About Me

thoughtful babyHey, 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.

MY PEDAGOGY

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.

18 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Shawn Keally

    I totally agree with your viewpoint on how you approach the teaching of this course and I appreciate the fact that you have made available several means for us to go over, learn, and study the course material.

    Reply
  2. Joshua Lindberg

    I’ve just discovered this website, and I want to compliment its beautiful design & thought. Thank you. While I adore the Ancient Greeks, I find it mind-boggling how overlooked yet idealised remarkably similar “eastern” ideas are, such as those of Laozi, Confucius, and Buddha. there is one truth! I’m happy I found your website. I’ll be reading up on your posts.

    Reply
    1. ericgerlach79 Post author

      Thanks, Joshua! I hope to post more videos in the near future. I am happy that you are enjoying the site. The ancient Greeks were indeed great, but so are so many other cultures with which we are interrelated.

      Reply
    1. ericgerlach79 Post author

      Long ago I hoped to write a paper on Wittgenstein and the Alice books, but then I got sidetracked for years prepping class lectures. I still want to work it into a paper, particularly the section on the Mad Tea Party. How is your experience with The Philosopher?

      Reply
  3. Doc Martin

    Sorry to disappear – like the Cheshire Cat! ‘Real Life’ took one of its not to be ignored turns… Anyway, yes, this is really a great topic – if you can be persuaded to return to it. The paper we ran a few years back now by Pinhas Ben-Zvi is really a classic, I’d say – although (I’m sure you won’t be surprised at this) mainstream philosophers still prefer their diet of conventional issues and topics. And Wittgenstein seems to receive some of the most boring commentaries around.

    The Philosopher is very flexible – as long as the author writes for a general reader, not an academic specialist. Certainly your blog here, #14 is just he right sort of stuff. Indeed, I found it all fascinating! However articles for the Journal should probably be a bit shorter (2000-3000 words) and to focus on likely just one of the sub-themes. ie. a little intro to Carroll, yes, and a mention of Russell where relevant, but the focus perhaps more tightly on the similarities of approach and possible influences of Carroll on Wittgenstein.

    If you’d like to explore the issue further, please drop me a line! The website address as you see is the-philosopher.co.uk and my email is just editor@ the website (I’m being cryptic to avoid being caught by spambots!)

    Actually if you don’t feel it’s something you have time to really develop, what you have here would make an interesting article in itself, it would just need a little bit of editing (cutting) really. And if you don’t feel like that either – it’s still great to see someone looking at these topics in such a fresh and unexpected way.

    Reply
  4. Ian

    Hey Eric,

    I’m interested in taking a class of yours, Introduction to Philosophy online, and I was wondering whether or not it is going to be fully online as I will be away from the Bay Area during the Summer semester. Also, would it be possible to complete the course before its end date, 7/24/2015?

    Thank you for your time.

    Best, Ian

    Reply
    1. ericgerlach79 Post author

      The Intro class is fully online, so you can complete the class remotely. I also leave everything open, so you should be able to complete the class early if you would like.

      Reply
  5. GARY G. VAIL

    hello again Eric. Are any of the coursebook materials available online as PDF? Or perhaps an outline of the readings? I am retired and living in Ecuador, so unfortunately can’t access hard copies. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. ericgerlach79 Post author

      Hey, Gary. I can’t offer PDFs of the readings online for copyright purposes, but the reader is available at Fast Imaging in Berkeley. They may be able to send you a PDF of the reader if you email or call them, but they will likely charge for the service. I have always wanted to go to Ecuador, and hopefully will someday.

      Reply
    1. ericgerlach79 Post author

      Wittgenstein and Foucault, two of the most important and revered of contemporary thinkers, were likely gay, although it was still a time when openly being gay was illegal. I think that this could have lent both a counter-cultural outsider perspective as to the functioning of meaning and truth, but sometimes being an outsider can equally lead to radical orthodoxy in thought, so such a connection should only be casually mentioned.

      Reply

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