The Cambridge Way

PKP Student Sophia Wix won our first Blog Competition with the below article which originally appeared on her blog Sophie Explores Cambridge

I just walked out of my second “Metaphysics and the Philosophy of the Mind” lecture at Cambridge. Dr. Adam Stewart-Wallace, my professor, is one of the most engaging lecturers I’ve ever had the privilege of learning from. He always wears a sort of baggy, Egyptian cotton pant with a classy button-down shirt, sneakers and cool rimless glasses. Though he seems younger, he has a strikingly brilliant mind. Our class is small, about 15 people, very diverse and completely fascinating. Today we discussed Cartesian Dualism and compared Descartes’ views to those of materialists like Jaegwon Kim. Materialism is a philosophy that understands all of reality as physical/material (the body and the mind and all things are material objects). These views challenge my previous conceptions of the mind and body as separate entities, as described by Descartes and simply understood as truth in my psychology courses at USC.

We grazed over this theory in my Psychology 100 class, but never had I imagined exploring the depths of such a philosophy for weeks at Cambridge. My mind has not felt so “flossed,” engaged, and intellectually stimulated for a while.  This kind of open-minded thinking spins my scientifically-governed brain in circles. One of my closer friends in the class, Kaela, is a math major at her home institution, so she and I laughed about how this kind of thinking seems so foreign to “science/math” majors.  I find myself frustrated when my philosophical thoughts flow so naturally during lectures, but I choke up when I need to articulate them effectively.  I feel confident, however, that by the end of our eight weeks at Cambridge, I will certainly be capable.

I was struck by how carefully Dr. Stewart-Wallace listens to students’ questions, answers them thoughtfully and respects everyone’s opinion. It seems teachers here want to learn from their students as much as we want to learn from them. Quite different from most typical, American institutional courses.

“You would be amazed how much professors learn from students.” –Dr. Joe Hebert, Cambridge Natural Sciences

What surprised me, from day one, is that here at Cambridge I feel uniquely intellectually respected (as everyone should, from all walks of life and unique backgrounds). This summer’s Pembroke-King’s Programme (PKP) is not preparing us to become experts, rather preparing us to be capable of asking new and different questions in fields we might not have explored previously. The diversity of backgrounds and knowledge represented in this programme is irreproducible and extraordinarily beneficial in the context of learning.

“Some of the best questions asked in academics are asked by those who are not nearly experts in the field.” –Dr. David Jarvis, PKP

I was taken aback during my first philosophy discussion seminar (about 8 students) when Dr. Adam Stewart-Wallace asked me 


what I thought about our reading on Cartesian Dualism. I am a science major… what do I know about philosophy? He genuinely wanted to know. So, I fiddled with my pen and attempted to explain what I was thinking according to my notes on the readings, which were full of little diagrams and my own questions. I am at a stage where though my ideas are abundant, my thoughts are too cluttered to be organized into effectively communicated terms. I ramble. Even when I felt insecure about my statements, however, the professor still seemed fascinated by my ideas, valued everyone’s opinion, and never assumed a right answer.

“Do not underestimate yourself; when you read things, you often have many thoughts come through your head that can be very valuable.” –Dr. Joe Hebert, Cambridge Natural Sciences

Professors here value your opinion much more highly than a regurgitation of the information. They will always ask, “but, what do you think about it?” Cambridge values argument. We are learning to defend our opinions, speak confidently when you are right and someone else is wrong, make a convincing argument and interpret information in a novel way. Likely the most liberating and powerful thing I will learn here is the power of communication.


One response to “The Cambridge Way

  1. Pingback: Week Four, Part I: Grateful – A Summer Abroad·

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