Personal · 30 September 2011 ·
The beginning of my MSc in Evolution of Language and Cognition here at Edinburgh marks not only the next logical step in my academic career, but is also a time of reflection. Where am I now, how did I get here and where will I be going next?
It is the ‘how did I get here?’ that seems to be the easiest of all questions. In retrospective all those life choices line up in one perfect, straight line and one wonders “Could there have been any other choice?” It all falls so neatly into place… Wasn’t most of the coursework I did in my undergraduate on language? Haven’t I been trying to tackle the question of the origins of communication in these papers? Did I not choose to study psychology because I was fascinated by the work of the Austro-American psychologist, philosopher and linguist Paul Watzlawick? Did I not already as a child get my best grades in biology? Was it not my mother, a biology teacher, who always left her books on biology and evolution on the living room table, so that I could read them? And weren’t my favourite toys my plastic dinosaurs?
Well, indeed: All of this is true. But the past tense is different to the present. Things look different when you look back, compared to what they were like when you underwent them. What once was a deep and thorough maze, looks, retrospectively, like a long, straight road. All the windings, crossings and hills, they are forgotten now. How often did you find yourself at a fork and the decision to go either left or right was more or less coincidental, you might as well could have flipped a coin? If you had asked me a year ago, “what do you want to do for your MSc?” I would have replied: “Political Psychology”. And not having picked this course, left me heartbroken. (But had I not picked the MSc in Evolution, I would have left me heartbroken just as much) Only a year before I started my undergraduate, I did not consider studying psychology. Sure, I had already read most of Paul Watzlawick’s work, and it did have a significant impact on the way I looked at things1. But during my IB, I wanted to either biology, chemistry…or media informatics. In fact, I already had a place to do the latter in a small town in the south of Germany, and only cancelled it when I heard that I had been accepted in Glasgow.
And the list goes on: Before I came to the UK to do my Baccalaureate, I never thought of going abroad for more than a year. It just didn’t occur to me. Even the choice to go abroad, was purely incidental, and more so that I would stay here. But now, the time I spent over here, in England and in Scotland, has become such an integral part to my self-identity, I simply cannot imagine what life would have been like if I had stayed in Germany.
So, I have just moved to Edinburgh and started my postgraduate. When you get older, things fall into place more easily it seems. I got it all worked out, from now on: After my MSc, I will go and do a PhD somewhere in Europe, wherever I can find an interesting and preferably paid position. Then I will try to find a Post doc, again somewhere in Europe, or maybe the States or somewhere else on this planet. Possibly the moon, but I don’t think we will be that far advanced by then. I will try to contribute to the understanding of where we humans are coming from, and more importantly, where we are going to. All this boils down to a set of questions that have been bugging me for the past few years: What constrains are there on the way human societies are structured? What kind of social structures make us feel included and give us the desire to contribute positively to our society? How is it that we can communicate, share our thoughts and feelings, using such an abstract and in itself meaningless communication system, like our language(s)?
This is how I am picturing it right now. But speak to me in ten years time, and maybe things look different then.
1 This sounds a bit hyperbolic. In a way, all Watzlawick did, was raising my awareness for contextual thinking, not looking at the things themselves but at the context they are in and the relationships between them. Although Watzlawick targeted this interactional view primarily towards communication, it is widely applicable. For example, we might use it to describe political relations during the Cold War or the relationship with our neighbours, etc.