Wednesday, April 1, 2009

If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower

Ugh. I've been blazing through pages lately at a rate that's uncanny for me, reading books I need to in order to be a well-rounded philosopher, getting into conferences, and sitting in on classes that I don't need to be sitting in on, but that I find incredibly interesting. Yet, I feel stupid.

Recently, I've read that, in part, this is how we are supposed to feel. That we should just get used to these feelings. No one less than a cell biologist said it (a cell biologist!) in relation to his getting a Ph.D (presumably in cell sciencey type stuff):
Science makes me feel stupid... It's just that I've gotten used to it. So used to it, in fact, that I actively seek out new opportunities to feel stupid. I wouldn't know what to do without that feeling. I even think it's supposed to be this way.
I mean, I think - I hope - that I share some of the author's enthusiasm and optimism about the more liberating aspects of stupidity he mentions in the rest of the article (read it!). Otherwise, I'd just give up right now. But, this stupidity I'm feeling right now isn't the kind of awe-inspiring and humbling 'Ah, man! Look at all these problems I can solve and that are just waiting to be solved by my motherfucking ignorant ass! Yay, for there always being problems!' feelings our cell biologist is talking about.

This stupidity I feel has me feeling unproductive. And, I feel guilty because my feeling stupid and unproductive has me feeling like I should be doing more work no matter how much I've actually already done. All. The. Time.

I'm just hoping this guilt isn't something I have to get used to for as long as I stay in this business. That'd be shitty.



Anonymous said...

I get that stupid feeling sometimes, too. It's fortunate that I have an supervisor who tells me now and then that I have some good ideas and how to go about pursuing them.

Anonymous said...

Feeling stupid, in the way you describe, is par for the course for me. What I think is most dangerous from a mental health perspective, and this gets to 11:44am's comment, is when you become overly skeptical with regards to the positive feedback you're getting from peers, advisers and other people that might be assessing you (fellowship-granting agencies etc). I have found, at times, that I have not been able to take any positive feedback seriously -- my first reaction is that I'm being made to feel better, or that the other person is just being polite and that they really think my work stinks. And this is no good: you take all stuff that suggests that you're bad to heart and shrug off as insincere all the feedback that suggests that you're actually rather good. This, I think, is a tendency that one can recognize in oneself and fight against.

Perhaps I am alone in having this tendency. But I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

This is a recognized psychological condition, actually: Imposter Syndrome. (And no, I'm not just shitting you because it's April Fools' Day. Look it up.) It's particularly prevalent among graduate students, who tend to be somewhat masochistic anyway, and further exacerbated by the ubiquitous machismo-filled pissing contests beloved by most Leiterrific philosophy departments. Don't give into it! (And I'm saying this more for my own benefit than for anyone else's.)

Platowe said...

Feeling stupid is good--if skepticism about knowledge is well-founded--and one paradoxically cares about the truth in the face of that. Soc. Ra. Tes.

Welcome to the fold.

zombie said...

Yeah, it's the imposter/fraud thing. Could I hold my own in a discussion about Phil of Language? No way. Teach a formal logic class? No way. Am I a good philosopher? Yes. Pretty good at teaching phil of mind and metaphysics? Yep. A really good bioethicist? Yes.

Would I like to be one of those supersmart all-purpose philosophers like Nagel who seem to be able to do it all? Yes. But I'm not. So I sometimes feel like a fraud.

Anonymous said...

Given the pressure to publish, the days of the all-purpose superstars like Donald Davidson are coming to a close, I think. Many of us (not necessarily me) will be excellent in our areas, and somewhat informed in our AOCs, and outside of that, we'll just have our intuitions and conversations, and a seminar we took way back in the day to go on. As long as you're engaged with what you're doing right now, and making good progress, and can teach undergrads the basics, I think you're a good philosopher.
Now, what makes for a great philosopher these days - that's an interesting question.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there something paradoxical about believing you have Imposter Syndrome?

Mr. Zero said...


Yeah, it's kind of Moorean. Nice catch.

Let me also echo the masses who often feel this way. I try to harness the feelings in positive ways, but they're totally there.

Anonymous said...

I know many philosophers who certainly give off the sentiment that they are never in the position of feeling stupid.

They know it all. They have every answer for every question. And they have those answers at the ready all the time.

Those philosophers annoy me. Perhaps it is because I unknowingly envy them, and wish I had their clarity and depth of understanding. But I can't help but psychologically compare them to Robespierre - a true believer indelibly committed to some ideology or cause. Perhaps that ideology is "rationality". Perhaps it's "naturalism" or "theism" or... Whatever it is, I'll confess that I don't buy the pretense of certainty.

Anonymous said...

Off Topic warning:

Anyone get a rejection notice from Minnesota State Moorhead?

Thanks in advance.

Second Suitor said...

According to the job wiki:
"Minnesota State University Moorhead
- APA interview scheduled (12/8); campus interview scheduled (1/14); informed that an offer had been made (2/17); informed that offer was accepted (2/24)"

Anonymous said...

I caught the wiki but I did not get any formal notification that I was out of the running.
Just curious about what kind of program they are running up there.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:35,

Not being informed that you're out of the running is par for the course. Sometime between now and August they may send out a general letter to everyone who applied. The wiki updates were likely from someone who made it to the on campus stage, which I guess usually involves notification of offer made and offer accepted (especially if the updater is the person who received and accepted said offer). So, if this is new for you, welcome to the show.

However, if you were interviewed at the APA or, worse, invited to an on campus interview, then your question is apt. Only it should have included some profanity as well.

Anonymous said...

My advisor refers to the 'well developed sense of inadequacy' of the average grad student. I think that's a nice way to put it.

CTS said...

Anon 8:31:
I'm going to make one of my, by now standard, pitches for positions at good SLACs: People will actually value your being an intellectual with broad interests. They will encourage you to explore new areas and problems. They will want to talk with you about your work even though they are not experts.

Its kinda cool; reminds you why you thought philsophy was exting in the first place.

To all: putting aside the correctness of the reference to Socratic wisdom, take heart. Once you get past the tenure-terror, you will have more freedom to explore philosophy no matter where you work.

Anonymous said...

Oh god...the whole I am too stupid to do this and therefore have no right to live phenomenon. Nice to know others go through this too. But, does anyone know if it gets any better? Because this has actually made me wonder whether I want to stay in philosophy altogether several times. Problem is, I love to write philosophy, so I don't know what else to do. Economy may force me out anyhow, but is there anyone with any experience with this getting better? I hope so!

Anonymous said...

anonymous 8:41-- i've had a raging case of impostor syndrome for years now, but it's a lot better than it used to be. for me it was most likely brought on by moving from a "big fish, small pond" situation (a big state school) to a "leiterrific" program. i almost dropped out my first year, but i'm glad i kept with it. i've learned to ignore the voice in my head saying that i'm stupid, that i'll never produce anything remotely interesting, that i should just give up and do something that i feel competent at. the voice still comes back sometimes (it came back with a vengeance this year, but i was on the market so i expected that!), but you just need to ignore it as best you can. what helped me the most was presenting papers at conferences and departmental reading groups. i realized how drastically my self-perception differed from others' perceptions of my abilities when people told me that they liked my work, that i seemed really confident and competent, etc. after awhile, it became pretty hard to hang onto my self-loathing in the face of contradictory evidence. in short, i think i've gotten much better over the years, although i don't know whether i'll ever be "cured" (i worry that the voice will haunt me forever, even though it may be quiet for stretches of time). but at least i've gotten it under control to a point where i'm a pretty happy person overall. i hope the same happens for you!

Anonymous said...

Rejection letter came from Minnesota State Moorhead today.