nothing to show for it. I began to feel a deep sense of disgust with myself. The culmination came one night when I caught myself up at 230 in the morning watching videos of a cat riding a damn vacuum cleaner.

The problem I have come to believe was the internet itself. While the internet can be a wonderful thing, in my case and, i suspect, many others the internet can also become an addiction. Most of my job involves staying abreast of current events and there is a certain rush you get as you follow news stories play out in the media cycle. But I realized that I was taking that same craving home with me. And I don’t like that. I want my home life to be insulated as much as possible from the affairs of the world. I want the peace and tranquillity to think about ideas and issues that matter. I want to be able to read good books. I want to get my school work done. I want to be present for my kids and to my wife. i want them to have my full attention when I with them. I want my life back.

And so for these reasons I decided to forgo the internet at home. At first I decided to try it for the remainder of Lent but I have had such good success with it that I think I will try and make it permanent.

I want to make it clear that I have not cut out the internet completely ( I am writing this on my home computer). What I have done though is to severely limit my internet consumption. I don’t turn it on in the mornings before work since my morning time is a valuable commodity. I also do my best to turn the computer off as soon as I get home from work since the very fact that it is on represents a temptation to use it. To make this possible i try and do everything I need to do on a computer at work. If I do have to use a computer I turn it on just long enough to do whatever it is that needs to be done and then I turn it off.

I can only say that it is truly one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. I have read more in the past two weeks than I have read in ages. I am happy to report that I am starting to read philosophy again and i hope that I have freed up some time to devote my schoolwork which has really suffered over the past year. Based on my experience, I wholeheartedly recommend limiting your internet usage at home I think you will be much happier and more productive if you do.

If you’d like to read how and why other people have made the same decision to drastically alter their relationship with the internet you can find more here,here, or here

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