Monthly Archives: August 2012

Interview Phdaily

Interview PhDaily

Who are you? 

My name is Rolf Viervant and I live in the center of Rotterdam. I have studied both history and philosophy at the Erasmus University. For little more than a year now I’m working as a doctoral researcher at the philosophy faculty of the same university on an NWO funded project with Utrecht and Leiden: “What can the humanities contribute to our practical self-understanding.” What this comes down to is that this project approaches the question: ‘What is the human?’ from many different angles. Furthermore I like playing, sea, writing, cycling, summer, running and peace.

What is your PhD research about? 

I work on a sub-project called: ‘Hermes Hormones: Towards a ‘poetics of genetics.” In this project I work on a hermeneutic approach to biology. Now there are two major scientific traditions: the natural sciences and the humanities. Biology firmly positions itself within the natural sciences. This makes it hard to come to a non-reductionist understanding of codes, signaling or the question what a human biologically is. The humanities are supposed to answer these questions, but find it hard to positively value biological empiric knowledge. The difference between nature and culture in this tradition is seen as a cultural difference, so natural knowledge is at its best, cultural. I am trying to create a middle position. A philosophical approach that starts in the biological hegemonic worldview, and from there connects the best of the two traditions by the use of a embodied hermeneutics. By doing this I hope to be able to give a more positive account about the nature in humans and the human in nature.

What successes and downsides have you experienced in your life as a PhD student so far?

The biggest downside of my life as a PhD-student is the constant slogging, doubt, restarting and rethinking of the texts I have to write, the project I am working on, and life in general. My doubting nature –which was one day the reason I started studying philosophy- makes it impossible for me to carefully reevaluate a single paragraph alone. As soon as I start doing that, everything is at stake, and causes many unnecessary reevaluations, reformulations and complete rethinking of everything I was  ever certain of. Exactly that is probably the biggest advantage: having a job where I am constantly allowed to go back to the fundament.

The best thing so far –I don’t know if this can be called a success- was walking along with and interviewing the geneticists at the Erasmus MC. As a less abstract part of my research  I was able to learn about the huge futuristic genetic sequencers that are ‘reading’ our ‘books of life’, microscopes filling whole rooms, and the independent growth of human cells in petri dishes. Learning to know a little bit about these technologies that are so intimately connected to what we think of ourselves as humans, the machines behind the articles, was extremely revealing.

Tell us about your past week, what did you do? 

The past week might not be the best example since I had my Christmas Holidays. I went to a house in France. The weeks before the holiday I was trying to write a draft version of a chapter, which I wanted to have finished before the end of the year. The last days before the end of the year I deleted most of it again, after a thorough reevaluation of, well everything. This week I started fully rested and full of new ideas and energy. So I hope to finish it very soon now.

To whom would you like to pass on these questions and why is that? What have you always wanted to know about him/her? 

I would like to pass on these questions to my colleague and roommate here on the university Sem de Maagt. He is working on the same project as I am and in the same faculty, but couldn’t be more different. We always disagree about everything  and so far I have not been able to convince him of the hermeneutic approach to biology. I would very much like to know from what age he knew he wanted to become a philosopher and if he doubts as much as I do, and if he doesn’t: whether he doubts at all.