Thanks to the internet!

Open Culture is one of the great doorways to courses and information! For example:


When you dive into our collection of 1,300 Free Online Courses, you can begin an intellectual journey that can last for many months, if not years. The collection lets you drop into the classrooms of leading universities (like Stanford, Harvard, MIT and Oxford) and essentially audit their courses for free. You get to be a fly on the wall and soak up whatever knowledge you want. All you need is an internet connection and some free time on your hands.

Today, we’re featuring two courses taught by Professor Richard Bulliet at Columbia University, which will teach you the history of the world in 46 lectures. The first course, History of the World to 1500 CE (available on YouTube and iTunes Video, or fully streamable below) takes you from prehistoric times to 1500, the cusp of early modernity. The origins of agriculture; the Greek, Roman and Persian empires; the rise of Islam and Christian medieval kingdoms; transformations in Asia; and the Maritime revolution — they’re all covered here.

In the second course, History of the World Since 1500 CE (find it on YouTube, iTunes or embedded below), Bulliet focuses on the rise of colonialism in the Americas and India; historical developments in China, Japan and Korea; the Industrial Revolution; the Ottoman Empire; the emergence of Social Darwinism; and various key moments in 20th century history.

Bulliet helped write the popular textbook The Earth and its Peoples: A Global History, and it serves as the main textbook for the course. Above, we’re starting you off with Lecture 2, which moves from the Origins of Agriculture to the First River – Valley Civilizations, circa 8000-1500 B.C.E. The first lecture deals with methodological issues that underpin the course. All of the remaining lectures are available below.

Once you get the big picture with Professor Bulliet, don’t forget to visit our collection of Free Online History Courses, a subset of our big collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.



Eric Schwitzgebel has a pleasingly liberal view of what constitutes philosophy. A philosopher is anyone wrestling with the “biggest picture framing issues” of… well, anything.

In a keynote session at the Fiction Writing for Philosophers Workshop that was held at Oxford Brookes University in June 2017, Schwitzgebel, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, shared his advice–which he stated would be both practical and impractical.

Check it out here.

SS: On Compassion – Letter from Sayward

Hello all,
I have been remiss in contributing to our community and thought forum. I have been writing this summer, but I am also at one of those chapters in my life when one issue after another takes my time and energy. I am trying to navigate through this period ‘doing the right things’. As I write this, as I think back on this chaotic period, I am pleased enough to see that my actions have been value-based. I have assesed my behaviour and feel okay about what I have done, am currently doing, and plan to go forward in a similar fashion as my energy allows.

My wife has been a type 1 diabetic for almost 50 years. She is in one of those phenomenal outlier groups of good prospects and normal possibilities. (Are any of our lives normal?) However, as an avid gardener approaching age 60, she has yet to understand her physical limits. She works too hard, and this spring she tore some muscles in her right leg and now has nerve damage. The ‘nerve entrapment’ can best be described as having a hive of bees in her right calf in addition to the extreme pain of the original injury. She can no longer drive beyond 5 minutes duration. The result is that I have become the facilitator and driver to her medical appointments. The fact that we live 50 miles west of town means that it takes up most of the day. Plus, as we are the main caretakers of her 86-year-old Dad with a bad ticker, I get to take over those duties as well. Next week I am slated for three town days, and this takes me away from my own life.

And what else am I doing these days? Why, building a small house, of course! By myself. Yesterday, I ‘got the roof on’ so I am feeling pretty liberated and plan to see my group friends this afternoon!! I start my days around 5:00am, and am usually onsite by 7:00….on our property. In the last 4 weeks I managed to get the septic system installed, my foundation in, the house framed (rafter…post and beam) the roof on, and the rest of my materials moved in and on to the sub-floor and under cover; protected from the coming rains. (And they will come, all 8′ as per usual winter). I am 62 and have discovered the help of Tylenol arthritis in the extra large bottle. The house is quite modest at 640 sq feet, with just one bedroom and an ‘open configuration’. It will have a vaulted 10′ ceiling with t&g pine. If it was in town it would be expensive. In the country, it will be a small cottage for my friend whose rent will just cover the taxes. Did I mention I am definitely not a businessman or property tycoon?

My friend is 77 and has to move out of his caretaking house. He has very little money and a modest pension. He has nowhere to go, and cannot afford current rents. He is also in tough shape from a lifetime of falling trees on the west coast and from too many years eating wrong and drinking too much. He is also the kind of man who will do anything for you, me, everyone. He epitomises a selfless form of compassion….towards animals, other people, even to those who have wronged him throughout his life. I have learned a great deal from him over the years, and while I don’t always listen to what he is telling me, well have no fear….it will be repeated tomorrow, and maybe off and on for a month or two until another event or theme arises. Aging, what more can I say?
I am building my friend a small house so he can stay in the same neighbourhood he has lived in since 1950. He used to live in a small shack where my driveway is. He told me they could see daylight through the walls, and they got water out of the river in an old oil drum. The windows in the new house are used from the Habitat restore, but everything else is new. He is worried it will be too fancy for him so I have compromised on the flooring. It will stay painted plywood sub-floor so he can leave his shoes on. He is concerned because my wife will install curtains with real curtain rods instead of the his blankets hung up over electrical conduit. He didn’t want a bathtub/shower, but I had to lay down the law and say, “Listen, you’re pushing 80. You will be one day be moving on my friend….maybe feet first, and then I will rent the place to someone else who might want to have a bath”. I have framed in the ‘cat door’. My little dog will be able to fit through it and visit him. He is happy. I am happy, because I love and live to build.


“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

That has been my summer and why I have been silent. I am in building mode. I am building a house for my good friend. I have been looking after my family because I am still healthy and able to do so. And most of all, I am enjoying almost every moment of every day and trying to do the best that I can….like all of us.



Letter from South America

Dear Bob,
My brother and his family were visiting Greece these past days. They went to Athens, and then from there they sailed to the islands of Santorini and Mykonos. What a wonderful trip! My 12 year-old niece loves mythology and knows a little bit about philosophers so they really enjoyed seeing all the classical sites and museums (besides enjoying wonderful wine, food and views of course). The first picture my brother sent was the front view of the Parthenon. He pointed out that the one sculpture remaining in the pendant of the actual building is that of Dionysius. As my mother loves wine he joked: “after 2500 years, Dionysius is the only survivor!” However, the Dionysius they found in a museum had only half face, no neck, torso, neither arms nor legs, and only one hand holding a glass. Here he said: “ Well, here only the glass survived!”  (Perhaps he drank in excess – haha).  But not everything was about humor, pictures, restaurants, museums, or being a tourist. He told us that being there gives you a natural motivation to think about thinking… nice. Traveling and thinking about thinking sounds like a good life; feeling that you are really alive. I don’t have the money to travel to Greece but it is my consolation to think that going back to the Greeks and thinking about what they said is as good as travelling there (this is half joke, half serious).
Today is Sunday and on Sundays I rest as most. On Sundays I have time to do laundry, to plan my week, to go for a long bike ride, to think. I sit down or lay down here on the sofa sometimes, staring at the window, the blue sky and the cloud formation, listening to the birds and feeling the breeze. I need to use this time I have to think, to learn something, to make my mind a better mind, to clear it so I have some insight about something. But how do I do that. I read good stuff, I download some podcast and then I think about it, I think about what bothers me, my never ending ruminating, my feelings. However, sometimes I think I don’t make any progress and my mind is still not very clear, not very clever. The Greeks said that before trying to learn something new we need to know ourselves: ‘Know Thyself’. Know my self sounds wise, but if the self is just an artifice, an illusion, what exactly am I to get to know?  If I analyze my thoughts or my actions, then I interpret them, I go on and on with analysis: labeling something good or bad, convenient, undesirable, mistaken, well done, etc. But I do not think the Greeks meant such a methodology could lead to self-knowledge. All right, let me go back: If we accept that self is not an entity to be known, we surely can accept that mind is, just because mind simply exists. OK, I need to understand mind. That requires knowledge in philosophy, psychology, neurology, and more. Wow, that is a lot of studying! But surely the Greek saying was meant for everyone as a practical motto relating to living a good life, not an academic endeavor, so not only experts could achieve the goal. It has to be hard but not so hard; one hopes!
Know thyself: knowledge of my own self, an exploration of my own self to find something true about its nature, its workings.  My mind is something amazing. My work is done thanks to my mind’s prodigious processing capacity. Has it happened to you that sometimes your brain corrects some mistake it has made WAY AFTER the fact and when not even thinking about the fact (which is what I find amazing)?
I remember when I was working for a telecommunications shop in Canada; I was always very worried about doing things correctly.  My job was repairing radio equipment for loggers. When a radio fails and you are in the middle of the forest, it can be trouble, so I was very keen on doing a good job. One afternoon I had repaired a radio and the client had picked it up and left satisfied. That night I woke up at midnight with the thought that I hadn’t installed a small protection component. Next day I called the client who came back to have his equipment re-checked. I had not, in fact, installed that component. My brain told me in my dream what I had forgotten while doing the job. Fantastic! But my brain is also very annoying! The ever present chatting, rumination, story making and the feelings all those thoughts give me drive me crazy. I have explored meditation in order to be more focused and to stop the chatting, and although I have not had success in adopting the practice, I think it definitely works. I am wondering now how meditation could relate to knowing myself. Here, then, is something to explore. I have to try to retake the practice first.  Despite my not understanding how to go about knowing myself, I surely believe it is fundamental.
Well, it is 6 pm, no more time for thinking. It is time for drinking. No more Socrates but Dionysus! Until next time.