Objectivists have discussed their long-held dream of an Objectivist University (O.U.). As much as many of us would like to see it for the benefit of future college students (and for the benefit to us of ensuring that better intellectuals become part of the culture in which we will live), we can't help but realize that no such institution exists today. The means I outlined in the previous page of avoiding some of the pitfalls of today's universities while earning a recognized degree, is not the ideal; the avoidance of the bad does not mean accruing all of the benefits of the good.
It's been suggested that distance-learning programs be offered for students of Objectivism and other students to earn college credit for course-work done outside of conventional college classrooms. Lyceum International has begun just that. I fully support such commercial endeavors.
Objectivists can get Objectivist instruction through “Portfolio Assessment.” As outlined in the section on the main page about equivalency projects, students enrolled in the “Portfolio Assessment” program can contact their own expert working at an accredited college to evaluate the student's mastery.
Recall that students can get credit in any subject that is or has been offered at an accredited college. This allows students to cite courses in Objectivism offered (however infrequently) by colleges, and to approach well-schooled, prominent Objectivists who are on college faculties and would appreciate the opportunity to earn a little extra money from evaluation efforts while also advancing the dissemination of Objectivism.
My description of a course on cognitive psychology shows that the philosophic underpinnings presented in the course touched upon rational epistemology.
As might be expected, much (to put it mildly) of the material presented in the courses, particularly in the humanities, was irrational tripe. A surprising exception was to be had in the “Cognitive Psychology” course offered by the University of Missouri Center for Independent Study. (Readers of the previous installments of this series may recall that “Cognitive Psychology” was one of two courses for which I paid more money and took more exams (including homework quizzes) than I had for any other subject I pursued; the University of Missouri Center for Independent Study is a college that only offered its nontraditional courses with these additional, time-consuming requirements.)
As you, as an Objectivist, read the following passage from the course textbook, you may be struck -- as I was -- by the similarity between this excerpt and material in “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology”:
“A special slot in each schema is its superset schema. Basically, unless contradicted, a concept inherits the features of its superset. Thus, stored with the schema for building, the superset of house, we would have features such as that it has a roof and walls and is found on the ground. This information is not represented in the above schema for house because it can be inferred from building (actually other information such as materials could probably also be inferred from building). These supersets are basically the isa hierarchies that we saw with semantic networks. In the case of schemas, they are sometimes called generalization hierarchies.
“Schemas have another type of hierarchy, called a part hierarchy. Thus, parts of houses, such as walls and rooms, have their own schema definitions. Stored with schemas for walls and rooms we find that these have windows and ceilings. Thus, using the part relationships, we would be able to infer that houses have windows and ceilings.
“Schemas are designed to facilitate making inferences about the concepts. If we know something is a house, we can use the schema definition to infer that it is probably made of wood or brick, and that it has walls, windows, and the like. However, the inferential processes for schemas must be able to deal with exceptions. So, we can still understand what a house without a roof is. Also, it is necessary to understand the constraints between the slots of a schema. So, if we hear of a house that is underground, we can infer that it will not have windows.”
(from “Cognitive Psychology and its Implications,” Third Edition, by John R. Anderson (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1990), pg. 135)
(I presume you were reminded of Ayn Rand's classifications of furniture, the toy table, etc.; of her distinction between description and differentia; more.)
Unfortunately, in this course, the course guide and homework assignments, credited to David C. Geary, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia, presents and tests students on such nonsense as:
“The textbook, however, does not mention that many scientists [how many? -- or how few? -- DH] now view the brain as primarily a 'social organ.' That is, scientists think that many areas of the cortex seem to have evolved to provide humans with the skills necessary for living in social groups. Language is a good example of one of these social skills [!!--as if it was strictly social!! -- DH].”
Fortunately for the student, although the open-book-permitted homework does quiz the student on this social-organ view, the exams themselves do not.
It would be wonderful were today's Objectivist teachers in Universities to prepare course outlines, cassette courses, or (better still for the student, but more difficult for the expert) textbooks for use by students in preparing for exams. Such course outlines might indicate the pitfalls in the thinking of the so-called academic heroes in the field and what alternative knowledge or concepts should be grasped by the student who wants to preserve his mind. These works, were they to include the general breadth of the course -- terminology, crucial facts, panorama of disciplines or aspects -- might very well prepare independent-learning students for standard exams, either with or without conventional textbooks. Such materials if offered on audio tape would benefit the working student who commutes or can listen on the job and would also benefit the Objectivist teacher who might find that a lecture tape can be prepared during spare time on the basis of the lectures given by the Objectivist teacher in the college classroom). Yet here I suggest something that is not yet on the market; I remind my reader that a great deal of study material is available.