What are you studying at university and what are your career goals?
I am a first year Philosophy student. My career goals are difficult to define, as I am not entirely set on one path. If I had total freedom of choice, I would be a film director, but I am also interested in politics specifically the diplomatic corps, and in journalism.
When did you first know what you wanted to be when you grew up? What inspired you to pursue this path?
For my fourteenth birthday I was given a book about the making of Star Wars Episode One. I was thrilled with this book and have read it many times. It was not the subject of the book, but the way that it explained the detail and the huge amount of work that goes into every film that made me think that this was an industry that I desperately wanted to be a part of.
How does studying philosophy prepare you for a career in politics, journalism, or other careers you may end up pursuing?
I often get asked what the point of studying philosophy is. In terms of careers it is suitable for any profession that requires you to have a degree. Philosophy is well thought of in the professions I mentioned because it teaches you good methods of thinking and of structured analysis.
In terms of why anybody should study philosophy I have to quote Plato, who said that the "unexamined life is not worth living." Philosophy is, examining life. Philosophers typically ask questions about whether it is possible that there could be an after life, or what it is to lead a good life, or be a good person. Philosophers are also concerned with what we can know to be true; for example, can I know that objects continue to exist even though I do not perceive them?
These are all branches of philosophy, and it is useful and interesting to anyone who has ever wondered if we are not all trapped in the Matrix!
Why are you studying philosophy if you are interested in filmmaking?
When I studied classics in high school, we touched briefly on some of the Greek philosophers. Though what we covered was very basic I found the questions asked were important ones to me. I remember being told that it is impossible to reach the door if you always half the distance between you and it, and I was hooked. Many films express philosophical ideas whether they are concerned with moral dilemmas or pose subtler questions like Bladerunner. I like the idea of film as a medium for philosophy and I think that the best films are those that ask intelligent questions. I am not studying philosophy specifically because I want to go into films, I would rather have it as something to be able to draw from. I am a member of the cinematography society at the university, and like to film things if I can, but I am not involved in any academic film studies.
What do you enjoy most about the study of philosophy?
The thing that I enjoy most is probably learning to think in a different way. A really good philosophy lecture is one that you come away from thinking that everything you had previously thought is nowhere near as simple as it first looked. Also, in studying philosophy you come across some truly incredible thinkers. It's great to be able to study someone who is unquestionably a genius because they teach you new ways of looking at the world.
Are you a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien? If so, what do you think of the LOTR films so far?
I have not actually read any of the books but I am a fan of the movies so far. I think the films are great, they are full of excellent actors and are beautifully made, Pete Jackson seems to have an eye not only for what makes a scene exciting but also for bringing out the drama and the depth of the characters. I have the extended edition DVD and it is fantastic, it shows you a great deal of the lengthy process of making a film as epic as the Lord of the Rings. As I have said, I haven't read the books and so I'm reluctant to talk about Tolkien's philosophy, but of course there's a lot in there about the corrupting nature of evil and also on the nature of goodness.
What were your favorite subjects in elementary school?
My favourite subject in school when I was younger was probably classics. I had a great teacher for this, and I loved learning about monsters and ancient heroes and epic battles, the sort of stuff that one only normally comes across outside of the classroom.
What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects?
I have always had trouble with math. The truth, is that I have never been interested in learning about numbers, they always seemed to be very abstract things. Also, I was not good at it, and so I could never really enjoy the subject.
Did you enjoy different subjects as you grew older? If so, what changed your interests?
My favourite subject in high school was philosophy. Interestingly enough I first learnt about it from classical studies in elementary school, I guess my interests changed because I began to appreciate that the world is not as simple as it appears. As I matured, I questioned things more and enjoyed reading other people's questions.
When did you find out that you had a learning disability?
I was given a test at school when I was fourteen to determine whether I had a learning difficulty or not. At the time, I did not feel that there was anything abnormal in the standards of my work. Certainly, I've never had trouble with my reading or with spelling. I wasn't given much extra help except that I'd meet someone once a week who'd go over any essays I'd written and point out how I could improve them. Even after, I couldn't see any obvious difference. It was when I started consistently to be marked down for the same mistakes in the structure of my essays that I appreciated that I was finding it hard to improve my work. I also found a difficulty in expressing my thoughts both in writing and verbally.
For essays I overcame this difficulty by understanding the benefits of planning. I was too often rushing into the work because I was not thinking it through. It was not that I had too few ideas but rather too many. By planning what I was going to write, I found I could arrange the ideas more coherently, and consequently, I realised new connections and ideas by laying things out clearly.
I sometimes have to do presentations to the rest of the students on the course. If I had not learnt how to structure what I was going to say, I might have just launched into a vague babble of inconsistent ideas. I find that by making careful notes for what I am going to say, when I say it, the results are clearer.
Do you know any other languages?
I have studied French and Spanish at school. My French has lapsed a little but I feel quite confident about my ability to speak Spanish. Spanish was not difficult for me to learn, I think because it is a phonetic language. French on the other hand was harder (though I actually got one of my best marks in it). I have heard it said that French should not be taught to dyslexic students, because it doesn't make sense phonetically! I think this is probably true because there are just so many words that are pronounced entirely differently from how they are spelt. Otherwise I have not had any difficulty with foreign languages, and at some point I look forward to learning German.
Does your learning difference make university studies more difficult?
In this country [United Kingdom] there is a lot of support for students with learning difficulties. I have received a free computer and a mini-disc player as well as subsidised photocopying and study books. But the truth is that there is a great deal of awareness of learning difficulties nowadays. Extra exam time is available for certain students, and the lectures are always paced so that every one has a chance to keep up with what is being said. The lecturers are also happy to see students to go over points of difficulty with the course. For them, any chance to talk with someone who is interested in the subject they have dedicated their life to is welcome. In fact, the students who go to their lecturers with a difficulty are usually the ones who enjoy a better relationship with him or her and who have a better understanding of the course in general. So I would say that my difficulty does not make my studies more difficult, but actually gives scope for a better understanding of the issues, and a better time at university in general.
Did you receive the same level of support when you were in elementary and high school?
In high school certainly the teachers were always available to talk to, and I also had extra time in exams. In elementary school, the support was there, but I didn't think I had a problem.
What advice do you have for kids who struggle in school?
I would say that planning is essential, but this is easier said than done. I know that it is often hard to find the motivation to do the planning and that it can seem irrelevant. Actually, planning essays may seem to prevent you from getting the work done quickly. One of the problems I have, and I think other people have, is that it can be difficult to organise my thoughts. As I have said above though, if you take the time to set down the ideas, more patterns and links between them emerge, making the result a better essay overall.
It is important to realise that these 'learning difficulties' stop you from setting the ideas out clearly, not from having them in the first place. If you can't understand what is going on in a lesson, chances are (as has always been my experience), that the subject has been badly explained. The thing to do, is to learn the confidence to ask the teacher to explain the point with which you are having trouble, in a different way. And talk to other people, learning should be a collective experience and so, if you can discuss what you have learned, you will come to a better understanding of it.
What advice do you have for all students regardless of their academic abilities?
It is very difficult to give advice, without sounding preachy, so I had better be brief. Always remember to keep a balance between work and leisure. The fact is, if you don't do any work, you will not get far. If you do a lot of work, then you risk not having much fun, but you will probably do well later. If you remember not to work all the time, but you also learn that there are times when you must, you will both have a good time, and in all probability get along fine when it comes to higher education. The choice to make seems obvious to me, but in the end, I am not you, and nor is anyone else.
What do you imagine yourself doing 10 years from now?
I imagine that I will be on the road to doing something that I want to do, though it may not be one of the things I mentioned above. If I want something badly enough, I can usually find a way to get to it. So I know that I will be happy in what I am doing.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
I have many favourite quotes, but the one that sprung immediately to mind is:
"Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer."
~ Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, I. 322
[Editor's note: American readers may notice spelling differences in this interview. These are not spelling errors because of dyslexia, but rather differences because Peter is British! Spellings of words such as favourite, realise, organise, learnt and spelt, etc. are common in the United Kingdom and many other parts of the world where English is spoken.]
- 17 June 2003
19 April 2008
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