Spring in London

Hello Everyone!


This last month without classes has been wonderful.  London has been warming up, so I’ve had some great opportunities to walk around a bit more and find some nice gardens to study in.  Because spring is my favorite season I thought I’d focus this post on nature.


Parks in London

Since I spend a lot of my time walking around London, I’ve seen many of its parks by this point.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from this spring.


Holland Park, situated just west of Kensington Palace, with tulip patches, the Kyoto Garden, and this nice peacock (I took a video of him calling to a female and raising his tail, but I’m not sure how to upload that).


Regents Park, near my residence off Regent’s Canal, situated near Primrose hill and the London Zoo.


Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, established by Henry VIII in 1536 as hunting grounds and opened to the public in the early 1600’s.


The Peace Pagoda at Battersea Park, completed in 1985 by Rev. Gyoro Nagase and 50 volunteers to promote peace and global harmony and to oppose nuclear weapons.



Kew Gardens (or the Royal Botanic Gardens), a 326 acre site that contains numerous gardens and greenhouses open to the public and is also a botanical research and conservation site home to an internationally recognized seed bank.  Founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta, it is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of living plants.  The Dutch House, what remains of the larger complex of Kew Palace, is situated in the back of the gardens and is more aptly described as a pink country home.  It was used on and off through the 18th century to house close relatives of the crown (for example as a schoolhouse for the future George IV).  (www.kew.org)


Tate Britain

I also can’t help mentioning the Tate Britain, the 4th or 5th London museum that I’ve visited, and my favorite by far.  Not only does it have two works by Henry Fuseli, a 19th century Swiss painter I fell in love with after I saw The Nightmare at the Detroit Institute of Art, but there are numerous other works that I could just sit and stare at for hours.


First though, I’ll mention a conundrum I’ve faced: to take photos in museums or not to take photos?  On the one hand I would rather enjoy my experience than spend the whole trip obnoxiously cataloging every moment of it on my phone (or, shudder, taking selfies with the paintings), but on the other hand the immensity of the number of fantastic exhibits I’ve forgotten keeps me up at night.  Given that most museums these days allow non-flash photography, my compromise is to take photos sparingly, but so I might remember my favorite artists and styles for the future.

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Henry Fuseli’s Shakespearean depictions of (1) ‘Lady Macbeth and Seizing the Daggers’, and (2) Tatiana and Bottom (from a Midsummer Night’s Dream).  (3)The Nightmare, on exhibit at the DIA, sensualizing the vulnerability of unconsciousness, and perhaps alluding to sleep paralysis (final photo taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightmare).


Here are a few of my other favorites from the Tate:

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(1) The Archers (1769) by Joshua Reynolds depicts two 18th century aristocrats dressed in ‘quasi-historical’ Renaissance costumes posed heroically and on the hunt.  I thought this painting was hilarious and wonderful because it shows that even 250 years ago people were dressing up in cosplay to live out heroic fantasies.

(2) Proserpine (1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, depicting Proserpine in the underworld, holding the pomegranate which sealed her fate as the wife of Hades.  In the painting Proserpine’s face is bathed in light from Earth and she looks longingly towards the living world.

(3) The Annunciation (1892) by Arthur Hacker and influenced by Spanish and Moroccan styles of the day, shows Mary receiving The Annunciation from an invisible angel.  It’s harder to see in a photograph, but the lighting on this painting was just phenomenal.

(information for the above three descriptions taken from signs at the Tate Britain)





Nice, and the End of Lent Term

Hello everyone!


Last Friday was my last day of class (wow that went really quickly!!).  It feels like it was just a few days ago that I was writing here about the start of Lent Term, and now it’s over.  From here I have until the end of May to study for my exams, which are the first week of June, and the rest of the summer to complete my dissertation, which is due mid-August.  I’m not going to reflect now on everything I’ve learned being at LSE, because that would make me too sad about how my time in London is almost over, so I’ll make a note to be extra reflective this August.  For the time being I’m content to live in the present and to keep building on what I’ve done.



In mid-February, keeping with my New Year’s Resolution to travel more, I visited Nice, on the southern coast of France, and spent a day in Monaco, which is a short bus ride away.  It was wonderful to see the Sea (I was corrected by a local that in Nice, it is the Sea, not the ocean), which was bluer than any water I’ve seen before.  It was a little too cold for me to swim (though some brave locals were in the water), but quite warm enough to walk along the shore and hike to the top of some hills overlooking the water.  I had some delicious cheese, escargot, and rosé, and saw some super big yachts in Monaco.  I had a nice chat with an old philosopher I met on the beach who took me antique shopping and told me that Nice is one of the most relaxing places to live, especially in the off-tourist season when it’s near empty.



Manipulationist Account of Causation

We talked about a few types of causation in my philosophy of science course, and I thought I’d mention here the one I found to be the most convincing: the manipulationist account.  Essentially, X is a cause of Y if intervention on X produces a change in Y, i.e. X must have manipulative control over Y in order for X to be a cause of Y.  An intervention is defined as a change in Y that can occur only as a result of a change in X.  For example, a strong wind can be said to cause me to have dropped my ice cream if changes in the wind’s velocity result in me dropping the ice cream differently or not at all.  Although of course I could not actually change the wind to determine how it affects my ability to hold on to things, I can imagine changes to its speed and direction and the resulting effects.  Stated more simply, X is said to intervene on Y if all of the following are true:

(1) An intervention on X changes the value of Y (but not all changes to X must do so)

(2) All changes in Y must result from the intervention and not another source

(3) The intervention, I, must travel to Y through X and not through another source

(I → X →Y), not (I →Z →Y and I →X) or (I →Y and I →X)

An important part of defining causation is its effect on how we perceive science.  According to the above model (summarized from James Woodward’s manipulationist account), one can differentiate explanatory knowledge from descriptive knowledge (and explanatory sciences from descriptive sciences).  Explanatory knowledge provides control by defining causal relationships, while descriptive knowledge is merely a systematization of observations.  Woodward gives the history of biology as an example.  Biology was a descriptive science until the invention of new instruments and experimental techniques in the early 20th century (such as the microscope) allowed for interventions, and the development of the explanatory field of molecular biology.  I like this account of causation for two reasons that Woodward mentions: (1) it defines causation in a way that applies both to everyday life and to scientific study, and (2) it provides an account of causation that represents the way that scientists themselves think of causality.

A problem for the account is the so called ‘common cause’ dilemma – where one might be fooled into thinking X is a cause of Y because a change in X resulted in a change in Y, when in reality both X and Y are caused by Z.  For example, one could observe that just before thunderstorms appear, barometers show a drop in pressure and all the cows in the field lie down.  The Manipulationist account could lead one to all sorts of strange conclusions, such as ‘when the barometer does not show a drop in pressure, the cows do not lie down; therefore, a low barometer reading causes cows to lie down.’  Likewise, once could conclude ‘because storms only occur after the cows have lied down, cows lying down is a cause of thunderstorms.’

In reality, it is a low pressure system that (1) draws the storm clouds in, (2) results in the barometer showing a drop in pressure, and (3) causes the cows to sense a change in weather is coming and to lie down.  However, all of the above statements of causality are logically sound given the manipulationist account, meaning one must be careful in assigning causal relationships.


As I’m done with classes I’m going to try to see more of the British countryside in the coming weeks (and I hope to study while I’m there), so I’ll try to upload some pictures from those trips as I go.






Woodward, J. (2003) Making Things Happen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Ch. 1.


Cumberland Lodge

Hi Everyone!

A couple weeks ago I got the chance to attend the LSE philosophy retreat at Cumberland Lodge, so I thought I’d tell you all about it. The retreat was interesting, there were about 40 philosophy students there, and we spent the weekend attending lectures, drinking around an exceptionally cozy fireplace, and exploring Windsor Great Park (the Lodge is located a few miles south of Windsor Castle, the royal residence).


First, it was really great to get out of the city and see more of the English countryside. I’ve been so busy with school that I hadn’t gotten the chance to really enjoy fall (there aren’t many trees in London, besides in a few groomed parks, and those don’t count), so it was nice to go somewhere and see the leaves change.  I unfortunately signed up for the conference pretty late and so was unable to stay in the Lodge itself.  Instead I stayed in the adjacent building, The Mews.  ‘Mews’, I learned, means a stable that has been adapted for residential purposes.  Luckily there haven’t been horses in the building since the 1700s and it was very nice inside.


The Lodge itself was beautiful; we received a short history lesson upon our arrival and learned that it was built by army captain John Byfield in the 1650’s after he was sold the land by Oliver Cromwell, whose intention was to pay off debts incurred during the recent civil war. After the captain’s death and the Restoration, King Charles II reclaimed the land.  For hundreds of years following, the Lodge was used to house the Ranger of the Great Park, who tended to be a close friend of the King or Queen.  Then, in 1947, King George VI granted the Lodge to the St Katharine’s Foundation for use as an educational establishment.  Its purpose since has been to gather together students to discuss scientific, social, and ethical issues in order to avoid another catastrophe of the scale of WWII.  The Foundation’s founder, Amy Buller, believed that a large contributing factor to the rise of Nazism was the lack of such open discussion in the German education system of the 1920s and 30s.



I took a walk with some other students on Saturday through the park and saw a group of cows in a green, misty field – which felt like a decidedly English moment so I’m happy I got a picture.  There was also a lovely stuffed bird in the Lodge – I got a picture of that too.





Epistemic Dependence

Hello Everyone!


I’ve been taking a course titled ‘Evidence and Policy’ where each week we have a discussion about the relation between science and public policy – both what that relation is and what it should be. We’ve been talking a lot about the idea of ‘epistemic autonomy’, and question of whether or not citizens in a democracy truly make decisions for themselves. This gets into the concept of epistemic dependence, or believing an idea because an ‘expert’ believes it. In wake of this week’s election it seems prudent to think about the validity of epistemic dependence.

In lecture we first discussed the difference between freedom and autonomy. One could say that freedom is a stronger form of the idea: to be free is to act unconstrained by control or influence. In contrast, to be autonomous is to act according to one’s principles – someone who is autonomous is not being controlled, or told what to believe, but may be influenced. At the point where influences over a person become strong enough that they diminish or change a person’s principles rather than adding context to them, that person is no longer autonomous.

For example, a man who eats carrots for the vitamin A is acting autonomously, but a boy who dislikes carrots but who eats them because his mom tells him to is not acting autonomously. The line becomes blurred when one asks at what point in his life does the boy eat carrots of his own volition? To some extent, even as a man, he might believe that carrots are healthy because this was instilled in him as a child, and he may continue to dislike the taste. But as his mom is presumably no longer watching him eat his dinner, he must now be acting on his own principle, one that he adopted from his mother.  In addition, is his knowledge that carrots contain vitamin A an autonomous belief if it was taught to him and he did not come to the conclusion independently?  Must he instead teach himself about medicine and conduct the studies himself to be free of all controlling influence?  This is an impossibility when the entirety of knowledge is considered.

John Hardwig challenges the assertion that epistemic autonomy is requisite for a true democracy. Consider again the case of a mechanic. To be autonomous, a person with car troubles would have to investigate his problems independently by teaching himself how cars work, and could then go to the mechanic and pay to have the problems fixed. Hardwig claims that this person is rational to instead defer to the mechanic’s judgment. The man must rationally determine that the mechanic is to be trusted by choosing which mechanic to go to (say he chooses mechanic A because mechanic B is notorious for cheating customers), but he must not be personally knowledgeable of cars to do so. He in this case took his knowledge of the mechanic ‘s expertise as evidence that the mechanic’s diagnosis of his car troubles would be correct.


Farther-reaching examples of epistemic dependence include citizen assumptions that smoking causes lung cancer and that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Especially in examples of healthcare, it would be impossible in practice for all people to be able to diagnose their own illnesses. In the context of voting, a person may rationally support a war because of his trust in a respected politician  (he is rational so long as he put thought into trusting the politician – and note that ‘rationality’ does not imply rightness or ethical superiority). Another person can be equally rational in opposing that war if she has greater respect for a politician on the other side of the issue.  However, a third person who supports the war because she blindly follows a politician is not acting rationally. This third case begs the question, what is and what is not rational justification for depending on someone? Can I support a politician because he is a good speaker? Because my mom supports him? Because I know he and I agree on four issues (even though I may not know his opinion on thirty other issues)? If someone supports a politician for his economic policies but not his stance on climate change, is that person partly to blame if after he’s elected he removes limits on coal mining, which the person may oppose (and in this instance, has the person lost autonomy when it comes to coal mining, as the person is no longer in control and the politician will surely contradict the person’s principles)?


Support, Hardwig claims, is a response to evidence of a person’s expertise.  Hardwig claims that person A’s epistemic dependence on person B is not support which lacks evidence, but rather that person A’s belief in person B’s credentials is itself evidence for person A that person B’s belief is true. To argue against this is to claim that most of our beliefs are irrational. After all, most people believe that there is no breathable air in space, but have never been there.  A problem with Hardwig’s claim is that calling non-expert support in experts ‘evidential’ is to label all subjective trust evidential, effectively placing the non-expert’s opinion on par with the expert’s

A response to Hardwig’s argument, by Elizabeth Fricker, claims that the above is not evidence. She claims that person A cannot count belief in person B as evidence of person B’s beliefs. As person B is the expert in the matter, only person B’s thoughts on the matter are hard evidence. However, person A can take person B’s opinion on the matter as a form of testimony: person B’s word is evidence to person A, and person A’s opinion of that evidence (such as person A’s belief in person B) is merely an interpretation of that testimonial evidence. I think this is a cleaner way of defining evidence because it removes the problem introduced by Hardwig’s theory where a layman’s opinion of an expert is evidence equal to that expert’s opinion. According to Fricker, a layman’s interpretation of an expert’s evidence may lead them to a conclusion, but that conclusion is not as founded as the expert’s is. So a man supporting a war because his favorite politician does is not evidence of equal weight to a politician supporting a war because he has researched the pros and cons of the endeavor. Fricker reintroduces the idea that one must do the work for one’s opinion to be valid – it’s not enough to regurgitate ideas without deeper reflection.



John Hardwig Epistemic Dependence (1985)

Elizabeth Fricker Testimony and Epistemic Autonomy (2006)







P.S. The picture above is the ‘Enlightenment Room’ in the British Museum.  It seemed appropriate to the topic.



What is Science?

Hello everyone!


Due to my inability to use WordPress correctly, I’ve accidentally been saving my posts as drafts rather than posting them! Due to that, I’ve put up two posts back to back today and will try to be more careful in the future.


I’m now in my 5th week of classes, though it often still feels like I’ve just started.  For example, what I’d initially thought to be an interesting albeit trivial question, ‘what is science’, has in fact become more complicated the more I learn about it.

I’d been a bit taken aback my first week of classes when I learned that the typically accepted definition of science (by ‘accepted’ I mean the definition of science taught in elementary education – in University level science courses the question of what does and doesn’t constitute science rarely comes up other than to debunk poor research techniques) of observation-based conclusions used to prove and disprove theories is not generally accepted as ‘science’ from an epistemic point of view.  This topic had been debated heavily in my Philosophy of Science class – as one might expect.


We first looked at the Popperian view of science, which introduced the concept of falsifiability.  Popper says that an idea is more scientific the more falsifiable it is, the more predictive power it has, and the riskier it is.  Falsifiability, in this sense, concerns a concept’s capacity to be tested. So a theory such as intelligent design is not very scientific because one cannot test the claim that an intelligent being designed the world – this does not prove that intelligent design is a ‘false’ theory, just that it is not a scientific one by this standard.  Additionally, by this definition theories are never proven true, but are either falsified through testing or ‘survive’ for another round.  Predictive power is another necessity of a scientific theory.  A theory that merely explains events of the past (there have been unusual levels of flooding along the Louisiana coast for the past 10 years) is unscientific, while a theory that hypothesizes future events based on the past is more scientific (recent trends in flooding along the Louisiana coast suggest that more powerful storms are to come).  And where predictability is concerned, Popper says that the more specific a prediction is (and thus the more easily falsifiable), the more scientific it is.

My problem here is that I find it difficult to dismiss all conception of truth. While I don’t believe absolute truth is necessarily obtainable, I certainly think one theory can be more true than another, rather than just not-yet-proven-false.


We next looked at Kuhn’s interpretation of scientific development as it concerns paradigms. Rather than that science is a universal pursuit resulting in progressive accumulating knowledge, Kuhn asserts that science evolves in a messy fashion characterized by periods of ‘normal science’ and ‘revolutionary science’. A paradigm consisting of a central theory, auxiliary hypotheses, heuristic models, and various methods is developed during period of revolutionary science.  From this point, the paradigm grows as its auxiliary hypotheses are adapted and developed during periods of normal science where little questioning of the paradigm occurs.  Within this period, anomalies, or problems that the paradigm cannot solve, are discovered.  Given time a secondary paradigm will develop, under a new period of revolutionary science, which will take the place of the current paradigm (a paradigm shift) – here science leaps forwards, carrying with it some knowledge from the previous paradigm but leaving behind ideas that are incommensurable.  A paradigm is said to be ‘better’ than another if it solves problems more accurately, more consistently, with a broader scope, and/or with a simpler theory.

A typical example here is the switch from the Ptolemaic theory of planetary motion where the planets revolve around the Earth to the Copernican theory of planetary motion where the planets (including the Earth) revolve around the Sun. Ptolemy’s theory had been adapted during periods of normal science to continue to fit the growing knowledge of planetary motion, such that now the planets revolved on an axis which revolved around a location adjacent to Earth (i.e. Ptolemy’s theory was becoming excessively complicated in order to account for inconsistencies between theoretical and observed motion).  According to Kuhn, Copernican theory not only better explained planetary motion, but did so with simpler reasoning.


Just this last week we started looking at Lakatos’ concept of scientific research programs, an idea that attempts to find common ground between Popper and Kuhn’s ideas. Lakatos starts by distinguishing refutation from rejection.  He states that while particular evidence may refute a theory, by no means does this necessitate that the theory as a whole be rejected, as a naïve conception of Popper might suggest.  This, he argues, would lead to the rejection of all theories.  Thus, a systematic method of determining at what point refutation should lead to rejection must be developed, and, in the case of rival theories, it must be determined how one can determine which of a pair of refuted theories should be accepted, and which should be rejected.

Here Lakatos puts forth the concept of a research program, which he distinguishes from a paradigm. A research program consists of a hard core (the unchanging definitive part of a theory), a protective belt (adaptable theories designed to protect the hard core), and a negative and positive heuristic.  The negative heuristic mandates that the protective belt be sacrificed to preserve the hard core.  The positive heuristic determines how the protective belt should be modified – what should be added to preserve the core without compromising the integrity of the research program.  For example, in order to preserve the core of the Ptolemaic conception of planetary motion in the wake of contradictory evidence, the equant was introduced and further epicycles were added.  While this allowed the research program to survive, it also introduced what Lakotos calls ad hoc changes to the theory, which are auxiliary hypotheses introduced to correct for contradictory evidence but which fail to increase a theory’s predictive power.  Ideally, an auxiliary hypothesis will be substantiated by the introduction of a previously unknown ‘novel fact’ which independently supports the new hypothesis.  Thus initial conditions may be changed to account for the strange orbit of Mercury, but this new hypotheses merely accounts for an anomaly, it is not substantiated through correct prediction of other phenomena.

Lakatos says that a research program is progressing when it consistently adds empirical content (new hypotheses) and intermittently has empirical progression (new, substantiated hypotheses), and a research program is degenerative when it fails to produce both of the above.  A new research program may supersede an old research program if it is progressive while the other is degenerative.  Here Lakatos has married Popper’s conception of falsifiability (as the more complex rejection and refutation) with Kuhn’s general conception of paradigms.

I particularly like Lakatos’ differentiation between rejection and refutation. Having worked in a few research settings, it’s clear to me that being forced to reject any theory that has imperfect data would be mad.  As all models contain assumptions it should be implicit that not all data will fit and that the best model, rather than the right model, should be sought.  Where in vitro studies and computational studies are concerned, the best model is often one that is purposefully incorrect in that it is known to be a highly simplified representation of the true environment which allows for faster and cheaper data acquisition.  I appreciate that Lakotos’ idea of research programs allows for a more applicable philosophic interpretation of science than either Popper or Kuhn’s ideas do.


While I’d like to give my own complex response to each of these analyses of science, I strangely enough feel less comfortable now with the idea of ‘science’ as a concrete thing than I used to.  While I’ve started to question my basic notions of science as a tangible, mathematical field of purely rational evaluations of observable qualities, I don’t yet have a good representation of my current feelings on the matter.  Intuitively in my mind, subjects like quantum physics and biomedicine are scientific in nature, and subjects like intelligent design and psychoanalysis are not, but what differentiates these disciples? Is it that scientific theories are adaptable and aim to best fit the evidence while non-scientific theories instead twist evidence to avoid changes in doctrine? Is it that scientific theories are testable and non-scientific theories are not, is it that scientific theories make predictions and non-scientific theories are ad hoc?  It seems wrong to differentiate the scientific from the non-scientific based on gut feelings, but it also feels wrong to overcomplicate the definition of science to the point of inapplicability.  So for now I’ll leave the question open.






P.S. I finally found the Michigan alumni group in London and I got a chance to get together with some fans at a bar this weekend to watch the Michigan – MSU football game, which was a ton of fun (especially considering we won)! Go Blue!!  🙂




Popper, K. (1963) ‘Science: Conjectures and Refutations’, in M. Curd et al. (eds.) Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues, second edition, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Kuhn, T. S. (1962) ‘The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions’, in M. Curd et al. (eds.) Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues, second edition, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Lakatos, I. (1968) ‘Criticism and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 69: 149–186. (Read Sections 3-4, pp. 167-186).

Settling in London

Hello Everyone!

Sorry for the delay in posting, I was waiting until the end of LSE’s Welcome Week so that I would have a better idea of my course schedule.  

First I’d like to give an overview of my Master’s requirements.  I’ll be taking courses during the Michaelmas and Lent Terms, which run from September – December and January – March, respectively.  During this time I’ll also be working on my 10,000 word dissertation, which is on a topic of my choice and is due at the end of August, 2017.  During the next two terms I’ll have to take three units of courses in philosophy – this can be any combination of full-unit courses (taught during both terms) and half-unit courses (taught only during the Michaelmas or the Lent Term).

I have until October 10th to finalize my course selection, but my preliminary choices for my three units are below.  Note that I have two options listed for one of my half-unit slots because I haven’t decided whether to take a course in Psychology or to stick to Philosophy and audit the Psychology course.  I’m thinking about this course because it considers societal opposition to scientific development, which is very relevant to my proposed dissertation topic (which at the moment vaguely involves non-scientific influences on science).

1 Rationality and Choice (Full-Unit Course) – Department of Philosophy

An examination of probabilistic thinking in risky or uncertain circumstances, solution concepts for games, and bargaining theory

2 Set Theory and Further Logic (Full-Unit Course) – Department of Philosophy

An introductory course in both ‘working’ and ‘conceptual’ set theory for their applications in logical philosophical reasoning

2.5 Evidence and Policy (Half-Unit Course, Michaelmas Term) – Department of Philosophy

An examination of how rational thinking and the interpretation of evidence can inform policy decisions which bring about intended outcomes (and how misinterpretations and poor evidence can inform policy decisions which fail to bring about intended outcomes) 


3 Science, Technology and Resistance (Half-Unit Course, Lent Term) – Department of Psychology

A psychology course examining public resistance and public engagement with science, and public impact on such scientific developments as nuclear power and genetic engineering


3 Physics and the City: From Quantum Jumps to Stock Market Crashes (Half-Unit Course, Lent Term) – Department of Philosophy

An exploration of the philosophical implications of similarities between quantum physical theories and financial theories (as many modern models in both fields examine meta-effects of many, singular, random moving parts, whether theses parts are atoms or stock prices)

[above course descriptions paraphrased from the LSE course guide available at http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/calendar/courseGuides/]

In addition to selecting my classes, I’ve also used the past week to get more accustomed to London.  I’ve been getting used to my neighborhood, which is a pretty non-scenic array of large housing complexes north of Kings Cross station; I’ve been scouting gyms to join (the LSE campus gym is expensive yet unimpressive and I’d like to find a gym with a pool); and I’ve been meeting my classmates and flatmates.  I was relieved to learn that many of my classmates similarly come from backgrounds of little or no philosophy exposure.  As for my housing, I’m super excited to have a kitchen and a private room again – as fun as traveling is, I can only handle the “social proximity” of 10-bed hostel rooms for so long before I need my own private space to exist in.  

And as for the future, I can’t wait to start my studies tomorrow, to get to know London better, and to do my very best to score tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which appears to be sold out through 2017, but I’m not giving up yet (on a side note, Pottermore informed me today that my Patronus is a Siberian cat, I’m not sure what to make of that).



Excursions in Ireland

Hello everyone!

I’m writing my second post from my final stop in Ireland, Belfast.  I’m here until Saturday and then fly back to London for move-in to my student housing on Sunday.  I thought I’d update you all on my first few days in Europe!

I started out with two days in Dublin, then had two days in Galway, and now I’m finishing up in Belfast.  When I travel, I like to spend one day in town and another day seeing the landscape, and that’s what I tried to do.  I’ve had some great food (and Guinness, of course), while here, and according to my phone have been walking 12-15 miles per day – probably due to my admittedly excessive opposition to taking tour buses.

In Dublin I spent my first day walking around the city.  I saw an interesting exhibit at the National Museum of Ireland.  As it’s the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, there was a large exhibit on the event.  During the rising advocates for Irish independence revolted against the British during WWI.  The rising was suppressed and many of its leaders executed, but the high number of civilian casualties as well as what was perceived as a harsh British reaction led to increased support in Ireland for independence – achieved later, in April, 1949.  After the museum I walked through some parks and happened upon a league polo match, which was really great to see (in part because it highlighted how terrible I was at polo when I played for a short time at Michigan).  I had also planned to stop by the Guinness distillery and the Kilmainham Gaol, but I decided instead to go hiking at the Wicklow Mountains, outside of Dublin.

At Wicklow I hiked around Glendalough, a collection of two lakes surrounded by mountains and the site of a monastic settlement dating to the 6th century.  I took a hiking path up behind the larger lake that traced in a u-shape on top of the mountains back to the other side of the lake.  There was no fence on top of the mountain, and besides having to sit next to the path a couple of times when it got too windy it was probably the best hike of my life!  The weather was a perfect mid-60’s with clouds and a bit of wind, and the view from the mountains was spectacular.


In Galway, apart from walking around the town, I walked out to a lighthouse along a causeway outside the city.  I saw some black birds (I later found out they’re rooks) pick up snail shells from the beach, then fly over the sidewalk and drop them on the pavement to break the shells open and get to the snails inside.  Apparently it’s a form of adaptive bird behavior, where the birds learned to use manmade objects (here the sidewalk) while foraging and then passed down the skill to subsequent populations.  Maybe it’s a common sight, but I’d never seen it before, and I thought it was interesting.  Herring gulls in Jamestown, VA have adapted the same skill, as reported in the LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/22/news/mn-53979

On the same causeway I got a really pretty view of the sun setting over the ocean, behind the Galway skyline, included below.


The next day I took a bus tour to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.  I saw the wreck of a ship that washed ashore in 1960, played fetch with some local dogs on the beach, and had some Baileys-flavored fudge (intimidating yet beautiful, a bit of fun, and delicious, respectively).  Then I took a ferry back to Doolin, on the mainland, and a bus up to the top of the Cliffs of Moher.  I’ve attached some pictures of the cliffs, but it was probably one of the first places I’ve been to where no photo has lived up to the actual sight.

Today in Belfast I walked to the castle in Cavehill Country Park and then walked up the mountain a bit to see what’s left of an old fort and a small, manmade cave in the side of the rock (I didn’t realize that Belfast Castle was 6 miles from downtown, so I did a bit more walking than expected!).  I also finally gave in today and had my first non-Irish meal while in Ireland after I stopped for a heaping plate of pasta on my way home from Cavehill.  It was great, though my favorite food while here remains the lamb stew I had in Dublin.

Tomorrow marks my last full day in Ireland and LSE orientation begins next week, so I should know my course schedule by my next post.



P.S. here’s a picture of the aptly named “big fish” statue and  a picture of the cutest dentist’s office I’ve ever seen, courtesy of Belfast: