At the beginning of my Master’s in 2013, I was lumped together with all of the anthropology students in a mandatory one-semester course creatively named “ANT1000: Introductory Master’s Workshop”. To this day, I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of that course was, although I think they tried to teach us basic research skills. What I do remember was that the theme was Spaces and Places, and we were meant to discuss different anthropological theories in this context. Our class size was about 40 – and all of them were sociocultural anthropologists except for myself and three others, who were in biological/physical/forensic anthropology. Needless to say, the four of us had very little to contribute to this conversation. To us, it sounded like the class was just discussing semantics – what is a space, and how is it different from a place?
A typhoon is a tropical cyclone, and is similar to a hurricane except that a typhoon only occurs in the Northwest Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, typhoons are extremely destructive storms, and I was flying right over one on my way to Nagasaki, Japan.
In September, I was on my way to collect data at Nagasaki University with Etienne, who had agreed to help me with organizing and randomizing the skulls so that I could assess them blindly. To get there from Leicester, it took three days of travelling, with one flight per day and layovers in Dubai and Tokyo. By the time we were on my last flight between Tokyo and Nagasaki, I was tired but excited to finally land and unpack my things. It was on this flight, however, that we were flying over a typhoon. Needless to say, it was the worst flight I’ve ever had in my life – the aircraft was tossed about quite violently, and we endured two hours of being thrown around nauseatingly in our seats. Finally, we landed safely and my contact at the University of Nagasaki, Dr. Tsurumoto, kindly met us at the airport and confirmed that my equipment had safely arrived the week prior. We were driven to the guest house on campus where we would stay for the next while. This guest house impressively survived the atomic bombing in World War II almost intact, so after that typhoon experience, I was glad to be in a very sturdy building:
Vita sine litteris mors.
Life without learning [is] death.
~Epistle 82, Letters from a Stoic
I quite like to think that modern science is somewhat based upon the philosophies of Stoicism, which emphasized knowledge as a product of reason. Not only do we know what we know through logical inductions and deductions, but scientists often seek to understand the deeper natural causes of phenomena, what the Stoic philosophers referred to as “Fate”. In modern terms, we prefer to call this “high-level theory”.
Seneca’s Letters, or the Epistulae, to Lucilius in Ancient Rome contain deep philosophical advice on a wide number and variety of topics. While this blog post will certainly not attempt a discussion of a similar magnitude, I do want to highlight a few pieces of advice I’ve learned this month.