Cat Wisdom Wednesday

One of my favorite humanists, Bertrand Russell:

Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.

Also, I thought I’d take this opportunity to point out that I started a new sidebar feature last month – twitter. If any of you are on twitter, add me to your follow list and I’ll be able to add you to mine! You can see my twitter here, where you can sign up for an RSS feed if you’re so inclined.

Check out the Center for Inquiry

After Saturday’s lovely Dawkins lecture, I went online to the Center for Inquiry to sign up for their e-mails. I had been to their site before, but I never signed up for the newsletter, and I realized at the event that I’ve been missing out on some pretty cool NYC events for skeptics, atheists, scientists, and the like. So, you may ask, what is the Center for Inquiry? Their newsroom page describes it well:

A Leading Resource for Journalists, Producers, and the Media:

Tackling head on many of today’s burning issues from a refreshing and often provocative perspective, based on science, reason, and a secular outlook the Center for Inquiry engages in research and development in three broad areas of foci:

Religion, Ethics, and Society

Paranormal and Fringe-Science Claims

Medicine and Health: Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health Practice: CSMMH

The tensions between religion and science and tradition and secularism pose difficult dilemmas for modern society-unfortunately, much of what passes for “answers” is uninformed, unreasoned, and all too often, unprincipled. There is an urgent, pressing need for a fresh approach.

I am most interested in their work with religion and humanism – they house the Council for Secular Humanism, and I am an active secular humanist. I can’t recommend their podcast, Point of Inquiry, enough. I love to listen to it while I’m commuting throughout the city. It’s a great way to get an overview of some of the best books out there today on these topics without actually finding the time to read every one of them. And sometimes, it may even inspire you to go read the whole book, or to look up a concept or author further.

Links to check out

Tara Smith writes on her Scienceblog “Aetiology” Damn those women, out there ruining science and being lazy and depressed.

She pointed me to Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s Women in science — passion and prejudice.

I’m feeling some atheist pride after yesterday’s Dawkins talk. I came across this amusing T-shirt: Godless and Proud Ringer T says “GODLESS & PROUD — I outgrew the need for imaginary friends as a child.”

I’ve also been eagerly checking out a K8, a cat, a mission often since she’s expecting a baby pretty soon!

4.5″ down

I just measured my waist because I’m looking for an 80’s prom dress for a friend’s party and I needed to know my measurements to shop for vintage dresses on ebay. I also happen to have my creative notebook with me, in which I have my measurements written down at various times that I’ve planned a new sewing design. And I’ve lost 4.5″off my waist since the beginning of the year! Sweet!

I met Richard Dawkins today

Ok, and by “met” I don’t mean we had a personal dinner or something, but still, Husband and I are ecstatic. We got a chance to say hi to him and shake his hand, and then afterwards we had him sign The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, which I bought there (we lent our copy of the The God Delusion to Husband’s brother), and took a picture with him on another student’s camera, so I’m not sure how that came out. Husband had already gushed to him some about how big of fans we are, and so then Husband spoke to him a little bit about his ideas on helping the public understand the nature of intelligence. It was a very stimulating and exciting evening, and perhaps I’ll write about what he said and what we thought about it, but for now I just wanted to gush to you all about how excited Husband and I were just to meet him and shake his hand. Dawkins. We met Dawkins!

On self-doubt

On Wednesday, which happens to be when I wrote that post about lack of motivation, I had class. I’m only in one class – this one – so you would think I’d be able to handle it, but still it’s not going that smoothly for me. This class is, I would say, very advanced. I am taking it at a different institution in NYC, and so the experience feels more “different” and “other” than usual. On top of that, it uses a fair amount of linear algebra, which I never took but have needed for at least 3 courses now, so it’s got an odd history as a sticking point with me and I always struggle with it. I am convinced that I should have taken it as an undergrad, and I think that it should either be required for my major (it is at some universities) or that at least someone should have advised me that if I wanted to study advanced theories in my discipline, I should take it. Neither happened, and I did not take it, because I did not know that it would be needed, or even that it would be any more useful than any other math course that was not recommended in the department’s advising materials or bulletins.

Enough about linear algebra…

And furthermore, this one class I’m in now marks the first time I have ever been in a class where I am the only female. Now, I recognize I am lucky that I haven’t encountered that yet – I know that things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago, and even some of my peers currently tell me that in their undergrad departments they were in classes that had no women at all. But somehow I find that it is on my mind sometimes, when I’m there. The class has 12 other students, at least half of which are foreign students, and the professor is about 70 years old, and (of course) a white male. He is a big name in the field, and as such it is an excellent course to have the opportunity to experience, to learn this subject from him. But it somehow feels very surreal to me. It’s hard to place; it’s not really outright upsetting, but it just feels…odd. Strange.

When I was leaving class this week, a student said hi to me, and went on to note how I had been absent from class the week before. Aside from wondering where he was going with that, I also thought about how I wouldn’t have noticed if he was missing, but that I’d be hard to miss as the only woman in a room full of men. And that made me wonder, if these sorts of thoughts come up often for members of minority groups.

I’m not saying that this is a big deal, and certainly in this class I have never witnessed any discrimination, but it does make one think about the subtler aspects of …bias. The part where a person’s mental conversation is occupied with thoughts of how they are different. It makes me think of what it might be like to be part of a smaller minority, and thus feel more…alone.

With regards to the class, though, it’s mostly the material that intimidates me. I realized that part of my lack of motivation was a fear that I would encounter too much difficulty and find myself unable to overcome it. But I did manage to get some work done, and then I went to class, walking in embarrassed to both be late and to have missed the last TWO classes (heck, I’m even embarrassed to admit that here). I must look like a horrible student, I think to myself, as I shuffle towards a seat in the back of the small room, as if there were really anywhere to hide.

Distinguished Professor (here I imagine you read his name with a deep, authoritative voice) looks over at me and nods hello, even though he’s already started the lecture. I realize it’s a fairly friendly smile and that maybe I’m not that horrible of a student (I did email him and we talked about what I had missed), and settle into copying the notes and figuring out what’s going on. And do you know what? I understood it very comfortably. As the lecture progressed, some students in the class asked questions, and I realized that I knew the basics of the answers even before they were explained. As he lectured on, I realized that I could handle this class, that even here in week 7 I still knew what he was talking about, at least most of the time.

After class, I called Husband and told him this. It was a good thing I did, too, because the next night when I was a bawling basketcase over how overwhelming the quals are and how I couldn’t really handle a PhD program in my discipline, he was able to remind me that I was just telling him how I had not needed to be so intimidated by the class because I do understand what’s going on. I do usually tell him these things anyhow, but now I have the added incentive that I know if I tell him when I’m feeling confident, that next week or the week after when I am paralyzed with self-doubt about my abilities again, he can remind me, as he did last night, that I was just telling him how I am proceeding alright, getting my work and studying done, and that I can understand the class material and I do understand the core material of my discipline better than I did last year. And it will take me a while, but eventually, I’ll remember that I can do this.