If I can help it, I never tell people my major. Even though I do write for The Chronicle, my major isn't English-the only major prone to the unique phenomenon in which the majority of the people who regard it as useless are the ones studying it.
My major is philosophy, and the reason I try not to admit that is for the same reason I try not to tell people I go to Duke. It's because when I tell people they either a) believe I am a self-righteous academic who thinks I am better than them or b) don't think that but can see that I think they are thinking that, and then think that maybe I am a self-righteous academic who thinks I am better than them.
And because I'm a philosophy major, I see how many times I can make the "I-think-that-you-think-that-I-think" regression before my mind folds in on itself, and in the meantime, they've gone off to talk to someone more grounded, more articulate and more willing to at least put up the pretense of listening to them. A poli sci major, perhaps.
Truthfully, I do believe philosophy is an area of study that can be simultaneously more accessible than the Socratic arguments of ancient Rome and more relevant and profound than today's drug/alcohol-induced musings of adolescents.
Here, I'll prove it.
So this guy Theseus has this wooden ship and one day, a plank gets worn out, so Theseus removes it and replaces it with a new one. But Theseus must have had his ship built by the mythical equivalent of a UNC grad, because one by one, planks keep falling off and getting replaced, until finally every board on the ship has been changed.
So, is it still the original ship?
When I came to Duke, I had a boyfriend, a lack of confidence, a set "Future Plan" and an intense hatred for anyone who used "Google" as a verb. I leave Duke without any of those things-or at least, with lesser degrees of those things ("Googling" produces an involuntary wince, at best). Boards have been decimated or simply worn away and new ones have filled their place, for better or for worse.
So, am I still the same person I was when I came to Duke four years ago?
The poetic, easy answer is no. "No" means that I have a clean slate; it means not having to account for past actions, past mistakes. More concretely, however, "no" doesn't account for the "I think therefore I am" phenomena. If it could, I bet Theseus' ship would think, "This sucks losing all these boards-I wish I were built by that incredibly adept ship builder eight miles down the road!"
The important thing is that the irritated ship would think in terms of "I"-and so must we.
Sure, it's tough to realize that drunken hookups, pointed comments you shouldn't have uttered or that decision to major in English will all linger like irritating splinters (or in the case of the hookups, irritating skin diseases) that you can't fully toss overboard even when you ship out of the Gothic Wonderland.
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But this means every decision you make is much more significant because it will always define you. Every action taken, no matter how minuscule, has an effect-even if it is just on yourself. Like Theseus, when we want a change, we can just toss one board out and replace it with a better one. Unlike Theseus, however, probably not all of our boards will get replaced-whether it is because they stand the test of time or we refuse to part with them, no matter how tattered they get.
So instead of a new ship (an old ship?) we get a mishmash of the old and the new, creating that unique collage that embodies what it means to be a true Dukie-someone who strives for excellence, maintains individuality. and who's a little worn out from parties on deck. It's not effortless. It's not perfection. But it's the best way to run a ship.
Or at least, that's my philosophy.
Carolina Astigarraga is a Trinity senior. She is the Health and Science editor for The Chronicle. She would like to thank everyone on the staff of the 100-102nd volumes, but in particular Vicki, Steve, Jasten and her H/S staffers. She encourages anyone who has ever sneezed, used a computer or had a genome to consider writing for H/S because health and science are important, but best of all, really, really cool.