Thursday, October 13, 2011

Letter of Intent for Boston University

I intend to earn a MLA in Gastronomy. Through that program I will hone skills that will enable me to help people realize the crucial part that food plays in their lives and by so doing shift public perception and policy toward a healthier understanding and lifestyle. I feel that my experience and education in food, writing, and philosophy give me a unique approach to food studies that is tailor-made for entering the Gastronomy program:

As a child, I was raised in an environment where food was a central part of life. My mother, a life-long certified master gardener and canner, always raised, prepared, and preserved most of the food eaten in my family. I raised flocks of chickens, cordoned off sections of the family garden for my personal use, and prepared elaborate, over-the-top lunches for myself nearly every day as a child. Like many young males, my initial interest in food was purely a matter of volume consumption. Having grown up surrounded by high-quality food, I simply loved eating. I can still recall sitting at my Italian great-grandmother's rice farm, eating seconds and thirds of recently-scavenged pheasant roadkill scraped off the nearby county road 39. That roadkill could be as magnificently prepared is still a matter of some wonder.

As I matured, my interest in food followed suit. I began to appreciate quality food for what it was, rather than simply a great way to stuff myself silly. I began to understand the beauty of fresh tomatoes at the eclectic local farmers market, the tenuous balance of local ecosystems, (for instance, how a couple extra wolves in the valley could be disastrous to FFA kids trying to raise a herd of goats) and how my involvement in a Montana AERO sustainability group could actually make a difference in curbing the spread of our tenacious, all-present enemy, turkish knapweed. Sliding loose change into a large mason jar to pay for our weekly gallon of fresh milk from our neighbors' cow inculcated in me the idea that food could be wonderful, natural, and economically viable.

As I attended Brigham Young University, my understanding of food underwent yet another transformation. As I studied philosophy, in particular the work of continental thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I developed a passion for what is often called “philosophy of the ordinary.” This philosophy asserts that by seeking to comprehend and examine our everyday experiences with mundane things, we can more fully understand their crucial role in structuring out lives. Through these studies, frequent semi-pretentious food nights and cheese tastings among close friends, and a semester abroad studying food and culture in Europe, my understanding of food added a layer of complexity. I began to understand food as something philosophically and culturally meaningful in addition to being so tasty and beautiful.

This interest has not since waned. As I continue to study the state of food in our country and the world, I am convinced that it is one of the most pivotal issues of modern society. Reading the works of philosophers such as Albert Borgmann and Hans-Georg Gadamer as well as searching out books about food and society has helped me to realize that all of my experiences in food - my love of fresh and local; my deep appreciation for food and its grounding role in community, family, and tradition; and my fascination with food's oft-ignored place in philosophy – come together to form a character-defining interest in food to which I plan to devote my professional, academic, and personal life. The MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University strikes me as the perfect program to propel me further in my studies and toward my professional goals.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In his awful majesty

When we drive, it is a largely conscious-less activity. We cruise along, listening to the rhythmic stirrings of the car interacting with our favorite album, reacting to the drivers around us in a silent, cacophonous dance of steel. I found myself in this mobile cocoon of mechanism today until I was sharply torn out of my world by a figure of pure sublimity.

Transportation in the downtown area is a grand, hyper game of frogger. Busses and tour boats crawl along through the flow of maddened, desperate drivers. As the Hondas and Toyotas duel for multi-lane supremacy, bicycles flit about like gadflies, largely attending to their own business but occasionally stinging one of their much larger counterparts, setting off a ripple that ends with busses careening across lanes and cars scrambling to make turns. As I joyously played my part in the game today, I found myself in yet another featureless intersection, hedged in by towering financial institutions and cheap merchandise stands selling T-shirts glorying in the self-love and boorishness of Boston Bruins fans.

I bathed in the simultaneous green lights that had seemingly been gifted upon me from heaven, and slammed the accelerator, desperate to get my monthly fix of over-twenty-mph driving. As I did so, pedestrians scurried to and fro, deftly skipping between cars as pedestrians are wont to do. Gradually, I became aware of a bent figure picking his way across the intersection directly below one of the green beacons urging me onward. I noticed the dexterity and timing of this archaic figure and mused of his destination. A 80+ yoga class, perhaps? The weekly doctor's appointment? A smile flickered across my face, betraying my self-amusement.

Suddenly, the man straightened. Arising from his hunched posture, the man turned, scowling. I was immediately arrested in his gaze of pure scorn. From his eyes, I felt an endless hatred of automobiles and all drivers thereof. As he stood, exactly in the center of my lane, I realized that this was no simple breaker of the law. As Gandalf and the Balrog, he and I both understood exactly what was going to occur in this intersection at that moment. I dug deep to find the courage to match his gaze, faltered, and fell to the onslaught of insane pedestrian pride. On any other day I may have locked eyes with a simple pedestrian who would have cowed his head to my rightful domination of the streets and fell into line. Today I was the subject, he the master. I jerked my wheel, barely sliding into the adjacent lane and barely zipping around the monumental man proclaiming his ambulatory supremacy. I fearfully glanced in my mirror, in awe, and saw him recede into the distance.

My memories of Boston driving, undoubtedly, will mix together into a melange of parking tickets, inevitable body work, and raging Italians. My encounter with this man, however, will always remain vivid and unique. I will always remember the day I saw the man.

He; the defiant, the suicidally indifferent to laws of traffic and physics -

the King of the Jaywalkers.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Something very exciting!

I recently discovered that Boston University offers a graduate program called the "Masters of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy." It's one of the coolest programs I've ever seen offered. Until this point, I had figured on going to a full-on culinary school, but I think this fits my career goals much better, especially since they allow their students to enrich their program with classes and certificates from the culinary arts program. Check it out:

I'd probably choose to concentrate in business, and take their classes relating to restaurant management and food writing while earning the degree. Looking through their class list, I don't know how I'd ever pare it down and just take a few. There's so many amazing things to learn and discover!

I'd been concerned about the hours, lifestyle, and physical grind of a classical culinary career, and I think this program offers more options, whether they be in a journalism field or in high-end restaurant management.

It also corresponds with another great opportunity I have. As you all know, I have recently started working at the Provo Marriott. The company that manages our restaurant, IHR, also manages a particularly nice hotel in Boston, the Charles. The Charles, aside from being a great hotel, houses some fantastic restaurants, including the Rialto, one of the finest hotel restaurants in the country. It will probably not be that difficult, after a year or so at the Provo Marriott, to transfer to the Charles and work in one of the restaurants there, and sooner or later end up in Rialto. Check out the websites for the hotel ( and the Rialto ( Through IHR, I will probably also be able to get some tuition reimbursement to ease the pain of paying for a graduate program as I attend part-time and work.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share this with y'all because I'm really, really excited about it right now. More research is in order, to find out if it is a legitimate program and career options that stem from it, but needless to say it's the most fantastic graduate degree program I've ever seen and something I seriously want to consider for my future.

My kids are totally doing this.

I think this is a wonderful idea! I want to learn these skills myself and help my kinds understand them someday:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mom's Dinner

Mother's Day 2010


Artichokes Braised with Garlic and Thyme

Roasted Garlic Crostini


Chiffonade of Romaine and Bibb Lettuces

Roast Lamb with Anchovy, Garlic, and Rosemary

Soufleed Gnocchi alla Parmigiana


Apricot-Almond Macaroon Cake

Maple and Blueberry Ice Cream

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Philosophy of Mind: The Case for Panpsychism

Recently, I have had the opportunity of learning about panpsychism or panexperientialism from process philosophy, and from some discussions with a friend that believes in it. I thought I would take some time reviewing my qualms with the position. Perhaps I can discover my own bigotry or biases along the way! I was once struck with panpsychism’s aesthetic sense and novelty, but when I tried to bring it down to life I found the concept broke down. I am resistant to panpsychism because after reading and thinking about the philosophical discussion regarding it (much of which I will paraphrase below; I ought to have given due credit to those who make these points and cite them carefully, but bare with me), I do not know what it really even means or explains. We can be poetic and attribute "inner experience" or "mentality" to objects (which kinds of objects by the way--what about properties, states of affairs, numbers, relations, space-time? Do these also have inner experiences? Or are panpsychists restricting their domain of discourse to the “physical” universe; or are they nominalists--these things have only semantic existence?), but we don't mean anything like human consciousness. Consciousness in human systems is brought about by neurobiological processes that quarks don't have. The purported analogical basis between human consciousness and other objects appears purely imaginative. So we must suppose there is this "inanimate mentality" in other objects--but what that is, no one makes clear. What would its inner experience be? And can it have experience--what does it mean to receive conscious experiences if one has no memory? And since people like to build freedom out of panpsychism, what does it mean to choose if you have no concept of an action to choose from, or obey when you have no conceptual understanding? The motivation behind panpsychism seems to be in offering some sort of continuity between ourselves and nature. Yet it seems wildly implausible to attribute anything much like our consciousness to all things; if the "mentality" attributed to them is different enough from ours for such attribution to look plausible, that difference will have to be so great that it will undermine the sense of continuity between us and the rest of nature.

So I don't think panpsychism comes any closer to bridging the "explanatory gap" or problem of emergence. Typically, people think physicalists have the problem; we can never explain how conscious experience emerges from physical processes. If we would just assume that human macro consciousness is nested in a greater micro consciousness, all will be well. There is a sort of argument for A V B (physicalism or panpsychism); ~A because of the emergence problem, therefore by DS, B. But what about other alternatives? There are a lot of metaphysical worldviews out there; should panpsychism be strictly favored because it is monistic which somehow solves interaction issues and because it supposedly solves the emergence issue? I don't think so, because I think many of its supposed strong points promise more than they can deliver. Take for instance, the explanatory gap.

If we assume that there is human consciousness and the wider quasi-consciousness that all (again what we mean by all is difficult here; let us say the constituents of the universe--quarks or strings, or "puffs"--whatever it is) at a minimum experiences, we have two different ways for phenomenon to be experiential. Can human consciousness be explained by this wider quasi-consciousness? How could trillions of thinking-particles constitute what feels like a single, unitary subject of experience (This is known as the combination problem)? There is the epistemological problem of not being able to know anything about the experientiality of the ultimates composing me. I surely can't introspect into my hair's or toe nail's conscious experience. And yet if I can't introspect or empirically observe their conscious behavior, how could I ever in principle get any evidence as to the nature of these properties? If I can't get to these properties, how can I ever know if my human consciousness emerges out of them? As some philosophers have pointed out, with water I can look at H2O molecules and their properties and from there deduce the liquidity of water. But if I can't know the experiential properties of the "puffs," I can never provide a philosophical explanation of human consciousness in terms of them. In my opinion, no hypothesis should be adopted that cannot possibly be tested (unless it can make a transcendental argument; but this is a weak kind of argument, since any sight of proof to another theory will be superior to the transcendental. Furthermore, I have wondered that with there possibly being a multiplicity of transcendental arguments that can explain the same facts without evidence--which one is to be preferred and why?). I personally find it puzzling when it is not possible to answer the question "Is the panpsychist position true?"

But for the sake of argument, let us say that the quasi-conscious properties of these "puffs" are known in their complete detail. Would that help explain the emergence problem? Unfortunately, no. If one imagines the thought-particles interacting in ways that mirror the human consciousness' components, it is still possible that the resulting complex being lacks consciousness. To suggest otherwise would be to commit the fallacy of composition. In which case no amount of knowledge of the quasi-conscious aspect of particles could ever explain phenomenal consciousness in the way that knowledge of the component particles of water and their interaction explain liquidity. If one replies that they act in some unknown complex way, cannot the physicalist (and any other metaphysical worldview for that matter) make the same argument?

Perhaps one wants to make a weak claim: since everything is of the same metaphysical type (constituents and the human consciousness), should not this indicate that panpsychism might render the latter (human consciousness) more explicable? No; we don't have any idea how the quasi-conscious properties possessed by one entity or set of entities might contribute to a reductive explanation of the human consciousness. So panpsychism has provided no explanation for phenomena that it has promised to deliver. Thus to the great step from non-living to living matter corresponds a great step from inner experiences to the human consciousness. Even on the panpsychist account, something totally new enters with world.

Physicalists have made attempts to dissolve the explanatory gap that should not be brushed off hand, as observed by the enormous articles and books on philosophy of mind. And Karl Popper has made some interesting points here too. To insist something must be mind-like and that it can be attributed even to quarks is misleading. There are processes of nature which are emergent in the sense that they don't lead gradually, but leap to a property not there before. "We know crystals and other solids have the property of solidity without solidity being present in the liquid before crystallization."

Are there any other reasons for panpsychism to be appealing? There seems to be a multiplicity of metaphysical explanations in theology to explain free will, divine agency, etc. that are not unique to panpsychism, so I cannot see that benefit. I am amused at the state of philosophy on the issue of mind: while some are trying to understand how it is even possible that other minds or my own mind exists, others are dead set that everything possessing a mind!

Forgive me for rushing through these arguments and not giving some due citations on many of the points that have convinced me against panpsychism.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fascinating articles

Here's a few really interesting articles in the ongoing same-gender attraction discussion. First is an article by Elder Bruce Hafen. Keep in mind, this is published in the official LDS newsroom. That gives it a certain air of official-ness (but don't blow it out of proportion, it's not like a new section of the D&C...always worth working through the tangled mess of LDS thought heirarchy). It's a strong position, but quite temperately and rationally written. Probably one of the most interesting, readable and non-polemic articles I've read on the topic:

Second, an article calling into question his scholarship and use of APA research:

I think that the feminist mormon housewife blog makes some good points and calls Elder Hafen and his readers to return to the sources and consider what's being said in general. I don't think their criticism invalidates Elder Hafen's points but they certainly offer more food for thought.

This quote - "If you are faithful, on resurrection morning—and maybe even before then--you will rise with normal attractions for the opposite sex." - is the pinnacle of the Hafen article. It's a huge statement - socially, theologically, emotionally, politically, etc. It is, however, not the only landmark point he makes about LDS opinion (at least his stance, which seems to mirror that of many members) on same-gender attraction.

I think this article is important, as it leads LDS folks to really think through their opinions. The things I've heard from many members are usually vague ideas and parroted responses. Elder Hafen challenges us to actually think it through and be ethical about it. Read Elder Hafen's article, I'd love to hear what people think. I' m sure it'll be a bit divisive, bu I think the tone of the article lends to more reasonable discussion than the topic usually brings out.