Carolyn Dicey Jennings is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of California, Merced working on the topic of attention. She did her undergraduate work at University of St Andrews, her graduate work at Boston University, and a postdoc at the University of Antwerp.
What excites you about philosophy?
Philosophy is incredibly rich and flexible—philosophers study just about any topic using just about any method. So philosophy is, in terms of payoffs, a high risk/high reward discipline. I imagine the great philosophers as the Olympic athletes of the intellectual community—pushing boundaries and revealing new possibilities. It is very exciting to be part of a system that allows for that, even if I do not turn out to be an Olympian.
What is your favorite sound in the world?
My dog howling. It is basic and beautiful. I sometimes try to howl with her, but she doesn’t seem much pleased with that.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
I am proud of my ability to acknowledge, to myself and others, what I don’t know.
What is your favorite holiday and why?
Lunar New Year: It is a cheery holiday in the dead of winter, what’s not to like?
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
So far: My dissertation. I worked with advisors who have very different backgrounds and perspectives, who I chose for that reason. It was important to me to understand as well as I could philosophical views that were opposed to mine. It was also important for me to forge my own path between these many views. I think I succeeded in this, and I am happy with the work I did in that time. I hope that my first book, which I am working on now, becomes my next greatest accomplishment. I can also do a mean headstand, and it was pretty great the first time that happened.
What’s your most treasured memory?
Here is one: Standing outside in Texas as a young child watching the trees move in the wind, when I had a sudden feeling of deep understanding. I felt that I had a theory of everything. I went inside to tell my parents, and my father asked what the theory was. I thought about it and responded, “I forgot,” humiliated. I haven’t spoken about this with my father since, and I have no real insight into what I was thinking then, but I remember that feeling as well as the forgetting with wistful curiosity about my own mind at the time and about developing minds in general.
What’s your top tip or advice for APA members reading this?
Don’t do philosophy alone—develop a network of those you enjoy doing philosophy with, whether like-minded and friendly or not.
When did you last sing to yourself, or to someone else?
Yesterday I quietly sang to myself snippets of that ridiculous, overwrought song from Spectre, the new James Bond movie, for maybe the tenth time since seeing it a week ago: Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall.”
Find out more about Carolyn here.
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