Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Day 72: Nanny McPh*$%

72 days......that's 2.4 months. How much is a respectable amount to have written in 2.4 months? How much was I planning to have written in 2.4 months?  You know the expression, 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade'? Well the fact is that making any kind of juice is a lot like writing.........you get through a whole pile of raw material, put in a load of work, and get a tiny dribble of juice plus a ton of waste for your efforts. It's not clear its even worth it, especially when juice in a carton is so cheap! 

Monday, 1 November 2021

Day 49: Half term etch-a-sketch

It's another one of those mondays where I sit before an enticing browser, trying to remember who I am, what I was meant to be doing, what it's all about........half term happened. And actually it was wonderful, busy, full of love and laughter with friends and family. There was mountain climbing, karaoke, a hedgehog, ghost biscuits, crazy golf, water sliding, trick-or-treating, and one slightly hair-raising adventure getting lost on a small Welsh island. I'm lucky to have a lot of great people in my life and my children are hilarious. It's all been highly effective at wiping my brain clean of all thoughts, worries, and ideas about my book. In fact, I feel borderline pre-linguistic at this point. I'm thinking in emojis. It's time to drag myself back on the horse. Goals time.

Half term marks my half-way point: 50% of my leave is gone. Only 11 short weeks left till I'm back to teaching, with christmas to fit in there somewhere too. Cue the emoji with the clenched teeth. I need to pick up the pace.

Chapter five is actually going pretty smoothly, and I think I can have it nailed this week if I go hard at it. That will make four chapters finished (one, two, five and seven) and four to go (three, four, six and eight). Three should be finished as well, I've been agonising over it needlessly, but I know that at crunch time I can see it off. So I can sort of say I've nailed five out of eight, if I want to haggle with myself pointlessly, which I do.

Of course, there is also a thesis to examine, and then a pile of external examining work, and my final project supervisions........but if I squint my eyes hard enough they go invisible and it will all be okay. I think I can do it. But I need to go dig out a heavy duty leash...................

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Extinction Studies at Boggle Hole


Last week was the inaugural field trip of the Leverhulme Extinction Studies Doctoral Training Program at Leeds. Students and supervisors headed to Boggle Hole, a beautiful cove just south of Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Day 22: Biological substances (success at last!)

With massive relief I can report that Chapter 7 has been defeated. I slept on it, and conferred with my wonderful ex-student, Dr Will Morgan, and I've found my way to a conclusion I'm happy with. Now I need readers!

The chapter explores the following question: Do concepts of Biological Individuality provide identity conditions for the objects they apply to, or are they defined by 'mere' properties?

Friday, 1 October 2021

Day 18: Failure?

Reader, this is the trouble with public commitment devices.....they can be embarrassing. I was so determined to finish this chapter that i've worked a crazy number of hours these last few days. It wasn't quite an all-nighter last night (i'm too old for that) but the typing stopped at midnight and started back up at 8am today.

The truth is I've *nearly* finished it. Maybe. I've got about 8 thousand words i'm happy with. Ish. But it's that eleventh hour where its traditional for me to get stuck. To oscillate between thinking it's about done, if i only i scale down its framing a bit. and thinking i've hit a fundamental wall and worked out precisely why it was all a pointless rabbit hole.

Is it just me that finds it impossible to measure or predict the pace of completion of my work? I feel like it must be the same with sculptors. You don't start the work when you pick up the chisel. before that you have to have spent hours thinking, looking at other sculptures, having ideas, discarding them, looking for materials, discarding them. The point where the book proposal has been sent off - that's when you find yourself standing in front of the block of marble, chisel in hand. There is no turning back now. You paid for the stone. You  planned out what you're going to do to it. but did you?

Are you half way through the sculpture when half the amount of marble has been removed? Surely not. and surely no two sculptors proceed in the same way. Probably each carving is different.  I often start hacking at the rock without having fully decided what i'm planning to make. Probably some sculptures are the same. You wait to see what emerges from the stone, somehow. 

This morning i'd have said my book chapter was at the point where i've done all the big cuts. I've worked out where the head is going to be, the details of the posture are fixed, the angles, the scale is all there. It's too late to change course - to make a dog instead of a woman, or to start again with different stone. That's most of the way there for me. All that comes after that is bits of polishing. The big decisions have all been sorted out. Some artists would leave it at that, and enjoy the roughcut, impressionistic effect. I may even have submitted such roughcuts to journals at times, hoping that someone else would appreciate the simple rugged beauty of an idea in its virgin, unpolished state (ha!)

But it's never too late to have a crisis of confidence. Is the head too small? Shall i just finish the rest and leave it headless? Or do i need to start over?

The truth is i'm stuck, and its the sort of stuck that only gets resolved when you put the chisel down and go away for a bit. Think about something else. Get a second opinion.

Reader, I didn't finish the chapter.  I'm sorry. But I will.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Day 14 - Emollient gamification challenge


Another monday morning rolls around. I find it so hard on mondays to snap back into philosopher mode, after a weekend of refereeing squabbles and the mad dash to locate water bottles that is a monday morning. I tend to feel pretty shell shocked by the time i get in from the school run, and the fact that is was pouring with rain so i had to locate wellies and raincoats as *well* didn't help. It was a lovely weekend, actually, the kids were on good form and we had a cosy sunday with lots of stories and cuddles.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Day 5 (Am i regretting this numbering system yet?)

 Time to do some reviewing of the week, before i sign out and into parent mode till monday. 

Did i meet my goals? Did it turn out as i planned? Do i need to make some changes for next week?

Ha, i'm sometimes sniffy about business-style evaluation systems, but that two-line exercise just revealed my first rookie error. I didn't set any goals last week! At least, i only set them for one day, and they were pretty vague. I should probably set some writing goals, as in actual numbers of words written each week. except i don't think i'm ready for that yet. I'm the kind of person who can spew out words numbering in 4 or even 5 digits in a day without particularly trying. In fact, it takes a concerted effort not to. Because its often useless - they're either random tangents or repetitions of things i already wrote. I do it when i'm avoiding the more taxing labour of actually *thinking*.

What i did do last week was make progress on some more specific goals. I sent off a review, read a couple papers that were on my list, attended a bunch of awesome talks at EPSA, and got my talk for next week mostly into shape. Oh and i started blogging and updated my website. That's not horrible going for a week. *but* its very hard to measure the extent to which any of it furthered my book. 

Here is an attempt at some plausible goals for next week though:

  • Today: Reread James Di Frisco's excellent paper on Sortals, projectibility and selection.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday: work on my talk in the mornings, then attend the workshop for the rest of the day
  • Then by the end of the week i should capitalise on everything being fresh in my mind, and get a first draft of the whole metaphysics chapter finished.
ok go!

Friday, 17 September 2021

Workshop: Metaphysics of biological individuality

 Dear All,


There will be an online workshop (Zoom) on Metaphysics of Biological Individuality on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st of September 2021, from 13:30 to 16h30 each afternoon (UK time). This workshop is hosted by the Sorbonne University and the CNRS. All are welcome to attend, and no registration is required. 


Monday 20th September (UK time)

13:30 – 15:00: Samir Okasha (University of Bristol): "On the very idea of biological individuality"
15:00 – 15:05: (Short break)
15:05 – 16:35: Will Morgan (University of Sheffield) "Biological individuality and the foetus problem"

Tuesday 21st September (UK time)

13:30 – 15:00: Ellen Clarke (University of Leeds) "On the need to keep hold of biological individuals"
15:00 – 15:05: (Short break)
15:05 – 16:35: James DiFrisco (KU Leuven) "The individuation of biological characters"

 For the zoom links, please email  martens.johannes@free.fr

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Day 2 Group selection for Maynard Smith and Sober


So yesterday went really well. To my surprise, i did everything i'd planned!  My brain was working, i made some good headway on the talk.

Today - meh. I often find that a good, smart day is followed by a dip. And i didn't even get drunk! I just woke up and couldn't face going back to the notes i'd finished the evening before. It's not the end of the world because i was in and out of EPSA talks and meetings today anyway. 

But then this book arrived in the post and has saved me. It's a book that's kind of hard to get hold of. At least, libraries rarely have it,  and pdfs don't seem to circulate online, so i had to stump up and buy it. Which is another reason why scholars without much cash - say early career folk who pay for a lot of childcare - are disadvantaged in academia. But i don't have eye-watering childcare costs anymore, so worldofbooks got my money.

It was so worth it! For a random edited collection from 1987, its pretty widely-cited, and now i can see why.  Chapter 5 'How to Model Evolution' by John Maynard Smith, and the ensuing back and forth he has with Elliott Sober, is gold.

I think i can build one of my chapters around it (not the one i was meant to be working on, but hey)  so i'm going to put my initial thoughts about it down here.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Day 1. (or approx 548 if we're counting since i actually *started* the project)

 I've got a relatively long day at my disposal today - 9.30 till 5 - because my kids do after school club on tuesdays. Mondays are short - 9.30 till 3 - and wednesdays to fridays are long, because my ex picks the kids up on those days at the moment. In theory its a pretty good weekly schedule for writing, because i've got a short day on monday to ease myself back into thinking after a weekend of pritsticking and wiping things, and the days gradually get longer till by the end of the week i can go on full on crazed-immersion and pull all nighters, just in time to be a weird starey robot for my kids on saturday.

In practice, of course, there are all manner of obstacles in the path of extended concentration. This week is EPSA, the meeting of the European Philosophy of Science Association, in Turin. I'm not presenting, but since i'm on the steering committee i will definitely attend some talks and meetings, virtually.  I also have a deadline coming up on a paper i'm supposed to referee. And next week i'm presenting (virtually) at a meeting in Paris. Happily, there is some overlap between the topic of those two.

So, the plan for today is to write my referee's report (i already read the paper yesterday - i like to sleep on it before i write my report, if i can), read a second  paper on a similar topic, and then start assembling some thoughts that will double as (i) content for my talk next week and (ii) the basis for chapter 7 of my book - on metaphysical problems associated with biological individuality.

Ok, go!