An American Professor in Europe 
Summer, 2012
Punting on the Cam                                                                                                                                                                  
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Academic Research at University of Oxford                          
25 June to 6 July
Including Trips to Malmesbury and London
            Somerville College

     Arrival pictures:                          Go to Next Update




    Somerville College

Somerville College was founded in 1879, in response to a growing demand to provide an Oxford education for women. Its founders named the College in honour of the Scottish mathematician and scientist Mary Somerville (1780-1872), and the Somerville family arms and motto (the notoriously untranslatable "Donec rursus impleat orbem") were adopted.
    The choice of name was significant. The College’s founders admired Mary Somerville both as a remarkable scholar, and for her religious and political views. She was a self-taught science writer, wife, mother of 5 children, and polymath. In 1868, was the first person to sign John Stuart Mill’s petition to Parliament in support of women’s suffrage. Having been denied formal educational opportunities herself, she was a fervent advocate of access to education for other women.
    Somerville alumnae have achieved an impressive number of “firsts” - the first, and only, British woman to win a Nobel prize in science(Dorothy Hodgkin); the highest ranking female officer of her time in the British intelligence services (the Queen of Spies, Daphne Park); the first woman to lead the world’s largest democracy (Indira Gandhi); the first Indian woman barrister (Cornelia Sorabji) and the first woman Prime Minister of this country(Margaret Thatcher). Countless others have forged path-breaking careers in academic life, politics, literature, science, law, business, education and the media.
    Situated on the north side of Oxford, Somerville is only a 10 minute stroll from the city centre.

Update - 28 June
    My first full morning in Oxford was meditative. After a very traditional English breakfast, a meal of bacon, sausages, one egg with toast and baked beans, I took a walk on streets surrounding the college for a bit of exploration, the book I am working through presently in hand. I soon discovered a small park not even the size of a city block and surrounded by tall university buildings on all sides, but peacefully quiet notwithstanding and of cheerful charm. Seemed to me a lovely place to continue my morning reading, only one gate in and one bench for sitting, and I found myself the only inhabitant save the sweetly chirping birds high up in the old trees, eight encircling the lawn by my count. I took a seat and continued my work there, but in time I grew distracted by the natural perfume of a white rose tree to my right spreading to the morning light between the shadows cast by two of the trees. My consciousness could not help but pause from my focus to take in this scene, the reasonable temperature for late June under puffy clouds, the almost nonexistent breeze and grassy smells mixed with rose, the mild sunlight on the green. I began to reflect on the character of this important center for learning, and the contrast of this dainty park in the heart of, or rather a chamber in the heart, of Oxford. The manner in which the English value their gardens and flora is distinctive, the colorful flowered pots and hedgerows within every gaze, whether street-busy walkway or natural space, signaling the great value placed on the environment in which humans put themselves. It is a stimulant for thought as strong as the book I was carrying, a catalyst for good feeling as powerful as the conversation I had with the cook at breakfast.

  Broad Street

        Magdalen: College
        of Thomas Hobbes,

     I have been reading English prose and Welsh poetry, scientific histories and philosophical essays, and I suppose this input is influencing my style of output, dear reader. I’m feeling the full richness of my time here (or perhaps I’m just “full of it”). If I accomplish some writing while in Oxford I will be most pleased, but the main purpose of my time is the input, the old library at hand, and taking down notes of my interpretation of these things, as foundation from which my essays eventually will come. I seek to understand the meaning behind one often-overlooked seventeenth century philosophers words, but it is not because others have not written their interpretation; on the contrary, many scholars have traversed these complex waters. But my purpose is to add my voice to theirs with fresh insights that may perhaps persuade the once and present community of reason that there is more here, more to what Thomas Hobbes said about science and the mind, more to his work than his political system, and more to his objections to Descartes’ meditations than ever considered before. And to what ultimate end? Is it only for the fancy of academic types? Is my purpose too obscure or perhaps too grand? Is it all for my own promotion?
     The more I read and ponder, the more closely I come to the pure conviction that what scientists and philosophers have believed for so long about “what it means to be conscious beings” is at once an edifice of our own human limitations and an endeavor falling short of useful, substantial, human understanding. The humanities seem to have more sure footing on what it is to be conscious than applied science can provide. Psychology, as it methodically rolls down the path of brain and neuroscience, needs to take note of Hobbes’ contributions to the mind because we continue, nearly 400 years hence, to repeat the same interpretations and fall into the same rabbit holes. It very well may be there are no answers, the modern mysterianism—even physicists have no answers for the physical world—and yet, it would be nice if psychology were asking more useful questions for the human condition.
     Of course, I know that one can only provide others with information; we have no real power over anyone else and little power over the world.  I shall be content with adding information that is uniquely my own. Have I not published earlier academic work? Indeed so, and perhaps a grand total of 9 human beings have read my now obsolete thesis. Another 100 may have read my empirical articles and some 3,000 more have read my self-published book on applied cognitive psychology to sport. The number is of no matter except for the fact that, for my own satisfaction, there remains more in me to contribute.
     Please enjoy the pictures of Oxford scattered through this update. I hope those who have never visited this place can get a sense of what it is like from the pictures and words, or at least what it all means to me. No, I must not journey across the Atlantic to do my scholarship, but this environment does facilitate the work. Mostly, coming here was a way to pay for my global learning. May I also say, in closing, that it appears this relatively new genre of blogging can take many forms. Whether writing the blog or the essays on Hobbes, to paraphrase Walt Whitman as apparently many have in their own blogs and writings, and made popular by Robin William’s movie lines: it is here in Oxford, and in England, where I shall contribute my verse to the powerful play. –TW

              St. Giles
   Woodstock Road
              - Oxford

    Other works I have obtained at the Bodleian Library and in various college libraries across the university have been invaluable for pulling together arguments for my papers and essays. For example, not knowing how I did not run across this last summer, there is a collection at the Bodleian of all the correspondence of Hobbes that I obtained in the lower reading room. I hope to study from those documents in the coming and final week here because they are too numerous to photograph or save to disk and take with me. In addition, it turns out there is a wealth of criticism and even fearful misconception written by critics of Hobbes. While much of this has been collected and addressed by other modern authors (e.g., Mintz, 1970), clues can be found in the referenced works that may point to how things worked out for Hobbes. That is, part of my fascination is the immediate negative take and severe criticism of Hobbes by his contemporaries mostly on theological grounds that

   Turl Street,

evaporated in the subsequent centuries as the scientific method developed and philosophers began to embrace views nearly identical to his own. It is this ignorance of Hobbes’ first statements of the material mind and the shift in thinking among scholars toward his system that are significant to my work which attempts to show modern psychology these overlooked contributions to our conceptions of Mind and where we might go from here as a discipline.
    The coming week is perhaps my last chance to collect as much literature and “data” as possible to marshal evidence for my own papers that I plan to spend the early months of 2013 writing while on sabbatical leave. Of course, I just may return next year during that term, to do much of the writing, if I can manage the flight and lodging. I learned just today that Somerville maintains several guest rooms for scholars like myself even during the school year.
    The focus on Thomas Hobbes not- withstanding, several insights I am having this week are more related to new interpretations of Descartes’ system, in contrast, during the same period of history. My growing understanding of Hobbes is beginning to serve as the “contrast” by which I can realize new ideas from Descartes’ evolving philosophy. While here I have sent off a few emails to colleagues explaining these developments and to obtain their feedback. It continues to be quite a challenge to pull all of this together, but I have faith that by diligently increasing my knowledge of these philosophical systems the time will come when the words in my computer write themselves.

  My Window

    Okay, enough of the banter—this travel blog is no place to launch a thesis on modern philosophy and the future of psychology (and science generally). I will end this update by saying that it appears everything is set for the arrival of the students in London at the end of this coming week to begin my class and engage in teaching once again. I believe they are well prepared from my many communications and will not only enjoy their time in Great Britain but learn a great deal as well. Study Abroad is such an amazing way to learn, with hands-on and on-site discovery that goes well beyond what one can learn by reading about it in books.  The "Concepts of Mind" will come alive for them as we travel around England, at least this is my hope, and so after another update or two from Oxford (below) the blogging will continue on the Olympics and Class page (not tabbed), with some additional side trips to France and Spain. --TW

        Olympics and Class             Back to Top

Update - 3 July
     As can be seen by the pictures posted for this update, the last three days here in Oxford have been rather wet.  These are good days for keeping my nose in books, the laptop which I am also using for this blog, and the Bodleian Library.  It is remarkable the material I can obtain here with my temporary Academic Reader library card.  Much material, like old volumes that have been digitized and articles from journals some of which I did not know even existed, have been downloaded to personal disk.  Now I have to read it all!
      Indeed, today I spent most of the day inside the basement level of the Radcliffe Camera, part of the library system, reading from a 1952 book titled "English Travellers Abroad 1604-1667."  It is a fascinating work of history compiled from state reports royal in the days of James I and Charles I, letters, and the travel memoirs of significant Englishmen.  In the sections on travelers to France and to Italy several pages were dedicated to Hobbes' Grand Tours as tutor and governor to the sons of noblemen.  This is of interest to me as I piece together the timing of his early interest in and first statements of psychological empiricism.  Clearly, his visit to Paris and on to Florence around 1636, where he met Descartes' friend Mersenne and Galileo, respectively, assist me in this timeline.
      There is nothing of travel importance for me to report from these last days, so here I will simply post a few pictures to give you a sense of the weather.  The next update, starting on the left, includes some photos of colleagues with whom I will meet up prior to my departure to London and the Study Abroad class I will be teaching there. --TW
      And the weather improved here today on my final day at Oxford, as you can see.  Took a long walk this morning in North Oxford to get out of the city center and see more of the neighborhoods surrounding the university.  These are the final pictures for this web page.  The house rows are very nice, peaceful walking streets and old trees, and I am told very expensive homes.  I imagine the university tutors (faculty) and administrators live throughout these streets.  I also took the picture to the left of the storefront of a "Chemist" to show everyone at home that the British do indeed refer to their pharmacists in the old way.
     Had cocktail prawns with mary rose sauce for launch, which I can't get enough of, tea, and then the remainder of the day was spent finalizing my downloaded literature at the library lower reading room.  I seem to know my away around the library buildings pretty well now and hope to return in the coming year.  I feel this visit has been extremely successful; I will take home a grand professional library of sorts, electronic reference material all on disk.  The next update will be written from London after meeting my 17 students.  Cheers, Oxford, until next time! --TW

      Travel Calendar             Go to Next Update
                         Back to Top
Prof Returns
British Upper Lips generally Stiff
London Preps for the Games 
Tabloids say Londoners in Denial

         University of Oxford Photo Album
  Sheldonian Theatre
                      Sheldonian Theatre
                Cornmarket Street at George
                        Somerville College
                        Magdalen College
                         Mansfield College
                    Jesus College (Welsh)
    Soon a small group of young people entered the square and walked about to find a place not shaded for themselves. They did not sit on the grass rather they stood, in a circle, and began to read aloud from a script, clearly the first read-through for some future performance. And where have I engaged in this sort of work in my experience? Sitting around a table or in a circle of seats, in an air-conditioned room somewhere on the second floor in the memory of my youth. It has been said that Oxford is a city of books, and it is true every college has its own extensive library within the system, every street a book shop or textbook store. All races and ages of people are about their business and most all of them carrying a book or backpack or briefcase. Yet I find the university itself to be an open book to be studied and these serene spaces, often secret environs, are pages in which to lose oneself in feelings of contentment and clarity in one’s own thoughts.
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                 Harris-Manchester College
                         Trinity College
                           Exeter College
                          Lincoln College

    Back to Top                 TRAVEL CALENDAR
Update - 30 June
     I posted the last update on 28th in the morning, then took the train to London and spent the day on family history at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, in the archive there.  Closing for the Olympics next week, I got in a full day of research and was able to confirm several hypotheses regarding my ancestors.  See the ship in a giant bottle at the museum entrance.  The famous Green and entire area is under construction to create several venues for the July Games.
     Continued my academic work at Oxford yesterday and today I enjoyed sunshine after a rain shower in the early morning.  Did some shopping and mailing today and, as far as my scholarly activity, I have enjoyed several insights this past week while in my Somerville College guest room.  As can be seen below, the materials I can easily retrieve here, and some only here, will assist me tremendously going forward back home.  For example, the following 18th century commentary by Bishop Warburton (1698-1779) is from the first edition text.  While the Bishop clearly disdains Hobbes for his dogmaticism and Lucretienism, he nevertheless praises his mind and gives Hobbes all due credit for his originality before John Locke:

                         Wadham College

                         St. John's College

                           New College
                Botanical Gardens - Entrance
                   Parish Church of St. Giles
                            "English Summer"
Update - 5 July
     Well, I hope you all had a happy Independence Day compatriots!  While its all good, I always try not to spread word of our revolution around here in the Mother Country--LOL. As you can see from the posted pictures from the last three days, I did meet up with my colleagues as planned.  Dr. Henson is a professor of communications who is a fellow of a research institute here at Oxford this summer.  We enjoyed a traditional afternoon tea, as you can see.  Then yesterday I took the train to Reading and met up with my good friends Julien and Melody Carriere in Caversham where I first ate British fish & chips in 2010.  My friends just finished teaching their study abroad classes in Paris in June.  Like last year, we planned this dinner abroad together and the Reading area was perfect, only 30 minutes away from Oxford by train.  Notice one of my books on Hobbes on the table foreground!
      After their visit to the Samuel Beckett Institute, they are moving on to Ireland for a time and then enjoying a holiday in Sicily before returning to the States!  I'll guess the weather will be just fine there.

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