It was the winter of 2010. My thesis supervisor and I were walking along Otonobee river on the beautiful Trent University campus. The campus looks more beautiful and more dreamy now in my memories, and I am sure its beauty has increased with our distance in time.
I told him about my plan for post-graduate studies. He thought I was joking. “What about philosophy?”, he asked. I don’t remember what I said, and I don’t remember having a good answer. I still don’t.
He said studying visual attention in the style of Michael Posner would be like studying Newtonian physics. I didn’t know what he meant. Old-fashioned? Limited in its theoretical scope? I get his point now. I see what he saw. At the same time, and saying this might surprise you, I cannot imagine an argument that could have changed my mind in 2010. It wasn’t a matter of abstract reasons and detached persuasion. It was a matter of seeing. And seeing takes time. It might even take pain, at least in my case (and I am quite sure in his case, as well). Seeing requires experience.
Now that my best students express interest in graduate work in perception science at some hot-shot lab, I sometimes wonder whether I could change their mind. “What about philosophy?”. I don’t try. Not even as much as my teacher tried, back in the winter of 2010. And he barely tried. What came out of him in that brief moment was the outcome of his visceral reaction to my decision, rather than a purposeful argument. Arguments require common ground, and there was nothing common between my naïve ambition and the wisdom of his experience.