How to find someone to be an intellectual mentor for them?
December 29, 2007 3:38 AM   Subscribe

How to find someone to be an intellectual mentor for them? The difficulties I see in finding someone are: 1) I'm not around many new people (esp. younger) that would be interested and 2) why would they choose me?

This question http://ask.metafilter.com/79568/Not-an-easy-task made me realize I want to be an electronic intellectual mentor for someone. For the life of the mind, I have a rare level of understanding of many things. My goal wouldn't be to explain primarily however, but to cultivate the other person's interests and especially do things like find their interests, share the best works I know of in that area, share the works critical of that area, and share areas that would balance that area out.
posted by Furious Fitness to Education (39 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know if this applies to your situation, or not, but, as far as freelance computer instruction went, I found many opportunities with older folks--particularly senior citizens. In my case, I lucked into it by fixing computers. I didn't just repair/restore the PCs, I explained how and why things happened and what I was doing to fix them. Before I knew it, I had folks calling me to just sit down with them and train them because of referrals from friends and family of folks I had helped. Now, along with two student jobs that let me utilize my other interests, I have an off-campus job maintaining a computer lab where I can assist young-and-old alike.

If you could list your interests, perhaps the hive mind of MetaFilter could help you determine your audience and outlets. A potential electronic source of pupils that immediately comes to mind is work as an About.com guide.
posted by bonobo at 4:46 AM on December 29, 2007


Based on personal experience, I'd suggest you've got this reversed; you don't find someone, they find you.

For example, at the bank I'm employed by I write financial market commentary. It's not part of my mainstream job duties, but I do it anyway. And it's not the usual type of invest here / disinvest there type of research, rather I have the latitude to write about things I find interesting (e.g., a recent paper looked at "The January Effect", a well known positive correlation of the equity markets annual performance with January's performance); this paper was a follow up to an earlier article I wrote in January 2007.

I've been doing this for years, at multiple institutions and my point is over time folks have approached me with ideas, questions or for advise. These activities have even led to me being quoted in mainstream media such as Business Week (upcoming US housing collapse, 'Toxic Mortgages', September 2006).

So it seems if you get your ideas out there somehow, let people know what you're thinking about and generally engage them you'd find the opportunity to mentor.

Another idea: I also teach finance part time at a University in London and this forum, naturally, puts me into a position where students approach me for career (and at times personal!) advise. I'm not sure if this is an option for you, but it would naturally lead to the type of role you seek.
posted by Mutant at 4:49 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


So you don't want to be a mentor in any specific field? You just want to guide whoever wants to follow your advice about whatever they happen to be interested in? It seems like posting an open-ended craigslist ad to that effect might work, but I can't imagine too many people would be interested without knowing what your specific areas of expertise would be. Also: how old are you?
posted by Greg Nog at 5:47 AM on December 29, 2007


Frankly, "I'd like to help people become geniuses" sounds weird and slightly creepy. I'm not saying you are creepy, just providing a data point as to possible reactions. You might want to dial back on the Pygmalion complex and just enjoy whatever opportunities come along for opening people's minds. Your intentions are admirable, but you can't force that sort of thing.
posted by languagehat at 6:35 AM on December 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


"For the life of the mind, I have a rare level of understanding of many things."

If I were looking for an intellectual mentor, the statement above is the kind of thing I would want to hear about you *from someone else*, not from you yourself.

Gently I will say, someone who makes public statements like that about himself raises red flags with me about self-importance and pompousness. I would be inclined to smile and nod and back slowly away.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:36 AM on December 29, 2007 [12 favorites]


I'd almost turn it around. How does one go about finding such a mentor, and then try to get yourself into that pipeline.

I can imagine something like:

http://www.mentors.ca/findamentor.html

http://findamentor.org/

http://www.imdiversity.com/Villages/Careers/articles/whitehead_find_a_mentor.asp
posted by so_ at 8:02 AM on December 29, 2007


I agree with languagehat. This proposal is going to have a creepy feel to many in your prospective audience. Too many people with a magnanimous approach of "let me help you explore your interests" turn out to be more interested in exploring their mentees' genitalia.

Also -- I think you should be more specific about what you have to offer.

-- What is the source of this "rare level of understanding"? There are lots of people who think they know a lot about everything, but are actually pompous windbags whose knowledge is about a centimeter deep. You need to be able to distinguish yourself from these know-it-alls whose claims of expertise are very spurious.

-- What have you done that makes you a good practical advisor to a young person? Have you built a company or advanced high into the ranks of an existing company? Or are you a successful younger person who has experienced a lot of different fields of work? Do you have practical experience that would help a young person?

-- Surely you have a "home field" of expertise. Are you a scientist who can actually lead the younger person in experiments and give them free run of your lab? Are you a novelist with published books under your belt who can edit and critique a young person's manuscript? What exactly do you have to offer?

If you could give us a real-life example of how your unusual level of understanding distinguishes you from other people, it would probably help us give you better advice.
posted by jayder at 9:37 AM on December 29, 2007


Seconding the "it sounds creepy" vibe. Being a mentor is not something you do in the abstract. It's a privilege you earn by doing (not just knowing) something well. What are your successes in the "life of the mind?" have you published? Taught? Invented things? Designed things? Offer to teach people things you know how to do, if you really want to "mentor" someone.

Also, it sounds like you should go into academia, which makes this structure quite normative.

Finally, I agree with mccxxiii.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:41 AM on December 29, 2007


I would humbly submit that a mid-twenties male ought to be looking for a mentor, not a mentee.
posted by nasreddin at 1:00 PM on December 29, 2007


Summary: If you will grant my assumption that I have something to offer mentees, then how do I go about this?

Responses:
Background: I have received private recognition from a variety of people in a variety of fields, but have chosen to work on research projects that will not bring public recognition. So I have the dilemma of how to 'sell myself'.
A few quick data points:
In my humanities major, my main professor who is a rising star in the field said that he saw me as a 'guru' of his, and that he realized he had much to learn from me, but that he wasn't sure I had anything more to learn from him.
I was debating two quantum physics PhD's and someone else critized my temerity, but one of the PhD defended my participation as 'brilliant' even though he partially disagreed with me.
I have done and do offer intellectual guidance to several people who have sought me out based on my reputation. Most knew me in college. Recently, one contacted me just from hearing about me from his sister, and then someone else contacted me through him.
(A non-summary of why I don't become a professor: "A decent mind working in academia is like a musician laboring as a bordello pianist."--Scott Atran)

So the problem is that now that I'm not around a college where I have a reputation (having moved) and I'm working on projects that bring me into contact with few people and will not achieve public recognition for a while, I am not meeting new people to mentor. I can only assert my 'deserving' to be a mentor since you do not know me, but the point of the question is not to question that assumption, but given that assumption, how can I find people?

A clarification: I am not looking to tutor or 'mentor' in a career sense. I am looking to offer mentorship in terms of the big questions of life or just in general intellectual fields, but focused not on people who want to master 'a field' but to seek the truth in general...be intellectuals.

The main dilemma for me is this one: "If I were looking for an intellectual mentor, the statement above is the kind of thing I would want to hear about you *from someone else*, not from you yourself."
True. But I'm the one posting the question and looking, not my friends, so if I don't say anything...there's nothing said. I have only recently accepted that fact about myself...there's a self-therapy site that says something like "If 9 out of 10 people say you're nice/thin/don't eat enough, it's probably true." What I said would be considered an understatement by those who've encountered me. And that sounds self-important and I feel awkward saying it...but just imagine you're me and it's true...what would you say?

"-- What is the source of this "rare level of understanding"? There are lots of people who think they know a lot about everything, but are actually pompous windbags whose knowledge is about a centimeter deep. You need to be able to distinguish yourself from these know-it-alls whose claims of expertise are very spurious."

There isn't a source...I worked hard (dedicated the majority of my waking hours for almost 15 years), had some good mentors, and stood on the shoulders of giants, blabla. I'm aware of the need to distinguish myself from being a pompous windbag, and hesitated to post this question fearing...well, fearing exactly what transpired, but the thing is: some people that make the claim aren't pompous windbags, but the only way to prove it is through an intellectual exchange, I can't just assert it.

"-- What have you done that makes you a good practical advisor to a young person? Have you built a company or advanced high into the ranks of an existing company? Or are you a successful younger person who has experienced a lot of different fields of work? Do you have practical experience that would help a young person?"
I wasn't concentrating as much on the practical side...at least not in terms of career. I can offer guidance on the 'practical' side in terms of nutrition and stress management, but I was focusing on "intellectual" goals.

"-- Surely you have a "home field" of expertise. Are you a scientist who can actually lead the younger person in experiments and give them free run of your lab? Are you a novelist with published books under your belt who can edit and critique a young person's manuscript? What exactly do you have to offer?"
That's the thing...as I sort of indicated above, I don't have a single home field of expertise. Now, there are two different kinds of expertise and I don't know terms to make clear the distinction. One kind is having mastered the fundamentals of an area and the other is having at one's command virtually everything to do with an area. In the latter sense of the term, I have fewer areas of expertise but in the former sense, very many--which means I could and have quickly developed the second level of mastery based on having had the first level. But in most fields, the second level is only necessary if your goal is in that specific field, but if your goal is abstract knowledge in general (as well as having a few fields as specific goals), then the first level is enough and more than most get to. The thing is, other people have done all this already. It's not like I had to reinvent the wheel and everything else.
I would suggest your reality is too limited if you think you can't master (in the first sense above) a dozen important fields. Maybe some of you should send an email.

"If you could give us a real-life example of how your unusual level of understanding distinguishes you from other people, it would probably help us give you better advice."
How could I give a real-life example?

"Too many people with a magnanimous approach of "let me help you explore your interests" turn out to be more interested in exploring their mentees' genitalia"
I should've put the "electronic" part in the headline and maybe specified via email only. I don't have the time for face-to-face meetings to offer to just anyone nor want to confine it to my locale.

FYI, I posted a craig's list ad, taking into account some suggestions here.

"I would humbly submit that a mid-twenties male ought to be looking for a mentor, not a mentee."
Most do--do you have any evidence that ALL do or that I do in particular? (I hope to god you don't know me and got that info from one of my questions I don't remember?)
(And we all need mentors in some sense and I do have mentors and seek out mentors regularly. And none of them have the problems people are having with my post here.)
posted by Furious Fitness at 5:20 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It sounds like what you're looking for is a role as a teacher, NOT a mentor...so why not teach a course, online on your own or otherwise? Mentors are people who attract others who want what they have and want to know how to get there...if you're just random internet dude (albeit one with a high level of self-regard) who can't point to any concrete projects, graduate school or professional achievements, work done (even unpublished papers) in a specific field, etc. you are not going to attract anyone who is buying what you are selling. If you don't have an online presence where folks can objectively judge whether or not you have indeed attained certain intellectual goals that make you a viable role model, you need to at least be networking professionally somehow to meet/impress these potential mentees.

Or you could just spend a few years at a top PhD program the rest of the dullards out out there-- academia isn't for anyone as an actual career (which I'm sure is the meaning behind the "bordello" quote...I bet the allegorical pianist wouldn't turn down a few years at Julliard first either way)--but you would meet plenty of people looking to be mentored (hello, T.A. fellowships!).
posted by availablelight at 7:04 AM on December 30, 2007


[Freudian slip: "academia isn't for anyone" should have read, "academia isn't for everyone". That was either the lack of coffee, or the honesty speaking.]
posted by availablelight at 7:06 AM on December 30, 2007


Have you thought of starting a message board? As the owner, you'll get an automatic level of respect. Also, have you thought of what age group you're looking to mentor? To be honest, from your description my present college-aged-self and my high-school-aged-self would view you more as a peer than a mentor. (Maybe this would change if I knew you in person. But you're looking online.) But my junior-high-school-self - I would have seen your as a god. I do have to agree with languagehat - the whole idea seems creepy, or socially inept at best. Additionally, it's kind of weird that you haven't listed any of your areas of expertise. You must be at least somewhat of an expert in your humanity's subject, why can't you state its name? Personally, I'm kind of curious as to what is on your list of interests that makes you a genius. Is it carefully split among music, science, and literature? Is it haphazard as inspiration hits? Plus, that could help you "hook" people who really love, I don't know, the cello and quantum physics, and then expand from there.
posted by fermezporte at 7:39 AM on December 30, 2007


Here is what I will do: tell those who know me--both my peers and my old professors and others I have encountered--tell them I am looking for people to have an intellectual correspondence with, including at the level of mentorship.
Availablelight did not suggest this, but his argument that not having something I could point to publicly will make this nearly impossible made me think of the obvious solution--I'm saying people that know me wouldn't have the reaction y'all are having, so I can use them.

"I bet the allegorical pianist wouldn't turn down a few years at Julliard first either way"
I did, mutatis mutandis. Of course technical instruction is be better from an instructor. In a sense, I didn't turn down the intellectual version of Julliard--which is the freakin library which has virtually all of the best teachers, a more impressive collection than any school.

"It sounds like what you're looking for is a role as a teacher, NOT a mentor...so why not teach a course, online on your own or otherwise?"
Just to clarify for others who come along who may have additional insight, I am looking for a role as a mentor/intellectual guide, not teacher, because the latter takes more time. (I do teach already in some capacities, but am looking for an additional outlet.)

"Have you thought of starting a message board?"
Again, good idea, but for the time factor.

"I'm kind of curious as to what is on your list of interests that makes you a genius."
No list of interests makes someone a genuis. My main thread of interest is simply "What is true?" Academic disciplines are artificial barriers. I am stronger in some than others.

If people are so curious to test me, why not just take the time to shoot off an email with questions you're curious about exploring or intellectual essays you want some feedback on? What is true?
posted by Furious Fitness at 1:00 PM on December 30, 2007


I too quckly dismissed the net forum idea. I'm going to start a net forum or mailing list, but invitation-only to people I'm already corresponding with or have in the past, which could actually save time. Thanks for this great idea! It's so obvious...but I obviously didn't think of it at first and even dismissed it (imagining having to deal with all sorts of people).
posted by Furious Fitness at 2:50 PM on December 30, 2007


"(A non-summary of why I don't become a professor: "A decent mind working in academia is like a musician laboring as a bordello pianist."--Scott Atran)"

You are so full of yourself; sure, your professor considers you a "guru" even though s/he has a PhD and is a "rising star." And sure you won a debate with a professor of physics on quantum mechanics. And sure you are working on some super-secret "research" project that won't bring you recognition.

Ironically enough, all your claims to brilliance are rooted in an academic context (as a college student it sounds like, big whup). You already think you're smarter than all your professors, but unless you go to a shit school, that's your ego talking. In 10 years of teaching undergraduates, I've never once met one who I would consider a "guru" in my own field.

And you are in your 20s? How amusingly droll.

I have a decent mind, I think, if the length of my CV and the history of my academic career means anything.

You sound like a wet-behind-the-ears narcissist.

But go ahead, yeah. Start an internet forum so the whole WOLRD will know of your true brilliance and fragile young minds will turn to you for guidance at last. Or not.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:04 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


And I will add this: after a lifetime spent in pursuit of knowledge (and I, sir, am no "rising star" in my field, having long since arrived with tenure at an Ivy League school) I have never met a true "genius" who was anything less than humble about her/his intellect and what s/he had to offer others. I've met plenty of arrogant, narcissistic young hotshots who think they are brilliant before they actually accomplish anything. I can spot the type a mile away, and I spot him now. Your very prose style tells me you are not the genius you profess to be, and I read papers all the time from truly brilliant students, so I know whereof I speak. You can spot brilliance in the first paragraph, and even in the sentence structure.

You have given us every excuse in the book for why you either a) haven't actually accomplished anything significant in any intellectual field other than impressing (you say) your professors and (woohoo) your TAs at some second-rate school; or b) why your accomplishments are either so super secret or so impossible for us laypersons to understand that it would be pointless to explain them to us. You also have plenty of time to post to AskMe and write rambling questions and answers (and to go out partying, to judge from your other AskMe questions), but "the time factor" somehow prevents you from wasting your precious research time on an internet forum. Ah yes, your work is far too important for mankind to waste time on the internets . . . .huh?

You are BSing someone, either yourself or us, or both. Now you want some young acolyte to look up longingly into your eyes while you dispense your pearls of insight that are simply too grand to be encompassed by the existing structure of disciplines and have utterly humiliated a "rising star" in your field with the inadequacy of his/her PhD training. You want to BS that prospective mentee as well, it sounds like. It definitely also sounds like you want to be a "mentor" to achieve further ego-stroking goodness, not because you actually want to help anyone do anything good. That's not really being a mentor. That's being a pig.

So I will not believe you until you can point us to some confirmable accomplishments, sir. No 20-something college student is doing "super secret" research that no one else can know about unless he's/she's a physicist or biochemist working for the CDC or DOD. I don't detect even a whiff of scientific or philosophical literacy in this post or your previous posts. All I hear is you saying how smart you are -- how much smarter than other people, to be exact -- over and over again, and enjoining us to believe it for the sake of argument.

You need a shrink who specializes in pathological narcissism, not an advisee. Or you need to grow up and learn that humility is the proper attitude before the vastness of human knowledge, and the even greater vastness of the unknown.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:28 AM on December 31, 2007 [7 favorites]


And in my state of pique, I will repeat my earlier point: mentors are not born, they are made. You "mentor" people when you have a record of *accomplishment,* and not just a claim (true or not) or "brilliance." "Brilliant" people need mentoring by *accomplished* people, which is why I said academia is set up for this structure. And you have yet to tell us one thing that you have actually accomplished in the world that would qualify you for the job. If you haven't even taught anything before at a professional level, what makes you think -- even granting your assumption that you are somehow the smartest guy alive, who eats PhDs for lunch --that you even know *how* to "mentor" anyone?

There's a reason schools have to be accredited. Just saying something doesn't make it so.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:37 AM on December 31, 2007


Ah, on reviewing your posting history I see where it comes from. You are an acolyte of the Tony Robbins school of self-actualization narcissistic self-regard. There will be no arguing with you, as you will have (as you have had) a snappy rationalizing comeback for every possible criticism anyone could offer.

What you want to be is a *motivational speaker,* not a mentor. That way you can have all the benefits of mentorship while imparting only empty truisms masquerading as "the truth" (as you keep calling it. It's a good business because a sucker is born every minute, and you yourself are exhibit A for that.

So, from the perspective of someone who actually does mentor many people (I've trained about 20 PhD students so far), let me just conclude by saying this. Great intellectual achievements are almost never made by generalists. They are made by solving specific problems, framed (always) in disciplinary contexts in which questions can be reduced to answerable queries subject to hypothetic-deductive reasoning. Generalists often compliment themselves, as you do, on their meta-grasp of a range of disciplines. Unfortunately, they are rarely masters of any one discipline.

You've got it backwards. You must accomplish something determinate within a disciplinary context (and I don't mean just academic "disciplines," since fixing engines -- diesel, gasoline, nuclear? -- is a field with disciplines quite as much as academic inquiry) -- before you can claim the generalist overview you say you already possess. No one who actually has mastered a particular discipline will take you seriously otherwise, and anyone who does will find themselves seriously disappointed when they take what they have learned from your "mentorship" into the real world in which practical forms of mastery are the coin of the reputational realm.

Done. Deletions expected, but this had to be said.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:31 AM on December 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm curious as to suggestions for how to post a question like this humbly. Can one not imagine there's a humble person who has something to offer intellectually but cannot point to websites to prove it? Who is motivated to post this question because he looks back over emails and letters to see how many people have told him they appreciate his mentorship and recalls how much he enjoys doing so--but he's not in a situation to meet many new such people and so wants to find new ways to share? How would *that* person have posted this question?

Two points re fourcheesemac:
"[impressing] your TAs at some second-rate school"
My school was only taught by terminal degreed profs whose names are known within their field if not elsewhere--where did you get TA's from? And while there were no TA's, I did co-teach three classes on invitation of the professors (helped design the syllabus, taught some sections solo, and received good anonymous reviews from the students) and another professor had me help him redesign a course syllabus a class in a field I never formally studied because he knew I had informally studied it and wanted my input. But I don't have a weblink for these things.

"You can spot brilliance in the first paragraph, and even in the sentence structure. "
You're right. I don't have that kind of natural brilliance/genius. I'm not like Will in Good Will Hunting or something. I've just worked hard and been lucky in some ways. There are different kinds of genuis. Or perhaps you'd suggest another word for someone who's mental machinary is only above average--not off the charts--but whose understanding (the word I orginally used) of the world is off the charts.

The rest I can respond to if other people say they would find it helpful. Otherwise, I worry I'd be feeding a troll, as this question is about how to find mentees if I do have something to offer, not about proving whether I do. Fourcheesemac, feel free to email me with any intellectual questions you may have.
posted by Furious Fitness at 6:36 AM on December 31, 2007


Can one not imagine there's a humble person who has something to offer intellectually but cannot point to websites to prove it?

Not if one uses the question to claim that one is so brilliant that there is no broaching the question of what you actually have to offer.

I am not a "troll." I've been here a good deal longer than you, and have an extensive posting history. But I find people like you very annoying and deserving of being taken down a notch. One of my major hot buttons is people like you who trash the accomplishments of people like me and my students (who put in a good 5-7 years of serious hard work at starvation pay to accomplish something in their careers, unlike you) because academia is supposedly such a waste of time and energy that no one who is seriously good at anything would go into it. The "those who can't do, teach" and "bordello" comments that anti-intellectuals like you typically toss off as a way to dismiss academia (while simultaneously revealing a huge desire to participate in it that makes me wonder if you weren't simply turned down for funded graduate study at some earlier point) are so full of shit. I can do many, many things well, and have done many different things professionally. One of them is teach and "mentor," and it took me years of work and study to get the credentials and experience to claim that expertise. You just toss it aside as meaningless because you somehow are such a meta-disciplinary auto-didact that you can clearly see that all of us who labor in actual science, which tends to happen in academia among other places, are wasting our time and our lives chasing trivial truths. F**k you, too.

I don't really believe most of your puffery about how you helped redesign courses and the like, but it's true I have no idea if you went to a second rate school other than by judging your thought processes and prose style (which I do for a living). As a professor, I can say with assurance that there's no way I'd let any undergraduate, not even Baby Einstein, "redesign" my course syllabus. That's either lazy or second rate. There are a lot of second rate people whose names are known.

No one is asking for "websites," either. Tell us what you've published in print. Tell us what kind of experimental research you've done. Tell us a problem you've solved. The fact that you simply avoid answering, even in the most general terms, the question "what have you actually accomplished that entitles you to be a 'mentor' to someone else?" speaks for itself.

You can't separate the question of "finding mentees" from the question of what on earth you have to "mentor" anyone in. Posting an ad on Craigslist sounds about right for you. You're really bound to find someone at about your level of ignorance that way, so bravo.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:18 AM on December 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


So here's a challenge. Why don't you post some brilliant paragraph from some unpublished essay you've written on anything? You won't be outing yourself if its unpublished, and we'll all get to see the Great Man's Mind at work and be better able to tell you where to find disciples.

The point is that you can't ask the question you asked in the abstract. Mentoring is a field-specific relationship, done in different ways in different intellectual and practical contexts. No one needs to be mentored in "the truth" about everything unless you represent some religious cult.

You want serious advice? Go find an after-school tutoring program in an inner city school. Teach a 12 year old to read or do long division when he has no family structure, lives in a crime-infested neighborhood, and is headed for a life of violence and prison. That will show you what "mentoring" is -- it is about the *other* person, not you.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:23 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


whose understanding (the word I orginally used) of the world is off the charts.

Just worth repeating. That's one of the most pompous things I've ever read.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2007


excuse me, if *it's* unpublished.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:28 AM on December 31, 2007


Furious Fitness: fourcheesemac is getting too hot under the collar and probably achieving diminishing returns (though I hope his comments aren't deleted, because although wordy and belligerent they contain a lot of what you need to hear), so let me just say as neutrally as possible that you do indeed sound like someone claiming unearned prowess, and it's hard to imagine anyone but the most naive undergraduate taking your "off the charts" understanding seriously. Naturally, you are under no obligation to provide us with evidence, but if you want truly helpful answers you need to provide a more focused question (what kinds of topics do you want to mentor in, at what level?), and the very act of focusing may help you formulate your ideas. As it is, you appear to be saying "I'm awesome, how can I spread my awesomeness?" Which comes across as silly and has no good answer.
posted by languagehat at 7:34 AM on December 31, 2007


I apologize for my belligerence, as languagehat correctly calls me out on it. I have my reasons for being very annoyed when people who don't know what they are talking about dismiss all of academia with a broad brush as a field populated by people who couldn't do other things, or who aren't doing significant or valuable things. Especially when the person doing the pointing is claiming to be above and beyond the academic calling. Had Furious Fitness not posted that ugly "bordello" comment, I would not have lost it. But I did, and I apologize.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:52 AM on December 31, 2007


Why would any of us want to to e-mail you intellectual questions? This is a serious question, and one that you should think about. Re-read your posts with the perspective of a potential mentee. If your understanding of the world is so great, why don't you understand that people want concrete facts to back up statements? I'm still really confused as to why you don't have any nameable interests. Which classes did you teach? Why do people find you so smart? As one data point, I wouldn't be interested in getting intellectual advice from you because you are unable to convince not only me, but anyone in this thread of your intelligence through your writing. Why should I assume you could write convincingly (and teach me to write convincingly!) about any other subject you feel passionately about?
posted by fermezporte at 8:57 AM on December 31, 2007


Actually, I've come back with a brilliant (!) suggestion: Furious Fitness should be a priest. Perfect job for someone who believes he knows "the truth" but can't back up the claim to knowledge with facts. And many people will then look to you as a mentor.

Can't beat it. Priests have been conning people into falling for their grand knowledge of the truth (and "mentoring" people, especially little boys in the case of Catholic priests, anyway) for eons.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:56 AM on December 31, 2007


And by the way, what IS an "intellectual question" anyway? Every time you ask a question you are using your intellect - your faculties of language, reason, and reflection. There is nothing less intellectual about needing to know why torque settings on the bolts of an engine are they way they are than needing to know the meaning of life.

This pseudo-scientific distinction between matters "intellectual" and "not intellectual" is also part of the self-important auto-didact mindset. Yes, the library is an amazing resource full of the words of the great teachers in history. Alas, it is also full of fiction, superseded knowledge, outright lies and propaganda, and the like. A teacher -- a mentor -- who knows "the literature" in any subject is vital unless you have many lifetimes to read everything ever written and a superb ability to judge what is true while doing so.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:46 AM on December 31, 2007


Note well:
If I am to describe what an event my first glance at Schopenhauer's writings was for me, I must dwell for a moment on an idea which used to come to me in my youth more pressingly, and more frequently, than perhaps any other. When in those days I roved as I pleased through wishes of all kinds, I always believed that sometime fate would take from me the terrible effort and duty of educating myself: I believed that, when the time came, I would discover a philosopher to educate me, a true philosopher whom one could follow without any misgiving because one would have more faith in him than one had in oneself. Then I asked myself: what would be the principles by which he would educate you?—and I reflected on what he might say about the two educational maxims which are being hatched in our time. One of them demands that the educator should quickly recognize the real strength of his pupil and then direct all his efforts and energy and heat at them so as to help that one virtue to attain true maturity and fruitfulness. The other maxim, on the contrary, requires that the educator should draw forth and nourish all the forces which exist in his pupil and bring them to a harmonious relationship with one another. But should he who has a decided inclination to be a goldsmith for that reason be forcibly compelled to study music? Is one to agree that Benvenuto Cellini's was right continually to force him to play the "dear little horn"—"that accursed piping," as his son called it? In the case of such strong and definite talents one would not agree: so could it perhaps be that the maxim advocating a harmonious development should be applied only to more mediocre natures in which, though there may reside a categories of needs and inclinations, none of them amounts to very much taken individually? But where do we discover a harmonious whole at all, a simultaneous sounding of many voices in one nature, if not in such men as Cellini, men in whom everything, knowledge, desire, love, hate, strives towards a central point, a root force, and where a harmonious system is constructed through the compelling domination of this living center? And so perhaps these two maxims are not opposites at all? Perhaps the one simply says that man should have a center and the other that he should also have a periphery? That educating philosopher of whom I dreamed would, I came to think, not only discover the central force, he would also know how to prevent its acting destructively on the other forces: his educational task would, it seemed to me, be to mold the whole man into a living solar and planetary system and to understand its higher laws of motion.
- Nietzsche, "Schopenhauer as Educator"
Are you quite ready to accept this responsibility?
posted by nasreddin at 12:29 PM on December 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


The two indirectly related questions that interest me most are:
"That's one of the most pompous things I've ever read."
Again I ask because I would like to know, if it's true, how would a humble person say it?

And to languagehat who says "they contain a lot of what you need to hear".
What if in an alternate version of 1904 in which the internet existed, Einstein wanted to find mentee's? What if he wanted to in 1905, even after writing his great papers (which were not recognized at the time)?
(I would point out that according to most in this thread, what he did at age 26 is considered impossible since it's rare. Now I do understand not accepting my claim--which I ask no one to do, just answer the question of finding mentees 'as if'. But to claim that my claim is impossible on the face of it is obviously wrong--besides being a logical error, there are counterexamples. Unlikely sure. Unproved on this thread, of course.)


To answer the questions that I hope bring light and not heat as they say.

"Not if one uses the question to claim that one is so brilliant that there is no broaching the question of what you actually have to offer."
If I did claim or said something that can be construed to claim that I am so brilliant you can't question it, I withdraw that. What I meant to claim is that this site is to ask a question, and the question was how can I find mentees? Not "Am I really as smart as I think I am?" That's an entirely different question. If someone asks for help with their grad school applications, we don't ask them to prove they deserve to go.

"academia is supposedly such a waste of time and energy that no one who is seriously good at anything would go into it"
I would never say that. I quoted Atran tongue-in-cheek--which I thought would be obvious, since he works in academia himself. Even if I meant the comment completely seriously, it doesn't say what you just said.

"You can't separate the question of "finding mentees" from the question of what on earth you have to "mentor" anyone in. "
I already admitted this: http://ask.metafilter.com/79687/How-to-find-someone-to-be-an-intellectual-mentor-for-them#1183805 I'll narcissitically mark it best answer so people can find it easier--since all the relevant questions since are answered by it.

"If your understanding of the world is so great, why don't you understand that people want concrete facts to back up statements?"
Again, I do understand this and already agreed, see again my post at 1PM yesterday. I had a question--so I posted it, and the course of discussion convinced me my original idea was ill conceived so I'll ask people that know me to point people to me.

"Why would any of us want to to e-mail you intellectual questions?"
While I've agreed that I haven't provided data to prove it'd be worthwhile and admitted as much, a few people still want to test me by asking me to provide data. If they have the time to do that, why don't they just test me for real--take me up on my offere and see what happens?
posted by Furious Fitness at 1:38 PM on December 31, 2007


I, for one, am not invested in resolving the issue of whether an anonymous soi-disant internet Einstein can substantiate his bluster or not.

I am, on the other hand, interested in what precisely you as a mentor can contribute to my (or anyone else's) education. I tend to find mentors through a critical or theoretical affinity, or even just a stylistic one (evidently inapplicable in this case; sorry, FF, but you're no Montaigne).

What are your responses to these sufficiently general but hopefully revealing questions, which are fundamental for many people? They will help bring out your intellectual perspectives on a fairly broad range of issues; if you choose not to answer, that's fine, but my natural conclusion will then be that you are not very serious in asking this question.

1. Does history have consistent laws of development, whether dialectical or not? Is history by and large the product of individuals and contingencies or of masses and large-scale, longue duree structural evolutions?

2. For you, what are the most significant implications of the crisis of orthodox revolutionary Marxism as a critical alternative to liberal democracy? Are there any viable alternatives to mainstream leftist and anarchist critical modes?

3. Can a unitary Cartesian notion of the philosophical subject be viable if we take into account Foucault as well as modern genetics? If not, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
posted by nasreddin at 2:16 PM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey nasreddin, I'm no Montaigne nor an Einstein, nor do I remember calling myself an Einstein, despite using him as an example.
Your comment is otherwise basically correct, and makes me realize even more that approaching this anonymously will not work. Because I could answer your questions, but if I did, I would want to answer a dozen others in different fields, to make clear I want to attract generalists. Then at that point it's hard to be anonymous and it becomes more of a project than I want to take on. So as I said before, I'm going to stick with putting out feelers to people that know me.
I am interested in how genetics affects the idea of the unitary Cartesian self? Biologically, it seems neuroscience would be a be better way to look at it, and it would show it's not viable. And I don't know what you mean by that being good or bad either. I'll send you an email though in case this is too off topic.
posted by Furious Fitness at 4:27 PM on December 31, 2007




I am interested in how genetics affects the idea of the unitary Cartesian self? Biologically, it seems neuroscience would be a be better way to look at it, and it would show it's not viable. And I don't know what you mean by that being good or bad either.

Drivel. Total tautological mess. What is the "it" anyway, here? The unitary Cartesian self? Sure, if you "look at it" biologically, one would want to approach consciousness as a neuroscientific problem, among other kinds of biological perspectives (evolutionary, for example -- ring any bells?). But what would it mean to show the "self" is "not viable" by "looking at it with neuroscience," and what does either have to do with the question of how *genetics* (presumably meaning what we know about the genetic constitution of the organism, phenotypically and genotypicaly) affects the "Cartesian self?" Nasreddin's question was pitched at the level of discourse, not biology. He asked how our new knowledge of the genetics of consciousness might disrupt our philosophical privileging of reason and consciousness. You respond with "neuroscience would be a better way to look at it." WTF are you talking about?

This is not the writing of someone who "knows the truth." It's the writing of someone trying to sound smart and failing to do so.

Because I could answer your questions, but if I did, I would want to answer a dozen others in different fields, to make clear I want to attract generalists. Then at that point it's hard to be anonymous and it becomes more of a project than I want to take on/

My dog ate my homework once too. I was about 12.

It's beyond funny at this point, dude.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:00 PM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and what about the part about Foucault? You left out a nonsensical response to that. Do you know who he is, or why his theories of discourse, knowledge, and power might represent a challenge to the Cartesian view of the subject?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:15 PM on December 31, 2007


I still don't understand what genetics has to do with a Cartesian sense of self.

"He asked how our new knowledge of the genetics of consciousness might disrupt our philosophical privileging of reason and consciousness."
I didn't understand the question to mean this. Dennett's 'multiple drafts model' is explicitly anti-cartesian, but arguably still privileges reason in the traditional way, whereas Damasio's view is also explicity anti-Cartesian but does not privilege reason in the traditional way. Both of their anti-Cartesian stances (which are not contradictory) are rooted in neuroscience mainly, as well as philosophical arguments in Dennett's case. I don't know of any pro-"Cartesian self" neuroscientists, so I thought just mentioning neuroscience would make that clear.
And while an understanding of genetics influencing consciousness undermines the traditional Cartesian mind-body split, I could imagine a Cartesian ignoring neurosciene but not genetics switching from substance dualism to property dualism but still maintaing that there is "a unitary subject," so I still don't see what genetics has to do with the Cartesian notion of the unitary subject per se (assuming the questioner meant for unitary to modify not notion but subject).

Taking "unitary Cartesian notion of the philosophical subject" (a phrase I find unclear--sometimes technical language is called for, this doesn't seem to be one of those times) to refer to the notion of an individual having a stable core, I would say convoluted arguments could get around Foucalt and genetics, though I would have no interest in making them. If I'm emphasizing "unitary" too much and s/he meant to emphasize the question of the claim of consciousness as being essentially "reasonable," then I would say Foucalt and genetics do make that claim "unviable" but that there are much better reasons to ignore Cartesian theories of the mind.
posted by Furious Fitness at 1:36 AM on January 1, 2008


I still don't understand what genetics has to do with a Cartesian sense of self.

So much for your "off the charts" level of "understanding, then.

"Unitary Cartesian notion of the philosophical subject" is hardly "technical language," (vs. "substance dualism" and "property dualism," what did you do, google the question quickly?) either. Its a bit over-condensed, but anyone educated in Philosophy should know the approximate tradition being invoked. The questions of agency and the integrity of the "self" are among the major questions in modern social and philosophical thought. You just basically proved you have almost no acquaintance with these areas of inquiry.

Give up, kid. If you did this in real life, you'd be outed as a phony immediately.

You asked how to be a mentor. Nasreddin and I and others here have shown you, maybe in my case with a little more tough love than was necessary. Mentoring someone means, often, telling them truths about themselves they are reluctant to hear. You come across as a pompous, totally arrogant, lightly educated fake who is completely convinced of his own brilliance and is bound to make a major fool out of himself in the real world someday as a result. You also seem intelligent, you write decently (though not very well, just decently), and passionate. Those are good qualities that you could combine with a touch of humility and a little respect for people who actually have done the work you dismiss as irrelevant and trivial and who have earned the right and privilege of "mentoring" others in intellectual pursuits.

Introspect, know thyself, and all that. You haven't fooled any of the professors on this thread, so your sense of your own intellectual power to slay PhDs with your insight is certainly inflated, given that the standards of evidence on an AskMe post don't even begin to approach those that apply in the classroom or in science more generally.

I'm sorry I've been so hard on you. You still don't seem to really get it. You'll only dig yourself in deeper by pretending you can engage and impress highly educated people with your grasp of serious philosophical questions as an amateur with little but a college degree and some self-directed study. You need a mentor; you aren't ready to mentor anyone in these areas.

I was serious, by the way, in suggesting you learn some important things by mentoring a child in trouble. There is somewhere your experience, age, and education would appropriately make you a potential mentor, someone who could change someone else's life by showing the value of cultivating the mind. But don't pretend you're a professor. Go out and become one. Just leave the attitude at the door of whatever grad school program you eventually choose if you do.

Good luck to you. You want one more piece of advice? Don't listen to fakers like Tony Robbins. You can't will yourself to be successful if there is development of a core of competence, skill, or creativity in your work. Attitude does not trump substance in the real world; only in the fantasy world of motivational speakers who take your money to tell you the most obvious things as if they were profound. You've picked up the habit yourself, and its unbecoming a real intellectual.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:33 AM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


er, if there is NO development of a core of competence . . . .
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:35 AM on January 1, 2008


I'm sorry, but fourcheesemac has it right. The one question you attempted to answer, you merely evaded by name-dropping Dennett. It was not a question about the mind-body problem, nor was it a question about neuroscience; it was a question about the philosophical subject, the "death" or "crisis" of which is the fundamental problem of post-Nietzschean (Continental) philosophy. The fact that you seem unaware of these debates tells me that you have little to offer budding humanities students, at least--no humanities field has remained untransformed by them. As to whether the death of the subject is good or bad, this was merely shorthand for "Do you take the broadly modernist position, maintaining the necessity or desirability of the single philosophical subject, or do you follow Deleuze and others in embracing the subject's breakdown as the sole condition of a liberating politics?"
posted by nasreddin at 9:55 AM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


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