Hey, everybody. I’m Eric Gerlach. Gerlach is German and rhymes with bear-lock, like a bear that has you in a bearhug or a headlock. I was born and raised in the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco, moved to Berkeley for college and grad school, and now teach Philosophy and the history of human thought at Berkeley City College. Welcome to the place where we laugh and cry along with the whole of humanity, learning from everything smart and stupid we have done as a species.
The most highly evolved form of stupid today is to suppose that you have a rational, Western mind which makes you think like all ancient Greek people and unlike any African or Chinese people. While Western European white people like me are extra shiny today, with much power and positioning, it is wise to look at the history of human thought as a whole. By looking at humanity as apes, then as hunter-gatherers, then as city dwellers, and then as ourselves, we can learn from the brilliance and the hypocrisy of everyone to learn about our own minds, how we think and how we can improve our thinking.
First and foremost, I teach the history of human thought from a multicultural and global perspective rather than a Eurocentric perspective. While many have traditionally focused on the achievements of ancient Greece and modern Europe, ignoring other cultures, we can learn much more about our own thinking and the thinking of others we agree and disagree with by looking at all cultures of human thought. This includes comparable animal and ape behavior, hunter-gatherer tribes, the city-state empires of Egypt, Sumer and the Americas, the Axial Age of Persia, India, Greece, Rome and China, the Islamic golden age, the Renaissance and European Enlightenment, and our modern diverse world. In particular, I concentrate on the similarities of Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Chinese, Islamic, and Modern German, French and American thought. We are one common race and culture, and we need to study the trunk of the tree as well as the interrelated branches. This is not only good for all of the students in a diverse student body, but particularly effective, as studies have shown, at improving the quality of education for and success rates of students from disadvantaged populations.
Second, I teach from a multidisciplinary perspective. Philosophical, religious, political, and scientific thought are interrelated, each shedding light on the other. That way, students can relate and connect the material in my classes with all of their other classes. In particular, I focus on the connections between philosophy, art, religion, psychology, biology and mathematics.
Third, I focus on core concepts of each thinker or school of thought. Rather than focus on complete systems, concepts are tools that are not necessarily perfect for each job or situation. Because Philosophy is a dense and complex subject, and influential texts can be difficult to read and understand, I focus on the central influential ideas, explaining how they work in plain language everyone can understand, illustrating the idea with images and video using photos and diagrams. My goal is to have a short YouTube video about each of the core concepts for every class I teach.
Fourth, I believe in an open discussion & critical debate, such that at any time during lecture students can ask questions, offer examples and counterexamples, and respond to their fellow students. After each core concept, I stop and ask them if they can think of examples that support the idea or counterexamples that call the idea into question, which can include other core concepts we have covered or examples from history, current events, fiction or their own personal lives. At the end of each lecture, if there has been little discussion, I break into small groups to encourage students to dialogue about the material.
Fifth, I provide the students with a website we use in class and they can access from home, such that they are learning verbally, visually, and textually, accommodating students with different learning styles. The website has all of the lecture notes for each class, illustrated with images and videos. I project the notes on the board as I lecture and we discuss so they can see the images and read along with the lecture. This allows students to invert the classroom as much or as little as they individually like, as well as learn via lecture, reading the notes, watching the videos, and participating in discussion in class and on the website.
Sixth, Philosophy, which is sometimes called “thinking about thinking”, is exercise for the mind, much as physical training is exercise for the body. We can all develop and strengthen our minds and bodies throughout our lives, and critical thinking about one’s own thinking and the thinking of others strengthens our ability to think for ourselves and dialogue with others. While some are critical of philosophy, saying that it never comes to final answers and always remains in the abstract and speculative, unlike a proper science, philosophy strengthens the mind that we use in all other fields, including the arts and sciences, just as physical exercise strengthens the body that we use both to dance and walk down the street.