Micah Tillman is a Core Division instructor at Stanford Online High School, teaching philosophy of science courses to 9th and 10th graders. He is also the creator and host of the Top 40 Philosophy podcast.
What excites you about philosophy?
Two things: (1) the intellectual adventure of exploring ideas (and exploring the world through ideas), and (2) the fact that doing philosophy can help us improve ourselves and our world. The chance to walk with students through both the exploration and growth is a great privilege.
What are you working on right now?
My current research project seeks to understand mereology and aesthetics using the concept of dependent identity. My primary role in the philosophical ecosystem, however, is that of evangelist. To that end, I produce the Top 40 Philosophy podcast, which explores pop music using philosophy (and philosophy using music). Then there’s the computer program I wrote for teaching symbolic logic. The program translates logical proofs into a kind of “RPG” card game, and I’m currently working on its third major update.
If you could wake up tomorrow with a new talent, what would you most like it to be?
The ability to write stories. I think most humans get most of their philosophy from stories, and I would love to be able to write them. Perhaps I should take a class!
What’s your personal philosophy?
I would dearly love to know that myself. I’m convinced, for example, that both Plato and Aristotle are right, and I have no idea how to reconcile that contradiction. I also am particular to movements that seem to straddle the line between Analytic and Continental, like pragmatism and phenomenology. I think wistfully of a time when Frege debated Husserl, and Russell was praising Logical Investigations—before the English Channel became so philosophically significant.
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would that be and why?
Dallas Willard. I have an article forthcoming on his work in The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America (ed. Michela Beatrice Ferri, Springer). He was a great teacher, scholar, translator, philosopher, and theologian, in addition to being a wise and generous person.
Which books have changed your life? In what ways?
At heart I am a deontologist, but Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics taught me to adopt a “growth mindset” on issues of character and morality. Jo Boaler’s work on math education then helped me to solidify and generalize my new understanding.
Before Aristotle and Boaler, there was the class in which we read a number of Nietzsche’s books. Those works taught me to ask whether my worldview and religion were life-giving—and how they could be made life-giving if they weren’t. (Nietzsche’s On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life has become one of my favorites.)
And, finally, Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken changed the way I think about (the possibilities of) games and education, leading to the creation of the logic game I discussed above.
Who do you think is the most underrated philosopher?
Edmund Husserl. Half of contemporary philosophy tends to ignore him (treating “phenomenology” as coextensive with “existentialism”) or misinterpret him, and the other half tends to treat him as deconstructed and superseded. I know he had his time in the spotlight, and we all should move on. But why can’t everyone else love him as much as I do? Is that too much to ask?
What technology do you wish the human race could invent right now?
Fusion energy reactors, first, but also something for reusing or recycling all the junk sitting in landfills. Here in Silicon Valley, I see many bins labeled “Recycle,” “Compost,” and “Landfill.” It would be great if we could whittle that down to just “Recycle” and “Compost.”
Find out more about Micah here!
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