This morning I received an email (headlined, "Blast from the Past") from my friend (and sometime collaborator), Andrew Janiak. His sister had found a copy of the program of the New England Undergraduate Philosophy Conference held at Tufts, April 4, 1992 (which Andrew had included in the mail). I had been on the program committee; I was a junior at Tufts at the time, and I was urged to join the program committee because several philosophy professors were aware that I had started to toy with the idea of adding philosophy as a second major (to International Relations, although in the end I dropped IR and double-majored in political science and philosophy--which seems surprisingly prescient a quarter of a century later, but at the time involved an issue of meeting requirements). Participating in organizing and hosting the event was my first exposure to philosophy outside the class-room as a collegial and fun enterprise among peers. The conference had stood out in my memory for three reasons:
- First, that Summer I went on a road-trip through America with one of the organizers; she ended up becoming my first serious girlfriend.
- Second, I was blown away by Jesse Prinz, who gave a presentation, there; we met again at The University of Chicago as graduate students (where he was a few years ahead of me).
- Third, as one of the people who had judged the papers, I had been struck by the fact that while Jesse Prinz went on to become a very famous philosopher, I never heard again about the guy who was awarded first prize for a fascinating paper on the Newcomb Problem. This was especially striking because his presentation of the Newcomb Problem stuck with me ever since (much to the dismay of some of my friends, I am a committed one-boxer [I never let on to Bill Harper about this]). I did not recall his name nor much about him, except that he was clearly insanely smart and a bit idiosyncratic.
Much later I noticed that the two female, co-program chairs, two brilliant seniors, who wanted to improve the world politically and morally, chose to go on to law school and not professional philosophy.
Looking at the program (see below), I was flooded with memories of midnight discussions (qua program committee) about philosophy and, especially, the exhilaration about the wide range of topic and styles of writing that were wholly new to me. Several papers reflected schools of thought and styles of reasoning that were not taught at Tufts at the time, and, thus, required great deal of effort to enter into. The program reveals quite a few names that have gone on to distinguished careers in professional philosophy: in addition to Prinz and Janiak, I recognize Catherine Wearing and Jeremy Bendik Keymer. Maybe others recognize more of these names. (An internet search revealed that several folk got MAs in philosophy and then pursued other careers--this is true of several of the women in the sample.)
As the previous paragraph should make clear, I was reminded of the fragility of memory. For, I was amazed to discover that Andrew Janiak and I had actually first met at this event at Tufts. Until today I had assumed we first met a few years later (ca 2001) when we were introduced to each other by George Smith while preparing a series of articles for Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see here and here). I was also astounded to learn that Bendik Keymer, who was pretty much in the same cohort as I when we were PhD students at Chicago, and I had actually also encountered each other at this event. Part of me wonders if I was aware of the connection to Janiak and Bendik Keymer when we met again as PhD students and forgotten subsequently or, as seems phenonomologically more likely now, that I never made the connection at the time.
As I was writing this post organized around the fragility of memory, I googled the other names on the program and received a shock. I was reminded of the fact that the author of that Newcomb Problem paper was named, Jonathan Roorda and that he died of cancer in 1996, aged 25. I recall reading this on the Leiterreport in 2012. His (1997) paper in Journal of Philosophy, closes with a footnote that states that "He was a few months away from completing a Ph.D. dissertation on a probabilistic explication of full belief. He was twenty-five. This article was prepared for publication by his advisor, Richard C. Jeffrey." When I read that footnote, I seem not to have made the connection to the glorious undergraduate paper and presentation at Tufts. What's more, I think it is very likely that I must have read his extended review piece on Kitcher on theory choice (Erkentnisse 2007) because in re-reading it this afternoon I had a few 'aha' moments (some other time more on this paper).
And so this post has been turned into a reminder of the fragility of life and memories--but most of all, carpe diem.