APR 09, 2021
This essay is part of a collection of personal statements written by Crimson students who were accepted to their top-choice universities in the US and UK. By bringing together nearly 25 of our best students’ essays, we want to provide inspiration for future students with the same aspirations and goals. This series will showcase the wonderful variety in our student’s essay creations — powered by their personal voice and supported by their dedicated Crimson essay mentors. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go…
Being torn between the arts and sciences has made me a person who uses mathematical equations to paint pictures and sees my physics lessons as an excuse to discuss the music of the spheres. It is no real surprise, then, that my first serious approach to philosophy was that of a mathematician.
After attending the ESU Debate Academy’s Logic course, I saw logic as the linguistic iteration of mathematics and so decided to study it further, becoming an avid logical positivist after reading Halbach’s ‘The Logic Manual’, Wittgenstein’s ‘Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus’ and Ayer’s ‘Language, Truth and Logic’. I was drawn to the promise of bringing the chaos of the ‘real’ world closer to the certainty I felt that maths provided, but despite this I could never resist the allure of a passionate metaphysical debate about morality or the nature of time whenever such topics arose.
This conflict was resolved, somewhat ironically, by a paradox. The podcast Radiolab informed me of Godel’s incompleteness theorems, which state that any consistent set of axioms contains necessarily unprovable statements. With my view of absolute truths shaken, I began to carefully consider arguments opposing logical positivism and found ontological relativism more in keeping with how we relate to the complexity of everyday life. My new viewpoint still considers logic, but I now know how many alternative methods there are to explore and want to work to consider them all. For example, when writing on ‘what is disappointment?’ for the Edgar Jones Philosophy Essay Competition, I presented both possible evolutionary perspectives and the more subjective origins of the emotion.
Resolving the false dichotomy between my scientific and artistic approaches was also vital in progressing my understanding of linguistics. Bloom’s ‘Open Yale’ series and Pinker’s ‘The Language Instinct’ taught me that to be worthy of debate a language must be restricted to a structured human system capable of expressing abstract thought. While my scientific leanings told me the universality of maths made it superior to other languages, I also saw how close this came to Orwellian Newspeak and had to accept the value of the multivalent nature of poetic language. I worked to resolve this when writing on bilingualism for the Trinity College Cambridge Linguistics competition. I initially argued that speaking multiple languages aids a person in understanding the logic of all linguistic systems, but then went on to explore how each language’s inconsistencies give it cultural merit.
As a keen reader and aspiring author, the first place I looked to understand language subjectivity was literature. In preparation for my school’s Poetry By Heart Competition, I analysed many translations of Baudelaire and saw just how crucial an authors’ lexical choice is on the overall impact of a piece. Language subjectivity is just as prevalent in science, as I saw when assisting UCL Professor David Lagnado as he searched for a reliable way to convey DNA or drug results in criminal trials. Even in such a seemingly concrete area as star-spectrum analysis, preparing to present my schools ‘Star Seekers’ project at the National Astronomy Meeting showed me just how many questions a single word can raise. If I didn’t understand the impact of my words, I doubt I would have been successful in the Camden Youth Council, competing or running debating competitions or founding the refugee pen-pal charity ‘Words not Wars’.
I have, in turn, committed myself to being an artist, mathematician, author, physicist, podcaster, psychologist, philosopher, linguist and much more besides. My future goals range from founding a grass-roots radio network supporting free speech to reforming state education, but I also know that each passing year gives me more ambitions and plans. This course promises to teach me how, rather than simply what, to think, thus enabling me to go on to fulfil every ambition I have and have yet to find.
NEXT WEEK: Read the essay that got Talia S. into UPenn!
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