Feyerabend on Popper’s seminar:

« At first sight Popper’s seminar was a freewheeling and disorganised affair. Papers could be interrupted at any point, anyone could open his mouth. A closer look revealed an interesting pattern. If a new student, encouraged by the apparent chaos, opened his mouth it was immediately made clear to him, in a manner that left not the slightest doubt, that he was not capable of understanding even the simplest idea. This treatment was continued for weeks until, one fine day, if the student was still present and still dared to open his mouth, Popper would say with a sense of wonder in his voice: *This is a most interesting idea* and then spend quite some time, occasionally an entire hour expounding the deep insight contained in what was often only a trite remark ».

Feyerabend calls this the « method of annihilation and revival », and speculates that the infantile loyalty inspired in some pupils towards their masters derives « from this judicious (though perhaps unconscious) use of the principles of brainwashing ».

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  1. My professor in Metaphysics and Epistemology (in the eighties) did just that! He was hated as well as admired for it. Especially to female students he could scream; ‘what are you doing here! Why didn’t you go to household school?’ bringing some to tears, indeed just to discover some brilliant insight in their words two months later (if they endured and did not drop out disappointed). And yes, he also had some (only male) students following him around everywhere. In alumni-meetings, his behavior is of course a popular topic. I always wondered whether he had discovered this ‘method’ of teaching all by himself! Anyhow, it was effective for me, as I hated his ‘mood-swings’ and took them as an incentive to develop my own view of the philosophers we read, and earn my right to it by developing good argumentations.


  2. terenceblake dit :

    Yes, this is a good example. These brain-washing techniques do work, they disindividuate people and and produce cliques and lobbies and in-groups etc. But when they fail they provide a powerful impetus to our process of individuation. It was the same with me as a student, when the Althusserians took over my department. Stupid ignorant, but politically correct, comments would be well-received and the rest would be ignored or mocked or caricatured and then refuted with straw-man arguments. Many people that I liked dropped out of philosophy, others paid lip-service while criticising in private. I could not shut up, and had to prove myself ten times harder than the rest.


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