Soraj Hongladarom is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Ethics of Science and Technology at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. His research interests include bioethics, computer ethics, and the roles that science and technology play in the culture of developing countries.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher from any time, who would you pick, and what topic would you choose?
It must be Spinoza. Topic: Grinding lenses and human blessedness.
What excites you about philosophy?
I started out as an English major and was really fascinated by poetry and fiction when I was young—all kinds of literature and in all languages that I could read, including translated works. I also minored in philosophy and found it fascinating. I remember finding an old textbook on an introduction to philosophy in my high school library and becoming hooked. When I went to graduate school, I decided to study philosophy instead of English. The link between the two is that you have to be very careful with the text, and that you can respond to a text in various ways. And this is where the excitement in philosophy lies. The standard attitude toward philosophy and literature is that the former tries to get at the truth, and the latter is, well, fiction. (This does not mean that one cannot get at some kind of truth through literature, but that’s another matter.) But then the truth that philosophy tries to get at is not the same as what the sciences aim at getting. Philosophy is conceptual and depends so much on language and meaning. It is through philosophy that you can bring things as diverse as literature and science together in one sentence, and make the sentence really mean something substantial. That is also pretty exciting.
What time of day are you most productive and creative?
I am a morning person, and I work best right after I get out of bed. Perhaps it’s the energy that I have after a full night’s sleep that gets me going. When I was a graduate student I used to work a lot late at night, sometimes pulling all-nighters. But as I get older, I can’t do that anymore. Right now, the least creative moment for me is in the evening, say between 6 and 11 p.m., which is the time I usually go to bed. This time is thus usually reserved for lighter moments, such as surfing Facebook or watching television, unless I have a deadline or a class the next morning. Then I have to force myself a bit, which is hard.
What do you like to do outside work?
I really enjoy playing the piano in a chamber music group. I used to do that a lot, but now it’s hard to find others to play with.
What is your least favorite type of fruit, and why?
Durian. It is a strange fruit, and its strong smell is unbearable. My mother used to tease me a lot because I refuse to eat it. To her, I missed out on a really, really good thing in life.
Which super power would you like to have?
The ability to travel faster than light. I’d like to see what the other side of the galaxy looks like.
Find out more about Soraj here. (He says that it looks like a web from the ’90s because that’s actually what it is.)
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