I studied in England for almost ten years doing a Ph.D. at London School of economics. In London the cultural life is amazing, and so one can do what ever one wants to do culturally easily, which for me was going to Plays and watching Movies from all over the world. National Film Theater was right across Waterloo Bridge from my school so I would study during the day and go to a rare movie at night many days, so that I received a whole education in film at the same time as pursuing my other studies. And then of course there are new plays all the time, and excellent acting, and it is just the best possible place for theater experiences of the highest quality. And then London itself is a fascinating place where there are people from all over the world, living together, and so I would walk from one end of the city to the other, and came to know it like the back of my hand. Eventually I started riding my bike all over London and it increased my range to explore the city. And then there are restaurants of every description, and it is a whole adventure to find the best ones that are affordable as a student and to eat at these places and explore new cuisines from the world over. In london they have a magazine called time out which puts what is happening around the city at your fingertips. So what ever your bent you can indulge in the arts and culture to your hearts content which is a whole education in itself. And of course there are the art museums that one can visit regularly and see great art collections, which it is good to visit often to see the same pieces over and over again. I walked through the British Museum every day and tried to take a different route and see something different, but my favorite thing in the Museum was the pieces from Sutton Ho, I lived in Highgate area and regularly I would walk across all of London via the parks. You could go all the way to Kew gardens via parks with short gaps where you had to walk through streets between the parks. I would get up in the morning and walk across the Heath down to a tea shop in hampstead to have breakfast, and then go down to school or where ever I was going to study. And between the Senate House, the Library of the London School of Economics and the British Museum there was every book that had been printed practically. So I would study in the British Museum most of the time, reading books from the Philosophy section of the Senate library. Also if you are going to the University of London you can take classes in any of its schools, and so there is a wide variety of courses on offer to be taken if one feels up to it. But if you are doing a Ph.D. there you do not have to take any classes, but you are free to spend your time studying what ever takes your fancy, and so one may learn a lot in various disciplines if one is diligent in ones pursuit of knowledge.
When you get sick finally, as I did of the city, you can get a place in the country and then live in a cottage in the countryside, as I did where it is easier to concentrate on ones studies when one starts writing ones dissertation. I lived in a village a tiny cottage and would get up everyday, go for a walk in the country, and then write for hours on the working papers for my dissertation. After the intensity of life in London living in the country is a good break, but you can always take the train down to London to get books, and see ones advisor, and do other cultural events if one is so inclined. And then trips to Scotland and Yorkshire or Brighton, or Oxford and Cambridge are also worthwhile excursions just for a break.
Eventually one returns home to America fundamentally transformed because one has actually experienced high culture, high academic institutions that are world class, and all the wonder of living in one of the worlds greatest cities, which is an adventure in itself. What one learns is that there is a whole world out there that Americans just do not know exists. The rest of the world knows it exists, and only we who think we are so powerful that we dominate the world, but we do not know that world we dominate. And we do not realize how superficial most things are in America, how shallow we are as a people, and how flimsy what we take as culture to be. We are strong in our economy due to its vastness, and we are good at technology, and we have developed powerful military that can police the world. But this world we dominate is very different from our homegrown vision of it, and basically we live in a self imposed illusion as to the nature of the relations between nations and peoples around the world because our media has oversimplified everything into trite statements, while the phenomena itself is very complex, nuanced, and with untold variety. For instance our political spectrum is just that a linear displacement along a single line from left to right. But in Europe the political field is multidimensional, and that is a wake up call for someone who only thinks of politics as linear in its inherent dimension. When all the peoples of the world converge in a single city then it is has a very rich texture which has infinite variety to experience. If you are an expatriate living overseas for a long time one is never part of their social structure, but one is not at home either, and so that gives one a kind of freedom to explore possibilities that you would not have either at home or if you were a native of the place one is living for a long time. Toruists never get the culture that they are in. It takes years to get over ones presuppositions and to actually understand the differences in the place one is living abroad. You live in places that tourists never see, but which are the real places worth being in within that culture. For instance Highgate and Hampstead are villages outside London that were engulfed by the city, and so they still have that rustic feel to some extent, and so they are different from all the other parts of London, and they verge on either side of the Heath which is the great open space in London, and so it is a good place to escape from the city without leaving it. If you don’t have a car then one walks or rides busses or the tube everywhere and so you are constantly in contact with the people of the city, and there are myriad chance meetings and friendships that develop with people normally in America one would never meet because of our encapsulated existence in suburbs, cars, and on our private property. The sameness of driving, and the fact that every shopping center has the same franchised shops, so that everything is bland here is in sharp comparison to England where there is lively street commerces and most of the shops are unique because of the way that the city was built so that the first floor of every building was a shop front. In the city there are plenty of interesting shops that you would never find elsewhere, my favorite example is the Left handed store where everything made of left handed people is available. The key is not just to visit the place but to become a resident for long enough to absorb the culture, and then you see the deep seated assumptions that American Society and Culture, such as it is, have shaped us and our relation to the world. Just as an example I met another graduate student studying math, and he invited me to his flat to talk about some esoteric sort of math he was studying in which i was interested. And it turned out that he was living in the flat where Sylvia Plath committed Suicide. He showed me the oven that she stuck her head in when she did it. It had probably not changed a bit since she lived there. If you had read Sylvia Plath’s depressing poetry, and knew who she was then this sudden surprise of being in the very place where she lived her last days and killed her self was both shocking and also gave you some insight into her desperation. Each building associated with a historic figure is marked and you can see where the famous people lived who fill our imaginations with their works. So just walking down the street in London is a history lesson in itself. History is palpable in London, as where ever you turn is a building with a plaque on it siting some famous person or some event that is well known in our history. So one is tempted to dive into history and find out the stories of those people who have plaques that you have never heard of. If you experience different value systems in foreign lands one is able to better gauge ones own value system, and the lapses where we take things for granted that are just not true anywhere else in the world. For instance, what we take as poverty in our country would be riches anywhere else in the third world. In england you are more in touch with the rest of the world because of all the people you meet from other countries, you learn about things you never knew exited because our media never covers most of what is actually happening in the world.
Be transformed, get out of America for a significant period of time, somewhere where the horizons of experience open up, and for english speakers the best place to start is England. We are Elizabethans fundamentally, because that is when we broke away from England. The Indians are Victorians. But English culture has continued to evolve, some would say languish. But what is happening socially and culturally in england is something very different from our Elizabethan take on the world here in America that is so limited in every possible way. Anyone who has not experienced living abroad for extended periods has no idea of the box we are in, and which we cannot see out of. And our blindness to the reality of the Other effects the world in radical ways because we are the Romans of our day. Other countries have real culture, and civilization, and to some extent we are still barbarians, which has its good and bad points. We are naive and tend to get lured into conflicts that are not our own by the cagey English. But because we are Elizabethans we do not have the insipid qualities of English society rooted in Class structures.
I went to a world renowned university that no one knows about here in the USA.
It is called University of London. But because it is broken up into a number of Colleges all over London, no one quite notices that it is there. And certainly few in the US know it exists, because somehow they think that there is only Oxford and Cambridge that are “world renowned”.
For instance in this list it is broken up http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2010-2011/top-200.html
But actually it is just one big institution http://www.london.ac.uk/colleges_institutes.html
“The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. The teaching is carried by the 19 Colleges and Institutes that comprise the University. When studying with the University you belong to a particular College as well as the University of London itself.”
“Between the Colleges and Institutes we have over 120,000 students studying over 3700 courses. Not all of our students are actually located in London either: some study at the University of London Institute in Paris or in the Marine Biological station in Millport, Scotland and we have over 50,000 students studying by distance and flexible learning in 180 countries with the University of London International Programmes.”
So hopefully this will establish the University of London as world renowned, well except for those who live in the USA.
Of the schools that make up the University of London I attended the London School of Economics.
The Fulbright Commission states that “The London School of Economics and Political Science is the leading social science institution in the world”
These rankings would be higher I am sure if the various colleges were aggregated. We do not talk about individual colleges in Oxford or Cambridge.
Anyway, what was it like from1973 to 1982?
First of all it is in London which is the Culture capital of the world. So there are lots of cultural things to do there. But the flip side of that is that there is no student life. You only see other students in class. So the real draw of the University of London is in fact the cultural life of London. The school has become much bigger than I was there, but at that time it was almost invisible down an alley way, with fairly old buildings, but famous faculty. The most famous professor I actually had was Gellner who sent his time making fun of Wittgenstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Gellner).
If you are a student at one School you can take classes at any of the schools of the University of London so I audited classes at Kings College about Philosophy of Science, the schools speciality when I was there. I arrived just after Lakatos had Feyerabend teaching at the school. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imre_Lakatos; He died the year I arrived.) It was very popular at the school at that time so I oriented my research toward Philosophy of Science even though I was in Sociology, and that was allowed at the school at that time. Basically once you got in you could follow where ever your research took you. I was rare at that time because I was interested in Continental Philosophy and trying to apply it to understand philosophy of science problems. My dissertation was called The Structure of Theoretical Systems in relation to Emergence. (http://archonic.net/disab.html)
Also you could use the libraries at Senate House, University College London, whose philosophy library is incredible. Basically they buy everything published in Philosophy within the commonwealth I believe. And across the street is the British Museum. So I would check philosophy books out of the Senate House library and then go across the street to read them in the British Museum Library, and anything they did not have was available in the British Museum Library. So basically any book was available, and so I dedicated myself to reading what ever fascinated me. Then when I was tired of reading I would go to movies. For instance you could walk across the Waterloo Bridge and go to the National Film Theater across the Thames. And there were myriad other cinemas, playhouses etc that one could pass the time with, and if you were not doing that then there were teashops, and pubs to visit. And just walking though London itself was a fascinating experience because there were people there from all over the world, and the architecture in every part of town was different based on when it was built. At that time there were lots of interesting bookstores and books were fairly cheap, even though they were dear on a students budget. I especially liked going to the various museums over and over to see the new exhibits, but also the permanent displays. In those days you could live in a bedsit for 10 pounds a week. So there was enough money to eat out every night at the myriad restaurants with foods from all over the world and to buy books. I got there before they raised the fees on International students and so I think my tuition was about about 250 pounds per semester, and after three or four years that went down to 10 pounds per semester continuation fees. My fees did not go up even though they raised them on new students so I lucked out on that score.
I went to do a masters. But when I went to my courses they handed out bibliographies of about 300 books for each of four classes. I asked my advisor how I could read 1200 books in a year, and he said that the other students had spent 3 years reading those books, and they were just suppose to brush up and read those that they had not read already. So when I asked how I could do that with only 24 units of Sociology before arriving, my advisor said one path was to try to get into the Ph.D. program because the masters was for those who did not want to go on to a Ph.D. So I transfered to M.Phil, and then to Ph.D. after I produced some papers that was the equivalent to writing a masters, but was just a rite of passage and not a degree. So I went on to do the Ph.D. I made the mistake of not writing anything until the end. And then I wrote too much and had trouble condensing it. Eventually I had to write on a subject that I did not know as well so that I would be limited in what I could write. I had written 1000 pages of working papers when I finally decided I had read enough, and then they asked me to summarize the argument in that, and that was a fairly long outline, and then I was asked to define my terms and I was in the letter C when I realized I would never graduate at this rate, so I picked another subject and wrote my dissertation on that and it passed, not without drama. And then I was done once the External had decided based on my orals that I actually knew what I was talking about. The orals went all over the place, and lasted a long time, several hours, and I was questioned about all kinds of things not even related to my dissertation. I was glad I had spent so much time reading irrelevant material because it allowed me to pass that exam. But when I was finished I asked my main advisor whether it had taken me too long to finish and he said I was about average. I think they had 15 years as the limit at that time and I came in at nine years. After the orals he said now I had a General Education and I could get on with my real studies. I was shocked at that because I thought I had specialized, but rather he saw that as laying the ground work for future research rather than an end point. And it is true I have gone on to do lots more research over the years in many subjects. I had picked a subject that fascinated me. When I read a book I read the things mentioned in that book that fascinated me. So I was always interested in what I was reading, and it took me all over the map in terms of subjects, but that was good because I knew about a lot of different subjects when it came to the wide ranging questions in the orals. Everything was based on the final Dissertation that had been written. No courses were necessary. Mastery of ones field was what was expected.
How to survive a thesis defence
Survive your viva http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/sep/16/highereducation.postgraduate
Preparing for the PhD Viva
When I was there I called up Ph.Ds from the USA from interlibrary loan and compared them to the ones I was reading at University of London. There was no comparison. This was extremely sobering to realize the difference between education in the UK and education in America. And I believe that the same kind of disparity exists between Germany and the UK. Defenses are public in Germany. In the UK it is by someone from another University. There is no departmental committee that one has to please. One never knows who one’s external is going to be.
I did a PhD and did NOT go mad http://public.randomnotes.org/richard/PhDtalk.html
Actually I did go Mad.
How not to get a PhD .. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/nov/08/highereducation.books
I overestimated what it would take and did way more than was necessary in terms of writing, but in terms of the Oral exams I was glad I studied lots of irrelevant subjects.
Chances of getting a PH.D. — PhD ‘failure’ rates revealed
“At LSE, a 45 per cent qualification rate compares to the 67 per cent benchmark.”
As a long winded writer with poor structure to my answers I thought this was the perfect question for me to answer.
Now I don’t claim to speak for other long winded Ph.D.s or those others who have poorly structured answers, or both like me.
First of all I don’t just write long winded poorly structured prose on Quora, but everything I write is like that. And for me it is a matter of poor early education. The only reason I got to go to college was that if you graduated from high school in my state the university had to take you. So my Mom sent me off to what she thought would be my only semester of college, figuring she would be remodeling her kitchen the next semester. She was somewhat shocked when I came back with all Bs and As and on the honor roll for the school. And so it went for the rest of my career in University. And then she was really disappointed when I got into the London School of Economics, because that spelled more years when her kitchen would need remodeling, but she could not do it because she was supporting me through school.
So how does someone who is poorly educated in ones youth so one really never learns how to write properly, get through school without really learning how to write concisely and with proper structure, and why does someone like that tend to write long and rambling treatises that tend to look like those of other philosophers.
As far as I can see, the root of the problem is that in Graduate school and even to some extent in University they really only care about your ideas not your writing style. If you have lots of interesting ideas but cannot really express them very well, then you get by. But even if you write really well, if you don’t really have any ideas that are novel, then you tend to do poorly. Ours is not an education system that focuses on style, like the Chinese for instance who demanded good calligraphy, good poetic style, good writing, and memorization of the classics above all else. Ours is a system that values ideas, especially novel or deep ones over all else. And how well you express those novel or deep ideas is not really very important. That was important in Grade School, and High School, the part of my education that was not very good despite living in suburbia. When I look back I realize I just had a lot of very bad teachers who really did not care to teach me how to write properly, and so that was a great loss for me. What would have really helped is if they had forced me to learn French, German, Greek, Chinese, etc as well but the American educational system is really not that good, compared to say Europe, and I just managed to have the bad luck to get a string of not very good teachers in my youth, and I really regretted that later when I realized that I liked to write.
However, there is more to it than that, I believe. Since the Educational System in University and Graduate School are centered on ideas, and the production of novel ideas or deeper ones are valued more than anything else, particularly in Britain, other factors come into play. For instance, it is really difficult to produce those novel or deeper ideas, and their expression normally is difficult at first, and so when you are in the process of discovering ideas then ones writing becomes very obscure. That is because many times one does not know oneself what one is really trying to say. One tends to be repetitive in ones writing as one attempts to try to say it in a way that one can understand it oneself. And a lot of time the ideas themselves are complicated, because one is building on the basis of theories that are already very complicated. And a lot of time is spent writing exploring and seeking elusive ideas or concepts that are difficult to grasp and even more difficult to express. And by the way since one is reading difficult texts, one tends to write like the texts that one is reading, like Being and Time, Being and Nothingness, Critique of Pure Reason, Phenomenology of Mind, Phenomenology of Perception, Logical Investigations, The Essence of Manifestation, etc. These are the core philosophy books that are the basis of our tradition, and unfortunately no one said to Heidegger to keep it short, simple and to the point. So long obscure writing breeds more long obscure writing. But why are these other books so long and difficult. Well one reason is that they are grappling with ideas that are extremely difficult, and philosophy just keeps getting more and more complicated. To read Badiou’s Being and Event for example you have to study Set Theory and Cantor, and Cohen. You cannot get along just by knowing some Philosophy, but you have to study Set Theory carefully because Badiou prides himself on the fact that he knows the Set Theory as well as the Set Theorists himself.
For instance, Zizek set out to make Lacan comprehensible by reducing him to Hegel. Lacan is one of the most obscure writers there is anywhere. So Zizek’s presentation although comprehensible is still very difficult because he is making Lacan comprehensible by appealing to Hegel who is also one of the most obscure of the Philosophers. In other words our tradition is founded on some very difficult texts that are obscure and unreadable for most people. And anyone who tries to deal with these texts are going to tend to write like them, and is going to tend to be complicated just as they are. But if you are interested in novel ideas or deep concepts then that is something one learns to put up with, because you do not get the gold unless you are willing to mine it. Very seldom is it just laying out on the ground like in the Gold Rush. Mostly it is in veins deep underground, where one has to seek it in obscurity and incomprehensibility, and where our knowledge is vague, ambiguous, and amorphous.
My idea on Quora is to not just answer questions, but to use questions, sometimes silly questions as a jumping off point for exploring new territory that I would not ordinarily think about. I am interested in learning something in the writing. And that is the amazing thing about writing is that it can teach you things you would never have known if you did not write about it. And I figure that even though I am long winded and my exploratory answers are not well structured, that what I write here is nothing compared to the books I have read and studied in order to be able to say something about them. And some people like complicated things, just for the heck of it. They see thinking deeply and trying to have new ideas a challenge, and perhaps they would like to see someone else struggling to do that, so that they can get an idea how it is done. It is done of course through synthesis. And synthesizes of many different thinkers and trains of thought are difficult to produce, and even more difficult to explain. Besides that it takes a lot more time to be concise and to boil things down to their essentials and I just don’t have that much time. Since I am doing all this writing without seeking any reward for it, I have to do what is effective for myself. I do not have a customer so to speak because the number of people interested in the things I am interested in are so few, that we can probably count them on one hand. However, if just one person learns something from what I am writing then it seems to me it is worth the effort. And a few people have signified that they appreciated something that I had written. At least I get thanks sent to me occasionally. Sometimes I even get upvoted. But even if no one upvoted me or thanked me I would probably do this anyway. The reason is that I have very wide interests, and the questions on Quora allow me to explore a wide swath of my interests, and to make that public on by Blog, Twitter, G+ etc, where I am looking for the few that might find what i am interested in interesting themselves. It allows me to explore more than I would explore left to my own devices. I would not write papers about all these things. It would be a lot of work to write papers, like the ones I put on the Web. And it would be even more work to get them ready for publication by going through multiple revisions for each paper like I do when I present them at conferences. Here I can make a sketch, find out if there is anything interesting in the question by trying to answer it and then move on to something else that tickles my fancy. As Zizek says there are all these ticklish subjects around that need stroking. [Joke]
So my question is to everyone, why would you want well structured and short, succinct and too the point answers anyway? It seems to me that what is of value is the novelty and depth of the ideas, and if they cannot be expressed simply, concisely and to the point without degrading the ideas then one just has to put up with the difficulties of expression, especially in a civilization such as ours where everything is complicated, computer programs for instance. Of course, I agree if you can have a novel idea or a deep concept that is simply expressed, easily comprehensible and succinct that is preferable, but I have not found very many of those in my studies. Seems like all the worthwhile things are difficult to unearth and are usually expressed in long winded and ill structured texts for the most part like Being and Event for example which has interludes that wander all over the place. It is not just about Set Theory but everything else under the sun as Badiou tries to make it believable that he is dealing with all of Ontology. Now another thing that has to be taken into account which is that 99% or even more of what is published is not worth reading. That is because it really does not contain any ground breaking ideas, and it is all very well written and very well structured. So there is plenty of boring things out there to read that are just as one might want in terms of simplicity, conciseness, and structural integrity. It is a lot easier to do that it appears if you really do not have much to say. But as soon as you start to try to express something that no one has understood before then everything becomes obscure, ill-structured, messy, difficult, and just plain hard. And if you want to get those ideas out of the material then you have to slog through it, analyze it, undestand it, write about it, diagram it, talk about it with others, and generally be obsessed with it until you get what is being said.
So this is a long winded ill-structured reply to a question about why Ph.D.s do that kind of thing. I think they do it because they are fascinated about the subjects they find relevant and significant. They have put considerable effort into understanding those things, and have learned to express themselves in the same difficult manner as the authors that they have read. And even some like me slip though the cracks and become scholars without knowing the basics. But for the most part we are creatures of the educational system, and the tradition, and we are merely mirroring it back to you in ourselves. It is difficult, it is obscure, it is opaque, and in many ways we become that way ourselves in the process of trying our best to understand it for ourselves.