The cat’s tale – the difficulty of academia then and now

It seems to be relatively easy to deal with Schroedinger’s cat – the question is well known:

[1]

Schrödinger wanted people to imagine that a cat, poison, a geiger counter, radioactive material, and a hammer were inside of a sealed container. The amount of radioactive material was minuscule enough that it only had a 50/50 shot of being detected over the course of an hour. If the geiger counter detected radiation, the hammer would smash the poison, killing the cat. Until someone opened the container and observed the system, it was impossible to predict if the cat’s outcome. Thus, until the system collapsed into one configuration, the cat would exist in some superposition zombie state of being both alive and dead.[2]

The one way of dealing with it is to open the box in order to see if the cat is alive or not. However, it is a way of dealing with the problem by actually denying it as checking, giving ‘empirical evidence’ in actual fact changes the conditions to such an extent that, what had been the question at the outset is actually redefined: the conditions from which the question emerged are not anymore given.

The other way is to admit that there is no answer and that there cannot be any answer for ever. One could see this as a purely academic issue – though this is probably seen differently by the cat – being eternally in a situation of not knowing if her is dead or alive which must admittedly a hugely unpleasant state of existence. And both ‘easy answers’ prevail when we are looking at academia, in particular universities: researching, studying and teaching. One question may be asked though: what is if we simply look at the tale, not the entire cat but also not something that exists only as chimera?

Some reflections on the development of third level education today can be found here, impressions and reports, resulting from having worked in China for two years at a ‘joint venture’ between a EUropean and a Chinese university, and reflecting more general trends than really anything like ‘this is China’. And also reflecting on a general trend of supposed academic education where one learns not to agree with but to follow rules, where you have to like numbers but yu do nit have to like maths … – at the end where you should end with a major that makes sure that the cat is dead while the mice are dancing a bubble dance, appealingly majoring in accounting without understanding the economy of which it takes account.

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[1]            https://i.stack.imgur.com/Of40B.jpg; 27/07/17

[2]            IFLScience – The lighter sight of science: Schrödinger’s Cat: Explained; http://www.iflscience.com/physics/schrödinger’s-cat-explained/; 27/07/17

Living in and for academia – an international[ist] perspective

Published is a presentation given on the 4th of July in ChangSha, PRC, looking against the personal background from an academic perspective at the topic of international and global education. While sociology, economics, political science, law and arts are explicitly mentioned, philosophy remains as companion of all in the background. Highlighted is the need to regain and maintain academic integrity.

The video-recording, in some respect an extension to the interview published recently, can be found here.

Learned from the time I lived in Australia, and altered all this is not least about the statement that

I fully acknowledge the Right and Duty of the students to learn in a way that allows not only to administer their own life and land in a globally respectful way, to study the possibilities to work and connect with the world that is respectful against themselves, against their fellow beings past, present and emerging.

mind snatchers

Back home now, taking up teaching again – and with this the “major challenge” we face – nolens volens

E.P. Thompson wrote in an article in 1970:

Collectively, all of us – all we liberal academics – were struck with a paralysis of will as the system not only grew round us, but built us into its own body-walls. Once inside there it looked as if we were running our bit of the show: but the show itself was being directed towards other ends.

Andrew McGettigan, also quoting this, comes in his review article in Radical Philosophy (186 – July/August 2014) to the conclusion that the really important thing about the book Warwick University Ltd. is the investigative journalism. The importance of such investigative journalism cannot be denied.
And I am right now again made aware of it: there had been the change, now the business school teaching economics with reference to the CORE-programme – I commented earlier on it, saying that there would be some progress at least. During the last days I learned that even this is a questionable assessment, reading in mails:
… we have to bear in mind when looking at the CORE information, that we are teaching economics to u/g students in a Business School and so interprete the information accordingly, although I do however understand that students might be interested these other areas. …
And
… As you state, the e-book is substantial and so we are clearly not covering all aspects in detail but the relevant staff are deciding which aspects of each unit to focus on. You can reasonably assume that we have discussed all of the “Key Points” listed at the end of each unit. …
 Looking then at other documents, I see exactly those walls, replicated and known …, and not touched.
With all the complains, however, we should never forget that there may be a mechanism here name “distraction by attraction”: Being carried away by the presentation of “simple facts”, scandalisation, and also the play with abstract ideas and models lets us easily forget the actual core of any academic work:
This surely goes beyond (and deeper than) descriptions and statistical meticulousness and the learning of formulas. Indeed, academics should refrain from moving on the stages, “cutting things into pieces”, describing facts like playing roles. But mind:

That’s enough words for the moment,
Now let me see some action!

While you’re handing out the compliments,
You should also make things happen.
Why talk so much of inspiration?
Delay won’t make it flow, you see.

taking up the “major challenge” we face – nolens volens. And the worse answer is:ignoring it, turning head and mind to business as usual, business in capital letters…

BREXIT – is that actually the real topic

I was just approached by Yang Yuhan, asking for my opinion on the results in the UK.

I mentioned in a brief note some of the problems, e.g. that the result may be just the date of preparing a new referendum (as it happened so often), that the claimed economic strength by the “leavers” may be just another illusion but also that it is a strategy of one country to look for advantage on the back of others.
And then I said, “as it had been the case with (in particular) the German-Greek relationship.
As Yang said she would not know about Germany-Greece-relationships
 I answered in a nutshell – more is barely possible via QQ:
Perhaps we meet at some stage again, and we can chat. Too much to write …: Germany forced Greece to take loans, knowing that they would not be able to repay. Germany also kept the economy of Greece down, not allowing them to develop – we talked about world-systems, center-periphery etc. in the workshop. After a while the Germans said: now you have to return the money. And because you cannot do it “easily”, we dictate the conditions under which you do it. In consequnece, for instance, the social security systems had been dismantled (people getting 60 % of the retirement they expected, and it must in many cases serve the entire family; the health system is deteriorating; children cannot go to school, or they cannot concentrate because they are hungry …), the ariports had been “bought” by the German FRAPORT (Frankfurt airport), without proper pay …
Of course, the Germans could rely o their “European supporters” and the IMF and the World Bank but still they had been the main drivers.
And I directed her to things I wrote earlier – about Two Dreams and One Nightmare, there looking in particular at the second dream. Indeed, many things had been not known to the public, they had been veiled in populist disguises, hiding the
 And so we may even take up on people like Churchill who said, in a different context:
This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.
And as Henry added in the mail he sent a few minutes ago:
the beginning of the complete disintegration of the EU….
Cunning of unreason – including the unreason of populist movements back in the other home? There was one star in Bethlehem, now there are five in Rome …
Just received another mail . actually taking up on the point I alluded to in the blog entry:
“The triumph of malign populism and a betrayal of the younger generation.”
Yes, there had been some betrayal, and my generation is guilty, if not directly betraying, allowing those others they dirty business …
Seeing all this in a wider context, I just feel miserable, actually since a couple of days already, the BREXIT is only a small part. It is about “us” – the elderly, the Europeans, the “better Europeans” … all these … “superiors” who claim to know everything and know everything better, and in which way ever, it is differ difficult to “escape”, difficult to remain sane and honest, and the only thing ome can do is to talk to some students, encouraging them …, to do what we cannot do anymore to the extent to which we want: move on and be honest …. – but also considered, not following the populist tendencies that lurk around everywhere, making education to a fun-park.

“There is no right life in the wrong one”

a friend of mine recently mentioned “stupidity” while talking about the situation that emerged after somebody passing away and the bereavement and non-bereavement  … – unfortunately I see stupidity increasingly in life itself, not in death and surrounding it; it is about permanent hypocrisy, death being somewhat part of the solution. There we are teaching, excellence (the new general trend: we all are “excellent” and we are easily forgetting that, if everybody is standing on the tiptoes, nobody can see better), and we are accepting  non-excellence, swimming in and with the  stream because swimming against it, ends most likely in drowning, and this way we are drowning in the stream with which we swim …., dead already while still breathing, not allowing for alternatives, paradoxically by claiming that only we – as individuals, as Asians, as Europeans, as Latinos, as men or women are the alternative. Establishing false identities as individuals or groups that define us not by saying who we are but by saying that there is “the other”.

*****

… “one of the girls”, one of my students was in the office last week, handing in an admin document. I never really talked to her throughout the entire year (no surprise – excellence is a mass product) and invited her to sit down for a chat. … “actually I know, I have to study harder [though she is one of the “good students”] and I will do what I have to do in order to finish my education. But then …, I do not know … My dream is to open a bakery, be happy and pass my happiness on to the customers”. It sounds familiar? I heard similar stories from a couple of students … – and in some I really saw the deep sorrows and I also saw the real excitement – in some way I felt the joy and happiness they were talking about …
…, knowing that there are illusions and romanticisms, knowing that the argument I put forward, stating that there cannot be excellence for and by all”, is in danger of being close to elitism, I still think there is some cause for consideration (re-consideration I should say as we ventilated this issue so often). Why are we pushing towards “higher education” in this way if the result is that

[a]ccording to one analysis, fully 43 percent of Chinese workers already consider themselves to be overeducated for their current positions.

Mind, I am not talking about China and robots. But .., how to say …? Is it correct saying that I am talking about this world in which education is dominated by administration, encapsulated in the iron cage Max Weber was talking about and offering little space for the development of personalities, replicating itself by forcing everybody to follow the supposed wisdom  of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, a fatal motto as we all know that

*****

And how then can we settle …?
Chatting with Yi, Xiao, Tricia, Tomi, Liu and Lv and Steph of course  … to name a few from the many years; working with the few who are really ready to co-work; and thinking about just meeting friends for a good and “innocent” laugh. Traveling recently with Jiaying to 岳陽 (Yueyang)  was nice, and so are meetings with 邹, talking about “uncombed ideas” (to use her words), flowing in the stream to change its direction …

And nice was the trip to the Forum in Shanghai. Actually the meeting itself was “just OK” – some really exciting discussions, but then too many screenplays of presentation of the “we” against the other, but it had been nice to come back to 上海 (Shanghai), to do the boat trip and chat with interesting people – and to make the 5(ish) hour trip from Changsha to Shanghai and back by train – I really like it, being able to work a bit, but also to look out of the window: the beautiful landscape and its variety, letting the thoughts flow …, thinking about the people living there along the route, making their living but also making their life …

Well, and then it is so strange when we are teaching and studying, we are supposed to forget all this, we are dealing with forms and matrices and equations … and we are forgetting what studying is about: helping us making their life and, of course, then making a living …

… a strange world, indeed,, while sitting other time in an “excellence centre”: strange is a world that is turning things around, and  excellence is actually flat …, and reality claims to exist in perfected algorithms

I remain skeptical, and still think with Bohr that

[w]e must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.

But still, and I admittedly did not fully theory of relativity or quantum mechanisms , we have to acknowledge that

E = hf
is superior over
E = mc²
In this way we have to make sure that the sentence that saying
Isolated material particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems. (Bohr)
also means changes we aim for have to go beyond changes of particles. A theory of revolution – in science and society – wi be inspired by quantum mechanics and we may consider the need to establish a theory of quantum mechanical economics and quantum mechanical social quality.

Education – the Fairy tale of not having enough money

Of course, different arguments and dimensions have to be taken into account when it comes to incomes that university staff receive. And the

shameless greed of university fat cats

is surely one point.

However, looking at the overall picture the really alarming fact is a different one: the increase of the income of admin staff, which goes much beyond the increase of the income of academic – the

Times Higher Education pay survey 2016

reveals surely interesting data, and may provoke once more the question if we are talking about education or systems that are established for the purpose of generating gain?

It fits too well into the debate on the recently leaked TISA-documents. And so it was also part of the teaching – which will soon be available as recordings (17/18).

And with few exceptions this is obviously a male dominated system.