I finished my exams last week and must say that this was undeniably the most intensive month of studying of my life. Not that Michigan Engineering was easy by any means, but chemical engineering finals were typically worth 1/3 of my final grade in any course, and because they were math based small mistakes were not hugely detrimental as long as I showed my work. At LSE, my philosophy exams are 100% of my grade in each course and are all essay based; conceptual mistakes carry much more weight here than math mistakes carried in ChemE.
While I felt confident walking out of my philosophy exams after taking them, because I’ve never taken a final like this, I was super nervous and so studied much more thoroughly than I’ve needed to in the past. I’ve never pulled a “study until 4am then get up at 9am to keep studying,” and I finally know what that’s like.
My three finals were in Philosophy of Science, Rationality and Choice, and Evidence and Policy:
The Philosophy of Science exam had ten short answer questions from any of the twenty weeks of the course, as well as two essay topics that we could choose from six questions. I wrote my first essay on neo-classical reduction: how and if different scientific disciplines like biology and chemistry can be ‘reduced’ to more fundamental theories like thermodynamics and physics; and my second essay on Bayesianism: a way of quantifying the level of confirmation that evidence gives a theory using Bayes Law of probability.
The Rationality and Choice exam had six short answer questions on any of the 20 weeks of the course and two essay topics we could choose from eight questions. I wrote my first essay on justifications for democracy rule (as opposed to other aggregation rules such as a dictatorship), and I mentioned May’s theorem, Condorcet’s Jury theorem, and the Ray-Taylor theorem. My second essay was in support of Steele’s paper “What can we Rationally Value?” which discusses Allais’ Paradox as an example of when it may be irrational for agents to maximize expected utility.
The Evidence and Policy exam had two essay topics that we could choose from eight questions. I wrote my first essay on Mackie’s ‘causal cakes’ notion of causality, where to say ‘the short-circuit caused the fire’ is to say that the short-circuit is an Insufficient, Necessary part of a complex condition (made up of the short-circuit, frayed carpeting, and a breeze from the window) that is itself Unnecessary, but Sufficient for a fire. I critiqued Cartwright and Hardie’s application of this model to decision making in policy applications. My second essay analyzed Kitcher’s concept of well-ordered science, which defines how science should look and who should decide which theories get funding.
During my month of studying I took a few breaks. I went to a cat cafe in east London, went to the Chelsea Flower Show, and I took a weekend to travel to Oslo.
A cat cafe is literally a coffee house that also has cats, and doesn’t need much more explanation, so here are some pictures of the cats there:
The Chelsea Flower Show is held annually by the Royal Horticultural Society to showcase new styles in planting and garden design. On display was everything from sculptures, to garden furniture, to beautiful flower displays and collections of potato species. It was crazy and beautiful and over-the-top, and was a wonderful study break for an afternoon.
Oslo was great. I went hiking and got a great view of the city, saw Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and visited the sculptures in Frogner Park. Norway is really great in the summer because it is so far north that the sun ‘sets’ at 11pm in June, but the sky remains light enough until around 1am that the parks and city are full of life until very late. I went to the sculpture park at nearly 10pm and stayed for a couple hours.
The sculpture park was designed by Gustav Vigeland in the early 1900’s. It consists of hundreds of sculptures depicting generally ‘human’ activities like dancing, fighting, screaming, hugging, etc…
Between now and August 24th I have to write and submit my dissertation. I’m writing on inductive logic, and criticizing Karl Popper and John Norton’s attempts to solve the problem of induction. A draft of my dissertation is due June 26th, so for the next week I’ll be finishing that up and submitting it.
In wake of the string of recent terror attacks in London, I feel I should acknowledge the change in tone I’ve seen in the city. People are undeniably more wary, but at the end of the day life goes on and I refuse to give cowardly attackers the fear or attention they desire, and at times I wish British media would do the same.