Monday, October 5, 2015

Settling into the Semester

It's week six of a semester chock-full of singing and running and working and oh yeah, classes, that I had meant to settle into a bit before blogging about it, but who knows when a time that can qualify as  "settled" will come? I'm a senior now, mind full of all these senior worries like job applications and the capital-F Future, and I want to take a moment to update you all on where I currently find myself.

The summer was not perfect but still stunning, featuring the best work experience I've ever had, complete with weekly busking in Central Park and an amazingly successful fundraising campaign for Gyaan Ghar (thanks to all of you).  If you're wondering why I didn't post about it more often, it's because I've been experimenting with writing for myself -- and ended the summer with 56 pages narrating my summer experience in New York!

The school year kicked off with an a cappella retreat at Mr. Chanania's home followed by auditions to find four amazing new Opportunes babies who will carry on the tradition when we graduate! The thing I'm most looking forward to right now is our 35th Anniversary Jam on November 7th, which is sure to be a highlight of my semester!

My classes are exciting, relevant, and varied:

Why Are So Many Countries Poor, Volatile, and Unequal?

Why are so many countries poor, volatile and unequal?  This course will describe these three salient and interrelated characteristics of developing countries, study their proximate and deeper causes and discuss the policies that have been proposed to deal with them. The first part of the course discusses the current state of development across the world and its evolution. It then discusses the different approaches that have been developed to account for these facts, including factors such as capital accumulation, demography, institutions and the obstacles to structural transformation; and puts them in a diagnostic framework. We also review the evidence on the magnitude and causes of inequality and discuss the causes and consequences of macroeconomic volatility and crises in the developing world. The emphasis throughout is to inform the discussion on development policy.

Understanding Altruism

People give a lot: 2% of GDP is donated to charity, 2-4% of hours worked are volunteered, and 50% of Americans vote in National Elections. Yet such giving displays puzzling qualities: for example, giving is often inefficient (consider the efficiency of Habitat for Humanity) and people who would otherwise give will pay to opt out of being solicited.We use simple game theory models, combined with models of evolution and evidence from experimental economics papers, to better understand our altruistic preferences and their puzzling qualities.  In doing so, we gain insight on how to promote more effective giving (should contributions be observable?) and better policy (should the law distinguish between crimes of omission and commission?).Through the readings, students will gain exposure to relevant literatures in experimental economics, as well as evolutionary biology and social psychology.

Love and Inner Conflict

The most important feature distinguishing human beings from other animals is generally supposed to be a capacity for reasoning – about how things are, but also about what to do. It is clear, however, that no account of intentional human action that restricts itself to reasoning will be adequate. Much of what we do seems to be the outcome of some kind of inner struggle or conflict about what to do, or (in the more momentous cases) which path in life to follow, and sometimes we act in ways we know to be ‘contrary to reason’. It is not at all clear what’s really going on when this happens.

Plato (428-348 BCE), Augustine (354-430 CE) and Freud (1856-1939) offer especially interesting and plausible accounts of such inner conflict. In their different ways, they each understood such conflict in terms of the soul’s having parts, or distinct faculties. They are also alike in positing a fundamental but highly plastic force in the soul, in terms of which its development or deformation, including its division into parts, can be understood. They all called this force love, although it is not straightforward what they meant, or whether they meant the same thing, by calling it that.

In this course, we will look at these theories of the composite, love-driven psyche as expressed in various of their works, such as Plato’s Gorgias, Symposium and Republic, Augustine’s Confessions and De Trinitate, and Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and The Ego and the Id. The aim is to achieve some understanding, not only of the theories, but also of the phenomena they are theories of.

Hindu Worlds of Art and Culture

This course explores the powerful narratives, myths, and arts of Hindu India and the Hindu diaspora. We consider the great gods –Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, and Devi – and the ways in which they give expression to a profound vision of the world in which we live. We explore the myths, poetry, dance, and image through which the gods are envisioned and embodied. We will consider the landscape, the great temples and the holy places where they are worshipped as well as the pilgrimages, rituals, and festivals that are part of Hindu life. Topics will include creation and cosmology; Krishna's teachings in the Bhagavad Gita and their significance for Hindu life; Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana, the Gita Govinda, and in painting, poetry, and dance; the Ramayana and its enactments in popular culture and film; the myths of Shiva and the significance of Shiva's sacred places; the popular Devi Mahatmya and the vision of the Great Goddess. 


Other than that, I'm just juggling these classes, my immune system, my exercise goals, my writing regimen, and my job hunt!

If anyone has extra hours they can lend me, feel free to pass them along!

And wish me luck!!