The Night Before an Infusion

Wonder-woman, a female heroine, strong, confident, determined. I'd been enamored with her since the 1980s when I'd perch next to my dad and watch old reruns of Lynda Carter raise her pumped fists and watch bullets ricochet off of her cuffs.

"I want to be her," I'd announced as I jumped off of the couch and ran around the house fighting injustice. Sure enough the very next day, my MacGyver of a father created cuffs that I could put on.

I've felt like Wonder-woman all my life, the hero-complex setting in early, until recently.  This path Ive been walking has me quivering in the darkness like a kid reacts when there is thunder and lighting outdoors. What I hadn't realized was, that I had to relearn how to stand tall and "fight like a woman."

Recently, my brother called me and asked, "Can you write a piece about the night before the storm?"

"What?" I asked.

"You know, the night before you go in for an infusion? What's it like? Mentally? Emotionally? I want to read about that."

"Fair enough," I said and added, "it will be a couple of weeks, but I did say that I was willing to write about whatever people wanted to hear."

Meanwhile, the fighter who was slowly emerging stepped back into the shadows and the demon in my head started raging, "You know you can't write about this, you know it's too much, you know you're only pretending to be strong when in reality you are weak!"

Doubt springs forth that day before. My reality-the kids, my husband, our life begins to slip away. I try to hold on, but it almost feels as though my hands are oily and there is nowhere to securely grab onto the fabric of life.

Often we go to church, where I thank God for the current day and know that in less than twenty-four hours I will be asked to carry the cross once more as they pump poison into my veins.  And once that process starts, I won't be able to write or think. I won't be able to talk or play. I will sit in a chair like a heap of walnuts between the living world and the dead.

During those moments I think of people that are in high security jails, locked up in isolation and envy them. Although they are in isolation, they are the fortunate ones for what I am going through is a true form of torture.  I envy their ability to feel emotions, to eat, to sit up, and walk without fearing that they will fall. I envy their ability to read and think and hold a conversation even if it's not one I'd care to be a part of.

The night before an infusion and the beginning of a fourteen day drug treatment, I cry. I lock myself in our bedroom and I beg my husband, "Please, I don't want to do this again. I can't do this again. Please, please, I've done enough, let me just shirk this one off. Please don't make me go!"

He holds me and listens to my rants, not sure how he deals with the fact that I shatter into a thousand shards every three weeks.

"You're almost done," he assures, "then we can slowly claim life back. Imagine Hawaii, Scotland, Ireland, and all the other places you still want to explore and hold on."

I don't know how he is able to hold this same conversation with me over and over again, but he does.

He wipes my tears away and stands strong, my boulder of a husband, as I crumble.

"What if I can't break through this time?" I ask. My biggest fear is this, being stuck in a shell with random thoughts that make no sense.

"What if it becomes the new orange? What if I'm here but not here and it lasts forever?"

The storm rages inside. Images of death cross my mind, lynchings, shootings, bombs blowing up buildings, slowly bleeding out, and never being able to see another day and say, "Wow, I am blessed to be alive!"

These are the thoughts that cross my mind! These are the companions I spend the night with before I awaken the next morning, plaster a smile on my face and pretend I am going to another party.

"Mom, I want to come to the party too," Ely said one day.

I cringed, but smiled.

"Never boo, never. I don't want you anywhere near this party. I want you eating healthy, living a long life, and making a difference in the world."

"Like you?"

"Me?" I ask.

"Yes mom, you are Wonder Woman!" My eldest chimed in. "It doesn't matter what comes at you, you're able to raise your fists and it ricochets off."

The younger one thinks for a moment and exclaims, "Harmon is right. You are strong and do good in the world to get rid of hate."

"I remember when you were just released from the hospital. You could barely sit up.  I was wheeling you out of your post-operation visit and you made me stop. You had seen this woman in a chair and her credit card and license had fallen out of her purse and was beneath her. You were in pain and barely sitting up mom, and yet you made me stop the wheelchair to talk to her to tell her that her cards were beneath her. If you could, you would have gotten on the ground and got it for her too," my eldest said.

"That makes me Wonder-woman?"

"Yah mom, you amaze me. You didn't have to to do all that, but you did because you are you and this world needs you. You have a purpose!"

"I should take you to more moves that center around girl empowerment, I am liking this," I claimed excitedly.

They both ran toward me yelling, "I hugged mom first!"

Fortunately, I've gone through all eight chemo treatments thus far. Eight times the darkness washed over me, eight times the love of my family and friends pulled me out of the murk and reminded of the power that resided within. I've also come to realize that the power of my boys will give me the reason needed to live for they need to see Wonder-woman in order to grow up and become amazing Super Heroes themselves!

Thanks bro, for forcing me to face my darkness and realize that even that is surmountable. Thank you for bearing with me through the storm! Couldn't have done it without you and your amazing family.

* * * * * 

If this is your first time reading these blogs, please subscribe and follow Marine's Journey. Who knows the next blog might be about you! If you know of anyone that would find this of interest, please pass it along and ask them to subscribe!

I can also be followed at: @myaniki (Twitter), 8 Faces of Cancer (Facebook Group)

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

Icelandic Thoughts

Here's where I'm sitting this minute: next to a creek on a steep flowery hill, overlooking the town of Neskaupstathur, Iceland, and its fjord, with snowy peaks and waterfalls in the distance.

[The creek and flowers are visible on the middle left, the snow as barely visible white flecks on the mountains across the bay, the buildings of the town as white smears by the water. As usual, an amateur photo hardly captures the immersive scene.]

I try to write at least one substantive post a week, even while traveling, but I'm finding it hard here -- partly because of the demands of travel, but also partly because my thoughts aren't very bloggish. My mind does often wander to philosophy, psychology, and speculative fiction while hiking (I'm considering a fairy story), but the thoughts seem softer and larger than my usual blogging style. The thoughts that come to me tend to be vague, drifting, uncertain thoughts about value and a meaningful life. I could imagine not needing to do academic philosophy again, if a different environment, like this one, brought different thoughts and values out of me.

Sitting by this creek in Iceland (and expecting internet connectivity!), is that a terrible wasteful indulgence in a world with so much poverty and need? Or is it a fine thing that I can reasonably let the world give me?

Unraveling Truths with Producer Inny Clemons

Every conversation I've had since December has been tainted by the beast lurking inside. It's attempted to define me, claim my identity, weaken my resolve, and control my movements. That is, until last Wednesday.

The context: My youngest son's end-of-the school class party.

The setting: A fellow parent's house.

My hubby was going to take him. I was going to meet a friend for lunch and a hearty conversation about the Mists of Avalon. However our plans changed literally 15 minutes before we were going to pick up our son and when that happens, I always embrace the change. Hubby beseeched me to join him and when I agreed I think a slight hop entered his gait.

We were the first one's there, but I had to work myself up to going inside and coax down the beast. I literally envisioned it and spoke to it in my mind's eye: You will not control me! You will not shape any conversations I hold inside that house for today we are two different entities.  Today, I need to see what "me," truly looks like these days.

The problem was that I hadn't been "me" since December and I I'd spent months wondering who "I" now was.  The beast had done a doozy on my self-confidence, my perception of myself, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

We entered slowly, deposited our party contribution on the buffet table, greeted the host, and walked onto the back patio where a gentleman was sitting alone at a round table. He was lost in his technology and I knew that if I was going to hold an adult conversation, I needed an adult and he was the only other parent there. There were four other chairs at the table so I turned to my husband and said, "This is it. It's the perfect spot, out of the way, in the shade." I claimed a seat and let the threads of life unravel as it may.

Who knew that my first untainted adult conversation would be with producer Inny Clemons (best known for his work on Straight out of Compton)?

His name and job is irrelevant though, it was something that came out mid-conversation after I dipped my toe in the icy cold water (metaphorically speaking since it was in the mid 80s in Los Angeles this last week), which set this moment apart and helped me realize truths I'd been grasping at.

What was so grand about this conversation?  Why did it leave a lasting impression?

For starters, I'd been wrestling with my purpose for living.  Why had God saved me in December?  What had I missed the first time round?  Am I supposed to reenter the educational setting? Am I supposed to write?  Speak before others? What am I supposed to do that I just might have overlooked?

Inny spoke of growing up on the south side of Chicago.  The violence there, the disenfranchised youth looking for their purpose. He spoke of everything I'd dedicated my life to-helping the disenfranchised find their voices.  He talked of a program where actors go into prisons and use theater to reform inmates (Tim Robbins' Actor's Gang), giving them a second chance at life. He spoke of wanting to do the same for the youth, those that need that extra support to realize that they too have a purpose.

I remembered one of my babies then (for I have taught in the public school system since 1999, at four different socio-economically diverse sites).  One of the four sites introduced me to A (won't mention his name out of respect for his privacy). He came to me from the streets of Chicago, unwanted by mother and father, and taken in by Grandma in Los Angeles. He was transposed to Southern California and consumed by anger and hate. Grandma was frustrated at his slow academic progress. I was concerned with his social-emotional one. I spent months trying to heal that heart. I assured her that the other would come quickly when we healed his pain. We accomplished this on the basketball court one day, when I joined in his 3 on 3 pick up game. I matched him stride for stride, blocked, dribbled, shot... After that, after proving that he mattered, he began to emerge out of his shell, the real A.

This is what we talked about-giving back vs. sitting around and receiving, making a difference, and finding one's purpose in life-sharing the love.

Inny had gone into theater with a passion for acting, but in recent years, what he found most rewarding was working with novice actors, coaching them and shaping them into the people necessary to make a difference in our society. He loved this part of his job and wanted to expand more, to give instead of get, to change lives...

At the end of our conversation, I sat back, stunned. I had been terrified of leaving the house, entering the public sphere, participating in life, scared I had been brandished permanently, that people could look at me and see the "cancer" instead of "me."

However, God had different plans for me last week. I believe he wanted me to see that I have always had a purpose, and I have always walked on the righteous path, and that sometimes "shit happens to good people." It isn't the shit that defines the person, but the person within who defines his/her path.

Inny reminded me of my gifts, made me miss my disenfranchised youth, made me want to jump back into the arena and use my God given gifts to inspire and guide.

And when the afternoon was over and we had whisked our son to his next engagement- a black and white photography class offered at Barnsdall Art Park, I couldn't help but sit in the shade, look over Silverlake and marvel at the lessons I was presented that day and the realization that soon, very very soon, I will stand free of this cursed beast, healed, given a second stab at life, and ready to give as much of myself as ever before. For in so doing, I'm spreading ripples of hope and that is all I have ever wanted to do!

So from one disenfranchised soul to another, I just wanted give the warmest of shout outs to Inny Clemons, for seeing the problems in our society and wanting to change them with the gifts he's been given.

* * * * * 

If this is your first time reading these blogs, please subscribe and follow Marine's Journey. Who knows the next blog might be about you! If you know of anyone that would find this of interest, please pass it along and ask them to subscribe!

I can also be followed at: @myaniki (Twitter), 8 Faces of Cancer (Facebook Group)

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

The Dauphin's Metaphysics, read by Tatiana Grey at Podcastle

My alternative-history story about love and low-tech body switching through hypnosis has just been released in audio at PodCastle. Terrific reading by Tatiana Grey!

PodCastle 475: The Dauphin's Metaphysics

This has been my best-received story so far, recommended by Locus Online, translated into Chinese and Hungarian for leading SF magazines in those languages, and assigned as required reading in at least two philosophy classes in the US.

The setting is Beijing circa 1700, post-European invasion and collapse, resulting in a mashup of European and Chinese institutions. Dauphin Jisun Fei takes a metaphysics class with the the Academy's star woman professor and conceives a plan for radical life extension.

Story originally published in Unlikely Story, fall 2015.

On Not Distinguishing Too Finely Among One's Motivations

I'm working through Daniel Batson's latest book, What's Wrong with Morality?

Batson distinguishes between four different types of motives for seemingly moral behavior, each with a different type of ultimate goal. Batson's taxonomy is helpful -- but I want to push back against distinguishing as finely as he does among people's motives for doing good.

Suppose I offer a visiting speaker a ride to the airport. That seems like a nice thing to do. According to Batson, I might have one (or more) of the following types of motivation:

(1.) I might be egoistically motivated -- acting in my own perceived self-interest. Maybe the speaker is the editor of a prestigious journal and I think I'll have a better shot publishing and advancing my career if the speaker thinks well of me.

(2.) I might be altruistically motivated -- aiming primarily to benefit the speaker herself. I just want her to have a good visit, a good experience at UC Riverside, and giving her a ride is a way of advancing that goal I have.

(3.) I might be collectivistically motivated -- aiming primarily to benefit a group. I want UC Riverside's Philosophy Department to flourish, and giving the speaker a ride is a way of advancing that thing I care about.

(4.) I might be motivated by principle -- acting according to a moral standard, principle, or ideal. Maybe I think driving the speaker to the airport will maximize global utility, or that it is ethically required given my social role and past promises.

Batson characterizes his view of motivation as "Galilean" -- focused on the underlying forces that drive behavior (p. 25-26). The idea seems to be that when I make that offer to the visiting speaker, that action must have been induced by some particular motivational force inside me that is egoistic, altruistic, collectivist, or principled, or some specific combination of those. On this view, we don't understand why I am offering the ride until we know which of these interior forces is the one that caused me to offer the ride. Principled morality is rare, Batson argues, because it requires being caused to act by the fourth type of motivation, and people are more normally driven by the first three.

I'm nervous about appeals to internal causes of this sort. My best guess is that these sorts of simple, familiar folk (or quasi-folk) categories don't map neatly onto the real causal processes generating our behavior, which are likely to be much more complicated, and also misaligned with categories that come naturally to us. (Compare connectionist structures and deep learning.)

Rather than try to articulate an alternative positive account, which would be too much to add to this post, let me just suggest the following. It's plausible that our motivations are often a tangled mess, and when they are a tangled mess, attempting to distinguish finely among them is usually a mistake.

For example, there are probably hypothetical conditions under which I would decline to drive the speaker because it conflicted with my self-interest, and there are probably other hypothetical conditions under which I would set aside my self-interest and choose to drive the speaker anyway. I doubt these hypothetical conditions line up neatly, so that I decline to drive the speaker if and only if it would require sacrificing X amount or more of self-interest. Some situations might just channel me into driving her, even at substantial personal cost, while others might more easily invite the temptation to wiggle out.

The same is likely true for the other motivations. Hypothetically, if the situation were different so that it was less in the collective interest of the department, or less in the speaker's interest, or less compelled by my favorite moral principles, I might drive or not drive the speaker depending partly on each of these but also partly on other factors of situation and internal psychology, habits, scripts, potential embarrassment -- probably in no tidy pattern.

Furthermore, egoistic, altruistic, collectivist, and principled aims come in many varieties, difficult to disentangle. I might be egoistically invested in the collective flourishing of the department as a way of enhancing my own stature in the profession. I might be drawn to different, conflicting moral principles. I might altruistically desire both that the speaker get to her flight on time and that she enjoy the company of the cleverest conversationalist in the department (me!). I might enjoy showing off the sights of the L.A. basin through the windows of my car, with a feeling of civic pride. Etc.

Among all of these possible motivations -- indefinitely many possible motivations, perhaps, if we decide to slice finely among them -- does it make sense to try to determine which one or few are the real motivations that are genuinely causally responsible for my choosing to drive the speaker?

Now if my actual and hypothetical choices were all neatly aligned with my perceived self-interest, then of course self-interest would be my real motive. Similarly, if my pattern of actual and hypothetical choices were all neatly aligned with one particular moral principle, then we could say I was mainly moved by that principle. But if my patterns of choice are not so neatly explained, if my choices arise from a tangle of factors far more complex than Batson's four, then each of Batson's factors is only a simplified label for a pattern that I don't very closely match, rather than a deep Galilean cause of my choice.

The four factors might, then, not compete with each other as starkly as Batson seems to suppose. Each of them might, to a first approximation, capture my motivation reasonably well, in those fortunate cases where self-interest, other-interest, collective interest, and moral principle all tend to align. I have lots of reasons for driving the speaker! This might be so even if, in hypothetical cases, I diverge from the predicted patterns, probably in different and complex ways. My motivations might be described, with approximately equal accuracy, as egoistic, altruistic, collectivist, and principled, when these four factors tend to align across the relevant range of situations -- not because each type of motivation contributes equal causal juice to my behavior but rather because each attribution captures well enough the pattern of choices I would make in the types of cases we care about.

The Juice: Supplementing the Fight Against Cancer with Nature's Gifts

Juicing has become trendy in recent years and it tastes really good. Some people juice to lose weight, detox, de-stress, while others juice because of differing nutritional benefits. I've been juicing on and off my entire life. 

At fifteen, my mother created a concoction that was filled with beta-carotenes, falcarinol, vitamin-A, minerals, and antioxidants. All these ingredients she found in one vegetable- the carrot. Vitamin A is supposed to improve eye health and my mother wanted to reverse the fact that I needed corrective lenses.

She woke up at six am daily to create a carrot concoction that would do just this. Most days she'd juice carrots and apples and kept this up throughout my high school years. Just for good measure, she also packed me a zip-lock filled to the brim with carrots to munch on during the day.  

You're probably wondering: Did it work?  

The response to that question is complicated. Firstly, ophthalmologists hated me. They could never get the same reading twice and often had to reduce the corrective property of my lenses. Secondly, it got me the endearing nickname, "Rabbit." Fortunately, I never needed make up for I was a beautiful orange hue.  

Most importantly though, it taught me that a mother's love is unfathomable. In December of 2016, after I was diagnosed with colon cancer, my mother arrived on my door step hauling a cart of veggies. 

"What are you up to, mom?" I asked. 

Her response was clipped, "Just tell me where you keep your juicer!" 

I faltered. The juicer she had bought us after our wedding was over 15 years old and was out of commission. "We now have a masticator," I tried to explain. 

Seventy-two and a little hard of hearing, she mumbled, "Mast-a-what?" 

Ryan (my hubby) led her into our kitchen and introduced her to our "Mast-a-what." The difference between a masticating juicer and other juicers is that the masticating juicer works at a low speed, grinning the food to a pulp as one does their food with their teeth. More nutrients are extracted and mixed into the juice. There is also a huge price difference between the two.  A masticating juicer costs over $200. For more information, you can explore the following comparison via The Juicer Directory.  

Standing before my beast of a machine, she gasped, "That's a juicer?" 

Ryan nodded and demonstrated how it worked. 

He then returned to my side and whispered, "Do you know what your mother is up to?"

"She plans on curing me naturally," I whispered back.

"She does know you are still going to be doing chemo, right?"

I nodded and said, "I'm sure she does, but this is something she's done on and off her entire life and something she can control as opposed to what's going on inside me that she can't control. Growing up in Armenia, she relied on natural herbs to heal." 

He nodded and said, "Can't hurt to add a supplementary cure."

She filled the house with a grinding sound that overpowered all other conversations.  I waited as she finished her task and returned to me with an 8 oz. glass of a multi-colored liquid.

I looked into her saddened eyes, holding back tears, and reaching for hope.

"Juice?" I asked.

"This will fight the bad stuff in your body," she said.

"Bad stuff, eh?" She had refused to say the word c-a-n-c-e-r since my diagnosis.  She saw me as a little stuffed grape leaf and wanted to keep me safe. At times, if allowed, she'd "eat me up too," a term of endearment Armenian adults greet adorable little babes with. 

"Please," she said, "Don't fight me on this. Just drink it."

I raised both palms up in the air, demonstrating my submission. I reached for the cup and brought it to my lips. The liquid burned as it went down. I looked up at her smiling face.

"Ginger?" I asked. 

She nodded.

I knew. Ginger was filled with amazing therapeutic properties- it dealt with nausea. It fought inflammation. It had anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic strengths. It was meant to directly fight the cancer that had lodged within me. For further information on the benefits of ginger, click here


She nodded.

"What, a second attempt at correcting my eyes?" 

She laughed. "It's supposed to help with the, you know..."  At first, I trusted. I took without thinking and drank. But after conducting my own research, I'm confident in saying that she had done her's tenfold.  In recent years scientists have discovered that carrots have something called falcarinol, which has anti-cancer fighting properties too.  For more information, click here


She nodded again. Celery boosts digestion, reduces inflammation, supports joint health, improves immunity, and contains flavonoids, phthalides and polyacetylenes that detoxify carcinogens (and fight cancer). For more information, click here


She nodded, proudly. Turmeric, like ginger, has anti-inflamatory properties that fights and treats cancer. To increase absorption into the system, one must also add a pinch of pepper.  More information on the benefits can be found here.

She grinned and proudly announced, "I've also added some beet." 

Beets have phytonutrients, which likewise fight inflammation and cancer.  

I didn't know it that first day she took over my kitchen, but my mother had created a power punch of ingredients to fight the carcinogens (the substance that causes cancer in living tissues). Every day after that, promptly at 9:55, she'd enter my house, walk into my kitchen, stand before my sink, watching me from the corner of her eye, praying and peeling.    

"You will live longer than me daughter, I trust that God saved you for a reason and now with everything we've done, the chemo, the juicing... you will grow old to see your grandbabies someday." 

To find out more about juicing to cream cancer you can explore some of the following articles:

-Healing Cancer from the Inside Out 
-Oncology Nutrition: Juicing and Cancer
-Ten Foods to Help Fight Cancer

In no way am I promoting one therapy over another, but instead am suggesting a balance of both alternatives, an exploration of the diagnosis and a solution that will work best for the individual person. This recipe has changed a bit based on my blood work and physical needs. It now also includes a few leaves of kale and cilantro/parsley. Regardless, do your research and experiment with your juicer to find the flavor and potency you can handle. 

_ _ _ _ _

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Thank you for following along. Much Humbled! 

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

Tips for Growing your Trading Account

Growing your trading account only takes place through strengthening profit streams during trading. This needs a well-considered approach, coupled with skill and experience. If you’re a beginner in the field, then here are a few tips that we believe can help you alleviate risks and funnel more money into your account in the long run. 

1) Let go of greed during trading

A majority of people drawn to Forex trading in Vietnam are inspired by the idea of making money easy and quick. This conjures a state of urgency within a trader that only leads to bad judgment and losses. The impulsive mentality created by excessive greed creates a blockage of mental clarity that leads to inconsistent decisions. As a result, the first thing that you need to be aware of when trying to grow your revenues is to let go of the impatience in money-making. Attempting to ‘force’ money out of the system only ends up backfiring. Instead, one needs to apply a disciplined and well-strategized trading plan that adheres to logic. By doing this, you attempt to make money through a natural manner, in contrast to trying to ‘force’ it out. 

2) Learn to look at the broader picture 

Usually, traders bring too much focus on one particular transaction. What you need to understand is that your profits are not determined by one particular trade but by a series of trades made over a consistent period. As a result, one needs to be able to mentally detach himself from the outcome of a single trade, and have a broader plan that creates avenue for profit-making in the long run. In order to do this, one needs to sever his psychological bond to the amount of money that a single transaction offers. 
3) Learn to manage risk efficiently

To draw a strong current of profit into your Forex trading account, the prime necessity is the ability to regulate risk. A critical factor in the broader success of a trader’s career is the capacity to control risk with every trade and to manage their money effectively. To do this, have a clear determination of the area of comfort that you have on risking money, and make sure that you don’t exceed it when trading. 

4) Focus on retaining profit

After a winning trade, people are usually enticed into investing the profits in a larger transaction. If making money in the first trade is easier than expected, a person is lured into thinking that the same could be repeated a second time. After winning a trade, it is important to keep your emotions in check and to function within the boundaries of your trading strategy.

If you’re looking for more insightful tips into the world of Forex trading, then get in touch with a reputed broker to know all there is. WesternFX has been in this field for years, with partners in numerous countries. We can help to instill a sense of confidence within you when conducting online trading in Vietnam. 

Academic Pyramids, Academic Tubes

Greetings from Cambridge! Traveling around Europe and the UK, I am struck by the extent to which different countries have relatively pyramid-like vs relatively tube-like academic systems. This has moved me to think, also, about the extent to which US academia has recently been becoming more pyramidal.

Please forgive my ugly sketch of a pyramid and a tube:

The German system is quite pyramidal: There is a small group of professors at the top, and many stages between undergraduate and professor, at any one of which you might suddenly find yourself ejected from the system: undergraduate, then masters, then PhD, then one or more postdocs and/or assistantships before moving up or out; and at each stage one needs to actively seek a position and typically move locations if successful.

In contrast, the US system, as it stood about twenty years ago, was more tubular: fewer transition stages requiring application and moving, with much sharper cutdowns between each stage. To a first approximation, undergraduates applied to PhD programs, very few got in, and then if they completed there was one more transition from completing the PhD to gaining a tenure-track job (and typically, though of course not always, tenure after 6-7 years on the tenure track).

Philosophy in the US is becoming more pyramidal, I believe, with more people pursuing terminal Master's degrees before applying to PhD programs, and with the increasing number of adjunct positions and postdoctoral positions for newly-minted PhDs. Instead of approximately three phases (undergrad, grad/PhD, tenure-track/tenured professor), we are moving closer to five-phase system (undergrad, MA, PhD, adjunct/post-doc, tenure-track/tenured).

This more pyramidal system has some important advantages. One advantage is that it provides more opportunities for people from nonelite backgrounds to advance through the system. It has always been difficult from students from nonelite undergraduate universities to gain acceptance to elite PhD programs (and it still is); similarly for students who struggled a bit in their undergraduate careers before finding philosophy. With the increasing willingness of PhD programs to accept students with Master's degrees, a broader range of students can earn a shot at academia: They can compete to get into a Master's program (typically easier to do for people with nonelite backgrounds than being admitted to a comparably-ranked PhD program) and then possibly shine there, gaining admittance to a range of PhD programs that would otherwise have been closed to them. A similar pattern sometimes occurs with postdocs.

The other advantage of the pyramid is that being exposed to a variety of institutions, advisors, and academic subcultures has advantages both for the variety of perspectives it provides and for meeting more people in the academic community. A Master's program or a postdoctoral fellowship can be a rewarding experience.

But I am also struck by the downside of pyramidal structures. In Europe, I met many excellent philosophers in their 30s or 40s, post-PhD, unsure whether they would make the next jump up the pyramid or not, unable to settle down securely into their careers. This used to be relatively uncommon in the US, though it has become more common. It is hard on marriages and families; and it's hard to face the prospects of a major career change in mid-life after devoting a dozen or more years to academia.

The sciences in the US have tended to be more pyramidal than philosophy, with one or more postdocs often expected before the tenure-track job. This is partly, I suspect, just due to the money available in science. There are lots of post-docs to be had, and it's easier to compete for professor positions with that extra postdoctoral experience. One possibly unintended consequence of the increased flow of money into philosophical research projects, through the Templeton Foundation and government research funding organizations, is to increase the number of postdocs, and thus the pyramidality of the discipline.

Of course, the rise of inexpensive adjunct labor is a big part of this -- bigger, probably, than the rise of terminal Master's programs as a gateway to the PhD and the rise of the philosophy post-doc -- but all of these contribute in different ways to making our discipline more pyramidal than it was a few decades ago.

Sowing Seeds of Hope

We all go through highs and lows, it's a part of life.  Battling cancer seems to have amplified my highs and lows.   Or, maybe I've just become heightened to every moment and experience.

A few weeks ago, I experienced the extremist of both within an hour period.  I was asked to share my journey with a group of pre-med seniors before their graduation from high school. I whole heartedly complied.  I got to the school fifteen minutes before eight.

But my intention was to visit an old friend before anything else. He'd been working as a librarian at the school for the last couple of years, but before then we had both been on a Dream Team which I still look back upon with the deepest of regrets (a moment I wish I could have changed if I had the ability to time travel).

"I'm so sorry," I said to him, "If I could, I would rewind time, I wouldn't have run away! I..."

"There were circumstances you hadn't told us that wouldn't have let you. You did what you thought you had to do given the information you had in the current moment."

I sighed, was it forgiveness I heard in his voice? I held him in the highest of regards. I'd seen him teach, watched him inspire, followed, and led alongside him.

Maybe, maybe there had been a different way, another path, I should've... I thought, but didn't say because just then regardless of the fact that there are thousands of students on his campus, in walks one of my "-itos." In Spanish, when one adds and "-ito" to the end of a name, one infantilizes the person.

I won't name him outright, however he'd been my "-ito"since he'd been in sixth grade. I'd taught him for a year, coached him for two more. I'd rode in the back of an ambulance with him as he'd gasped for air and sat beside his parents as we talked about life.

He froze three steps into the library and point-blank asked, "Ms? What ar you doing here?"

I've gone public with my diagnosis. I've shared it with everybody who cares and finds an ounce of benefit in it, but just then I hit a low. I couldn't share. I saw fear and worry in his eyes and I couldn't taint his views.

"You should be at work right now. It's almost eight o'cklock. What are you doing here?"

"I've taken some time off, my dear '-ito'," I said shakily.


I fumbled for a logical honest explanation, minus the truth.

"I've taken some time off to write. I'm writing a book."

"That is so cool," he whispered back as he threw himself into my arms, "You are following your dreams."

Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.

I forced a smile and pushed back the tears.

They both walked me to the elevator where we parted.  To "-ito," I said, "Please sir, high school counts, please be the best you can be so that you too can follow your dreams. Plus, my friend here now knows that you are one of my babies, so there is no escaping down the cracks in the sidewalk."

He grinned and said, "Be well Ms."

I left my Dream Team comrade with my regular three words, "I love you!"

"And I you, Marine," he said.

"Till we meet again old friend, till we meet again," I said with a fist pump as the elevator door began to separate us. I inhaled slowly pushing both to the furthest recesses of my mind.  Within ten minutes, I'd sought redemption, forgiveness, and sowed yet another seed of hope.  I now needed to contain the raging emotions before I turned to the class of pre-med seniors.

A fellow friend,  and principal of a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) school in Los Angeles, (and fellow subscriber to this blog) asked me to  share my journey with his scholars.
The opportunity humbled and excited me simultaneously.

I'd missed teaching. I'd imprisoned myself within four walls for months, trying to keep myself healthy enough to weave through this with as little complications as possible. That being said, one can go stir-crazy. I'd missed being around students, watching their reactions, listening to their queries, and life stories.  I'd missed the metaphorical lightbulb that brightens a class when a  scholar comprehends a truth.

I couldn't sleep the night before. I felt as though I were a five year old entering school for the first time. By the time I tried the classroom door, my nerves were ablaze. My fingers tingled with the neuropathy that I can often keep at bay. My shallow breathing brought with it a bit of dizziness.  To top it all off, the last time I'd stood before high school students was five years ago when I'd co-taught with a different Dream Team member.

I meticulously prepped for this moment. I packed my gear the night before: a  slew of manipulative, a powerpoint presentation, detailed note cards (which I didn't look at once after starting), and a simple case study to hook my audience. I was ready!

I entered into a room of elated seniors, counting down their days, and excited about their endless opportunities.  Hope and eager wonder glimmered from their eyes.

Their teacher introduced me as another teacher.  "Can we please welcome Ms. Marine, who has a story to share with you?"

They quieted and turned their eyes towards me.

"First and foremost,  I am humbled to be here standing before you a week before you live this institution and I hope that by the end their are seeds you will carry forth and use int he years to come.  That being said, let's take a few minutes to look at a hypothetical case study I brought along.," I said as I passed out slips of paper.  "A woman of 39, goes into the hospital with back pain that sometimes hits her lower abdomen and causes dizziness and pain.  Other than this, she's been in good health, exercising and eating well. What questions can you ask her to gather more information?"

They engaged.

"When did the symptoms start?"

"What caused the back pain?"

"How often does she exercise?"

"Is she a world-traveler?"

"What does eating well consist of?"

"Did she have any other preexisting conditions before she came in?"

'Was she taking any medicine that may have adversely impacted her?"

Their thoughtfulness astounded me.

The diagnosis left them speechless.

"She had cancer?" They exclaimed.

"Has," I said, "for the hypothetical female is: me."


I pasted a huge grin on my face meandering between their tables and repeated my initial introductions. Their postures changed. They transformed instantaneously from children into young adults.  This time they stopped all movement and physically turned to examine me. I greeted them with the warmest of greetings knowing full well I held their complete attention now, "I am honored to be here today, to stand before future doctors, and share with you a piece of the puzzle I've been putting together since my December diagnosis, a formula I believe will help you become the best of the best out there when you begin practicing."

I gestured towards the powerpoint that was now highlighting "The 8 Faces of Cancer" slide.

They turned to face the projection and the journey started. We spent the rest of the hour documenting the process from denial through anger, and settling in complete acceptance. We talked diet, meditation, exercise, and mindfulness. We explored alternative medicine that would support and strengthen the normal functioning of a cancer patient. I highlighted the necessity of a support group and described the faces that stood beside me.

A week before their graduation from high school, they sat in utter silence, mesmerized. I wondered at times whether it was too much, whether I was tainting their innocence.

"Why am I even telling you any of this?" I asked in the end.  "What is it I want you to take with you during your next eight year journey?"

The responses rocked my reality.

"You want us to connect with our patients, to get to know them as people."

I grinned and nodded.

"You want us to realize that medicine isn't the only solution that we need to help our patients heal their mind, body, and soul too."

"You want us to help our patients find a balance and use that balance to fight for their lives."

I clasped my hands in excitement.

"Thank you for your time, for listening to my journey, and for taking a bit with you into your future journeys," I said before handing the class back to their teacher.

When I finished, students individually bombarded me with questions and concerns. And before I left,  a young girl came up to me with tears in her eyes.

"I interned in the children's oncology ward last summer and it was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. I had to hold the hand of a little 18 month old who had a form of cancer and they were pumping that poison into her. It, it... "

"I know," I said as I reached out and squeezed her hand, "watching little kids go through this is the scariest thing in the world."

"But I had to experience it. It made me want to go into medicine more than ever. I want to help those little kids."

I nodded, impressed at her determination.

She concluded, "Thank you for coming today for sharing your journey for giving us a glimpse into your heart and sharing with us your formula for healing.  You look amazing, you look as though you have already beat it!"

It was my turn to get emotional after an hour of highs and lows.  I wanted to cry, but I held it in until I reached the street. I knew then that the seeds I sowed that day would take root and one day as these young adults started practicing medicine, my message would resonate somewhere in the back of their minds and they would create "ripples of hope" that would send shockwaves into the medical field.
_ _ _ _ _

If you would like me to talk to your class or group, and you live in the Los Angeles area, please don't hesitate to reach out. It would be my honor to share my journey with them!

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To contact this amazing STEM school, shoot me an e-mail and I will link you with the institution.


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Thank you for following along. Much Humbled! 

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

The Social-Role Defense of Robot Rights

Daniel Estrada's Made of Robots has launched a Hangout on Air series in philosophy of technology. The first episode is terrific!

Robot rights cheap yo.

Cheap: Estrada's argument for robot rights doesn't require that robots have any conscious experiences, any feelings, any reinforcement learning, or (maybe) any cognitive processing at all. Most other defenses of the moral status of robots assume, implicitly or explicitly, that robots who are proper targets of moral concern will exist only in the future, once they have cognitive features similar to humans or at least similar to non-human vertebrate animals.

In contrast, Estrada argues that robots already deserve rights -- actual robots that currently exist, even simple robots.

His core argument is this:

1. Some robots are already "social participants" deeply incorporated into our social order.

2. Such deeply incorporated social participants deserve social respect and substantial protections -- "rights" -- regardless of whether they are capable of interior mental states like joy and suffering.

Let's start with some comparison cases. Estrada mentions corpses and teddy bears. We normally treat corpses with a certain type of respect, even though we think they themselves aren't capable of states like joy and suffering. And there's something that seems at least a little creepy about abusing a teddy bear, even though it can't feel pain.

You could explain these reactions without thinking that corpses and teddy bears deserve rights. Maybe it's the person who existed in the past, whose corpse is now here, who has rights not to be mishandled after death. Or maybe the corpse's relatives and friends have the rights. Maybe what's creepy about abusing a teddy bear is what it says about the abuser, or maybe abusing a teddy harms the child whose bear it is.

All that is plausible, but another way of thinking emphasizes the social roles that corpses and teddy bears play and the importance to our social fabric (arguably) of our treating them in certain ways and not in other ways. Other comparisons might be: flags, classrooms, websites, parks, and historic buildings. Destroying or abusing such things is not morally neutral. Arguably, mistreating flags, classrooms, websites, parks, or historic buildings is a harm to society -- a harm that does not reduce to the harm of one or a few specific property owners who bear the relevant rights.

Arguably, the destruction of hitchBOT was like that. HitchBOT was cute ride-hitching robot, who made it across the length of Canada but who was destroyed by pranksters in Philadelphia when its creators sent it to repeat the feat in the U.S. Its destruction not only harmed its creators and owners, but also the social networks of hitchBOT enthusiasts who were following it and cheering it on.

It might seem overblown to say that a flag or a historic building deserves rights, even if it's true that flags and historic buildings in some sense deserve respect. If this is all there is to "robot rights", then we have a very thin notion of rights. Estrada isn't entirely explicit about it, but I think he wants more than that.

Here's the thing that makes the robot case different: Unlike flags, buildings, teddy bears, and the rest, robots can act. I don't mean anything too fancy here by "act". Maybe all I mean or need to mean is that it's reasonable to take the "intentional stance" toward them. It's reasonable to treat them as though they had beliefs, desires, intentions, goals -- and that adds a new richer dimension, maybe different in kind, to their role as nodes in our social network.

Maybe that new dimension is enough to warrant using the term "rights". Or maybe not. I'm inclined to think that whatever rights existing (non-conscious, not cognitively sophisticated) robots deserve remain derivative on us -- like the "rights" of flags and historic buildings. Unlike human beings and apes, such robots have no intrinsic moral status, independent of their role in our social practices. To conclude otherwise would require more argument or a different argument than Estrada gives.

Robot rights cheap! That's good. I like cheap. Discount knock-off rights! If you want luxury rights, though, you'll have to look somewhere else (for now).

[image source] Update: I changed "have rights" to "deserve rights" in a few places above.