A gadfly, according to Billy Goldstein (CC’ 09), is “some big-ass fly,” and also the only non-defunct undergraduate philosophy magazine at Columbia University.
The Gadfly has so far printed one issue with a medley of contributions: a letter of explanation, a few art pieces, a fictional work, a quasi-Socratic dialogue, a lecture review, and–as a centerpiece–interviews with Columbia professors David Albert and Brian Greene. As a magazine rather than a journal, its founders say, it focuses less on academic theses and more on anything that can provoke thought. “It’s not a formal magazine, it’s mostly just thought-provoking,” Goldstein said.
Basically, the magazine stays true to form. It usually provokes thought rather than positing specific opinions, and a couple of the pieces present multiple views without really advocating any in particular. In general, even if you don’t find yourself agreeing with it, it raises interesting discussion points, and the articles are long enough to develop the authors’ ideas but not so long as to get dragging.
Goldstein’s description of the Gadfly’s function as “a forum for ideas that people otherwise only talk about with their friends, or when they’re stoned” fits perfectly with the fiction piece, by Maddie Boucher (CC ’09), which includes the journal of a wandering philosopher/outlaw from which the veracity and meaning of any entry, whether ultimately true or not, is ample fodder for discussion. The interviews with Albert and Greene, while much more formal and scientific, become accessible to the humanities-minded among us through a somewhat meta-philosophical letter. Roberto and Gadfly VP Adam Waksman, who interviewed Greene and Albert, respectively, are as much physics nerds as they are philosophy geeks, and hope to draw in some of both.
Interview with the editors after the jump!
BW: Tell us some about how you see science and philosophy being related.
Waksman: While there’s often a distinct difference between the students here who associate themselves with the science majors and the students who associate themselves with the philosophy majors, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between the two subjects inherently. I’ve always been interested in philosophy, and I did take a couple classes in the philosophy department my freshman year as well as the ones this year. With respect to the general goals of inquiry and enlightenment, philosophy and physics (along with some of the other sciences) serve pretty much the same purpose. For myself and I think for a lot of scientists, philosophy is always in the back of my head, and it makes for great late night discussions, but in the lab, I’m only worrying about the equations and the theories that are currently in place.
Do you see philosophy as connecting more with physics than other
sciences, or in different ways?
Waksman: As someone who will likely do a physics major, I’m biased, but I do think that philosophy is more closely tied to physics than the other sciences. The other sciences generally function on a very macroscopic level and are primarily concerned with what is observed and what is apparent, whereas physicists often have to provide answers that are not obvious based on the data alone. For example, if an evolutionary biologist discovers a trend between a certain chemical and some genetic change in a species, he or she is going to publish that without worrying so much about why it happened or what that means for the rest of the world. On the other hand, if a physicist runs and experiment and sees that Bell’s inequality doesn’t hold, there are a lot of things he or she can say about the make-up of the universe, and there isn’t one obviously correct answer. In my experience, if you ask a physicist a question about the world, you’ll end up in a very long metaphysical debate.
So how, and why, did you start Gadfly?
Roberto: Well, I guess I was looking to get involved with philosophy around campus. There was the Philosophy Forum, which is a causal philosophy discussion group, and the undergraduate Philosophy Journal, which publishes several fairly technical philosophy papers on a biannual basis. But it didn’t seem that either of these was reaching out beyond those who are particularly interested in philosophy to get to the greater undergraduate community. And that’s really why I wanted to get The Gadfly started. I think that philosophy has the power and the ability to ask and attempt to answer some really exciting and important questions that everyone thinks about at one point or another. It’s a unique subject in that nothing but simple reflection without any technical expertise can lead you to some of its deepest questions. Anyone can ask “Am I free?”, “what is good?”, “what am I?” These are all very valid and very interesting philosophical questions, questions that deserve some attention from more than just a few well-read scholars.
How do you see the Gadfly fitting in on campus? What role does it
play that other publications don’t?
Waksman: There are no other philosophically driven magazines on campus, and I think a lot of students spend their entire time here oblivious to philosophy. People tell me that CC is supposed to be a course on philosophy, but in my experience, that’s using the term “philosophy” very loosely. I’ve also been informed that there’s a Columbia sponsored Journal of Philosophy, but I’ve never met a student who has read it. One of our primary goals is to avoid being esoteric and to be accessible enough that the average student will be interested in it. Reading a philosophy magazine shouldn’t feel like homework.
Do you see the Gadfly expanding in variety or size? What sort of things do you think you’ll be doing in the future?
Waksman: Things are pretty open-ended right now. Our first issue had a couple of creative pieces, some art and a book review, as well as the articles. We’ll generally
accept anything as long as the creator can convince us that it has philosophical relevance.
Assume my goal is to make well over $100,000 straight out of college. How does reading or writing for the Gadfly increase the amount of money I stand to make in the future, and if not why should I possibly care about it?
Roberto: Assuming that your goal is to make well over 100k straight out of college, you are definitely not a philosophy major, nor is it likely that you are majoring in English, anthropology, history, linguistics, classics, sociology or dance. You are probably majoring in I-Banking. (I’m pretty sure that’s not a major, but you
get the point). Even so, The Gadfly is for you! It probably wont help you with making 100,000, but as I said before, I firmly believe that philosophy is an extremely far-reaching subject that can be engaging for most people regardless of specific interests. And even if you are an econ-math major, we would always be open to some economic theory.
The Gadfly has a good chance of surviving: its board contains many sophomores and even a few freshman, though it does seem strange that a magazine with a staff of eleven only featured six writers, two of whom did three pieces each. While the group has not yet acquired ABC recognition (opting to go ahead and publish what it had online first), the publication does fill a described niche among Columbia’s publications, and Roberto says they have already gotten more contributors, and will start incorporating themes into their issues, the next one being language. As upstarts go, its purpose seems clear and its future positive, and it will be interesting to see what Gadfly yields in the future.