They Had it Coming

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While some of us are snapping out of that movie marathon malaise and contemplating on working on that paper due Monday, or something, a fraction of the student body taking Peter Awn’s Islam class had the pleasure of opening their inboxes to this e-mail:

I hope you all had a wonderful spring break. As I mentioned in the first or second lecture, one of the remaining pleasures left to individuals of my age is the infliction of pain on others. But even I can sense when I have entered the realm of excess . I am hence revising significantly the essay schedule in order to give you more time to complete your work and to have time to make the improvements suggested by your TA’s and me in our corrections of your first essays. Even though I am already feeling a certain remorse at dilluting the pain principle that I hold so dear, I will proceed anyway. Perhaps I have been rendered more humane and benevolent by the extraordinarily articulate and nuanced visions for the future of America being proclaimed by all of our leading politicians.

But, his conclusion is clear:

I hope that you find these changes helpful.  I would ask, however, that you not delude yourself into thinking that this apparent act of kindness indicates a fundamental change in my nature.

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  1. fAWNing  

    damn, he cool

  2. Ty  

    WTF people write essays and study history, anthropology, psychology etc. Who gives a fuck. Make/Create/Discover something like engineers and scientists, which improves, the quality of life and helps people save time.

    • Anonymous  

      But have they really done that much to improve your quality of life if you still live under a bridge? (i.e., Stop trolling.)

    • cc 14, phil  

      why this modern monomania on "saving time" ? Will we ever have enough?

    • for TY  

      Smart people major in engineering/science, dumb people choose other majors.

    • lol

      I'm glad you mentioned psychology. It's not a science people, none of you psych majors could begin to tell me how the brain works.

      • @lol  

        Retard, neuroscience explains how brian works, not psych.

        • Happy guy  

          Its brain not brian - that why you need people like me who major in English :).
          Happy St. Patricks Day

        • Psych Major

          Neuroscience may very well explain away everything that psychology (or at least cognitive psychology) currently studies. However, our current understanding of the brain is so incredibly slim that we are only at the very tip of the iceberg of studying all the things cognitive psychology has studied for the past 60 years. Without groundbreaking work in the psychology of decision making by Kahneman and Tversky, today's neuroeconomists would have no idea where to even begin. Cognitive psychology includes heavily mathematical theories like Signal Detection Theory, Bayesion Ideal Observer Theory and Probabilitic Bayesian cognition that shape how today's cognitive neuroscientists think about the brain and there is still much work to be done in developing these theories before neuroscience even enters the picture. Without all of this theory, there is no way for us to interpret the neuron firings we see in single-cell recording or the incredibly dirty, pop-science of fMRI imaging. Psychology and neuroscience combined explain how the brain works. This is a point that I think often gets lost in people's criticizing psychology today.

      • Econ major  

        There's much talk about how neuroscience and biology will replace psychology, but just knowing how neurons fire does not tell you much about what we experience when we are in a certain brain state. It may be that in some future we can hook up people to some computer that will regulate the firing of every single neuron in their brain and heal whatever mental illness they may have, but until then we have psychology because thoughts, words and emotions are how we interface with the human mind.
        But be careful what you wish for. It could be said that all mental problems are biological in nature given that there is a certain "brain state" associated them, but if we ever come to rely on such a computer to treat mental issues that are easily treatable with our conventional means, I would say we would have lost our humanity; so much meaning is lost when we say that our mental worlds are only patterns of neuronal activation in the brain. One might say "why bother with thoughts when I am but a biochemical machine"; "a pill or that hypothetical computer will heal me".

      • ugh  

        brian is such a mystery.

    • BME Major  

      People aren't obligated to work to improve the standard of living. People study those subjects because they find them interesting and it makes them happy.

      • umm

        You sure it's not bc they are looking for an easy way out?

        • BME Major  

          That probably applies to some proportion of them, sure. But it's more or less impossible to tell what that proportion is. I can't read people's minds so I'll take them at their word when they say they want to study X and acknowledge that there are people in every department who are there for the wrong reasons.

          • Anonymous  

            and there are some who might say that majoring in something like engineering or pre-med is also taking the easy way out, in that you're doing harder content perhaps but you're just giving into an easy career track cut out for you, without having to cut out your own niche or market yourself or discover what makes you tick.

            is that true about everyone doing hard sciences and such? obviously not. but then, it's not true that everyone doing "history, anthropology, psychology" is lazy or rich, so it's just as okay of a generalization to make.

            there IS something to be said, however, to the idea that some people can afford to major in things that aren't economically viable because they aren't taking out tons of loans. that's a basic fact of our job market. but that doesn't mean that even things like Philosophy or English are easy degrees that aren't economically viable--it's about the challenge of finding ways to express your skills and what interests you in a world where there isn't a clear, defined path from studying A to working on B.

    • Truth  

      The modern (i.e., post-Enlightenment) focus on expanding scientific knowledge and technologies is a product of the times in which we live. Don't get me wrong, I like my iPad as much as the next person, but it is important to note that professions like those of scientists and engineers are products of a very specific set of values. Humanities majors try to understand that set of values and the other ways of thinking about the world that have come before.

      All of this is, however, besides the point. You are indeed a troll and an asshole and I hope that, by the time you graduate from this place, you find some humility and respect for your peers.

    • Anonymous

      It may seem irrelevant to you, but humanities majors are what make life worth living. The art, music, literature, film, etc. that these people study and create provides the entertainment and escape needed by everyone in society. And if you're telling me that you engage in none of this culture that is produced by your "dumber" peers then you're just a rube.

      • But yo,

        Engineers/Pre-Med students are those who make it POSSIBLE for you to live your life and enjoy all those things. They save you time and manage your health so you can live long and enjoy all the things you've learned. The work some humanities majors do only affects certain sectors of society which seek intellectual explanation and content. The results of the work Engineers/Doctors almost always affect more sectors of society unilaterally.

        • Check your premises.  

          Your operating assumption is that "saving time" is always better. Is it not possible that a simpler, more human, life could be better than an industrialized society? We have this rush forward for more progress, more production, longer life expectancies, and so on.

          Is it so inconceivable that there might be a level of development beyond which we needn't progress? At which point we could conceivably consolidate and extend that level of development to all?

          Also, re: engineering/medicine reaching more people---there is a large segment of the (un/under)developed world (and the first world, too!) that are unreached by your improvements, but who do find pleasure in teh Bible/Koran/poetry/literature.

          • But yo, again

            I understand what you're saying, and I would really like to live in a society like that, but unfortunately we don't. I think the difference between you and me is that you try to inform your decisions that you make in our society with the goal of moving toward the idealized vision you mentioned above, and instead, I choose to (begrudgingly) accept the tenants of the society I've been born into and work within the structure. The truth is this, that our "industrial society", as you put it, isn't going anywhere, anytime soon. We might as well make the best of the situation we are in, rather than waste efforts thinking of what could have been, or what might be if everyone chooses to accept this visionary society you mention. I also believe that the American public has no interest in intellectual pursuits (there are, of course, more informed and astute nations), and if you are expecting them to understand, agree with, and follow your example of a society ... I wish you good luck dealing with the masses who sit on their couches night after night shoving their favorite highly advertised snack into their mouths, slobbering over the next hot reality show or mindless talent competition. I suggest you wake up and look at the people around you (outside of the morningside bubble) and ask yourself if that society you describe would ever come to fruition, given the mess we currently live in.

        • Anonymous

          Believe it or not, technology and modern medicine are both incredibly new concepts, as are the professions they created. I've been regaled with stories from older generations about people who accidentally chopped part of their finger off and stuck it back on with a piece of tape. If I never go to a doctor do I really rely on pre-med students (many of whom never become doctors, or end up working in very specialized branches of medicine I will never encounter or need)? And while clearly I use technology, there are many who do not.

          And if you're still going to be bitter and troll message boards (because you're so much smarter...), just consider this: if we all majored in something "practical" you wouldn't be able to find a job. And then all of this striving would be meaningless.

        • IEC  

          I hear/see more people blissful, happy, smiling, and generally relieved to be alive from things that come out of the humanities than things that come out of science.

          The technology is at the heart of many things, but it's the artists who turn it into something enjoyable -- film, video games, music, designs, creative concepts, etc, etc.

      • exactly  

        humans are imperfect animals; a perfect system cannot work for us.

        No doubt some SEAS kid's gateway project could be designing a city in which every person has so many square feet of living space, so many calories allotted per day, so many hours of labor, so many hours of communal recreation, so many hours of physical activity. That would be perfectly efficient, and also perfectly miserable.

        As Lear said, "reason not the need." What makes us human is our superfluity.

  3. That email is

    right Awn the money!

  4. Anonymous

    This man is one of the best professors I've ever had. I think if many other "educators" held his philosophy and shared his sense of humor Columbia would be a better place.

  5. @ TY  

    Ans to your question/comment -
    People who are rich i.e. parents have tons of money can afford to major in these stupid subjects. People like you and me have to major in engineering/medicine/management. I know its harsh but that is the reality.

  6. Anonymous

    Peter Awn is an incredible teacher. Took his class just for a core requirement but he totally changed my life.

    Those cliches being said:

    Go ahead and baby the cute little students! As soon as you get into the "real world" no one will care if the deadline they gave you was a little tight.

    Also you will be overqualified for everything you apply for and there with be no rewarding career paths available.


    • Anonymous  

      Looks like someone had too many petty middle school teachers. Not everyone in the "real world" will be out to get you, and on the contrary will laugh at the idea of taking on an Awn-sized workload.

  7. I only wish was as awnsome as the real Dean Awn.

  8. Anonymous  

    People on this thread are bad at the internet.

  9. IEC  

    Man, you really have no idea how hard it is to be really good at "X" in life. Be it science, art, mathematics, whatever -- they are all incredibly challenging to be among the best, and almost no one can achieve it.

    While I agree many majors lead to not really adding anything to the world but more professors, saying all Humanities majors are useless is pretty ignorant. I'm sure the greatest writers and artists of history would've appreciated a university education (well, those who didn't have it) to complement their craft.

    Will everyone majoring in art or writing or film be a big deal? No. Some of us are working our asses off to be, though. I could've chosen science or math easily, but I chose writing because it's what drives me. And please believe me, it isn't easy. I often wish I made a different choice because math was incredibly easy for me.

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