At Rice, I foolishly thought of philosophy as an avocation, something to do on the side. I did take the Humanities 100 course taught by Radoslav Tsanoff. That course, along with others, opened new doors for my understanding of philosophy.
Spinoza was a key figure for me. His ideas about God, glossed as “God or Nature,” made sense to me. They allowed for a kind of spirituality while simultaneously challenging most ideas of organized religions. The method he adopted for his Tractatus Politicus, “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them,” still seems to be a good motto for anthropology, politics, or ordinary living.
My biology studies not only expanded my understanding of evolution; they also led me to think more deeply about issues such as life and death, connections, and the place of humans in the universe. Joseph Davies teaching and writing were important, especially in connecting evolution to every aspect of life.
It is no surprise then that I was drawn to Darwin’s words, starting with his observations about a tangled bank:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolvedOn the Origin of Species
I had a summer job at the Clinical Research Center in Fort Worth. A neighbor, Gentry Harris, a psychiatrist who worked on phantom limbs, also worked there. He would give me a ride most days. We discussed Plato (notably Meno on whether we learn by recollection of knowledge or by experience in this life), Piaget, and many others along the way.