About Pigeon Holes

I have been writing on this blog on and off for more than a year now. Unfortunately, I never managed to get myself to publish regularly. In an attempt to change that, I turned to 750words.com. My writing will start there, every day. And some of that writing will be published here. What will I be writing about? The main theme will still be my doctoral research, but my approach will be different from before. The problem is that everybody seems to expect a well-constructed argument when you write about a topic that is, in essence, an academic topic. But that is not what I would like to do. I do that, or at least I try to do that in my dissertation writing, or in papers that I submit (or hope to submit, one day), or in project proposals. What I would like to write about here, is about the daily adventures of doing research. Doing theological research involves reading a lot, and reflecting on what you’ve read even more. You get sketches of ideas that way, that slowly, very slowly (at least in my case) grow into more solid hypotheses. I would like to write about those sketchy ideas, about a quote that made me think, about a loose association between different texts that seems promising but has not yet been fully developed, etc. And I want to write about my doubts and fears as a doctoral researcher.
Will this help me finish my dissertation? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. And actually, I don’t care. I do care, of course, about finishing my PhD, and about the dissertation making a difference. But the exercise of writing 750 words each day, and publishing some of these words on my blog, is not about that. It’s more about overcoming the fear that I will not find the right words, and the worry that my grammar will be pure chaos. Put simply, it’s about getting myself to write, in a language that is not my native one. Will this be interesting for you, my reader? I hope so. I hope your comments and questions will push me to express my thoughts more clearly, with less grammatical errors and more coherence. Maybe you’re in the same situation as I am, a doctoral researcher with a family, struggling with the balance between family life and work, in which case I hope you can relate to my writing. If not, nobody will read these words but me. And that would be ok. Not great, but still ok.
I mentioned before that doing research fills your head with new, but undeveloped, ideas, and questions every day. In a way, a researcher’s head resembles Plato’s metaphor for the human mind, or, to be more precise, human memory: a pigeon hole. Each pigeon resembles a bit of knowledge, and trying to remember a particular bit of knowledge is like trying to catch a particular pigeon, with the whole flock flying around, slapping their wings against your ears. As long as writing my daily notes helps me catch a pigeon a day, I have gained something.
My pigeon for today is an observance, raised by a Facebook comment I read yesterday. The comment was about the debate, currently going on in the Netherlands and (to a lesser extent) Flanders, on whether God is an important theme in recent philosophy or not. The comment suggested that an evolutionary perspective has ruled out any possibility of God’s existence. It’s a comment that, perhaps in more sophisticated ways, has been raised by quite a few authors, most notably by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. But it’s a comment that always baffles me a bit, because for me it works rather the other way around. It’s because I learned about evolution, about the long, perilous history of life on Earth, and the emergence of culture as a product (no, I don’t mean to imply teleology by that) of evolution, that, for me, the reality of religion’s referent became acceptable again, after a long period of doubt. In other words: I believe that cultural evolution (emerging out of, being part of, being related to biological evolution) enabled us to become aware of the world we live in, to discern reality, and that that same reality invited us to use a word like ‘God’. Studying the evolutionary origins of that word might (I think it will) influence our understanding of it, but it will not, I believe, bring us to delete it.

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