Philosophy major Wade Greiten tells us about his experience conducting research over summer 2012 as a University Summer Scholar (information on the Summer Research Grants in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences is available here):
BY WADE GREITEN
My summer research project was on the topic of pictorial representation, i.e., how a picture can be about something. Though I surveyed most of the dominant theories on the subject, I eventually settled on an analysis of a more contemporary theory set forth by Dominic Lopes in his book, Understanding Pictures. The general idea was that a picture represents a subject by means of two processes. First, the picture conveys perceptual information to the observer through design patterns, or aspects, that correspond to the subject of the picture. Second, the observer receives this perceptual information and combines it with past visual experiences of similar types of objects and this allows him to perform the requisite cognitive act of subject identification.
Though this was the central idea of the paper I wrote, I learned quite a bit of other stuff about art, language, and even a bit of psychology. I learned what cubism is. I learned about the highly technical theory of reference that Gareth Evans sets out in The Varieties of Reference. I read three rather large books from cover to cover. All sorts of good stuff. But also, and perhaps more importantly, I learned that I love doing philosophy even when no one is requiring me to do philosophy.
You have roughly four months to write a research paper that will never be graded and you get paid the same regardless of how much work you put into it. Also, you only have one deadline for the paper and it’s an entire summer away. Once I realized these facts, I also realized that the research project is really a test of how much you like whatever subject you picked. Why would you want to sit down and read journal essays and sketch out drafts when you have another hundred or so days to do it? There is no plausible reason other than that you find it worthwhile for its own sake.
The end result of my experience was that I affirmed a belief I’ve been toying with for my entire stay here. I really do love philosophy. The degree, the loans, the grades, while important, and just a bit worrying, are secondary to the joy to be found in reading and thinking and writing about something wonderful. Doing a summer research project on a topic you know nothing about other than that you find it fascinating, and getting yourself to read all sorts of strange and wondrous things when you could be out lounging in the sun– it gives you a pretty nice feeling, and I’m glad I got to do it before I go off into the world with my degree because it reassures me. It reminds me that I am studying something I love and makes me think that maybe I could keep doing this sort of thing for a long time with very few regrets.