Eliot Circular

The Philosophy of Swimming

(Meta)physical education: lifeguard Eliya Cohen ’15 (left) talks philosophy with Reed swimmers.
Photo by Jenn McNeal ’14

Reed's brand of (meta)physical education.

By Miles Bryan ’13

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said the best place to think philosophy was in a hut deep in the Black Forest while a storm raged outside. That may have been true for Heidegger, but it is not necessarily true at Reed, where a robust metaphysical debate has broken out in an unlikely location—the swimming pool.

Instead of lap times and opening hours, the poolside whiteboard has sprouted a fascinating sequence of questions, claims, and rejoinders that have grown to fill every square inch. The debate began when philosophy major Eliya Cohen ’15 asked fellow philosophy major Finn Terdal ’12 to jot down some problems to ponder during Eliya’s lifeguarding shifts. The questions soon provoked students, alumni, professors, philosophers, physicists, and other sentient life forms who frequent the pool.

The problem that sparked the most interest was a question of light and shadow: A perfectly round, homogenous disk is rotating at X rpm counterclockwise in suspension above a flat plane. A light source exactly overhead shines on the disc. Does the shadow cast by the disc rotate with the disc itself?

Respondents (some of whom scrawled their comments while dripping wet) have debated the nature of motion, the existence of “shadow particles,” and the question of whether perception constitutes reality.

No word yet on whether the philosophical debate has improved the swimmers’ strokes or—more important—whether aqueous immersion has clarified the subject (this is Reed, after all.) Either way, we would like to propose a new term for this form of (meta)physical education: The Swymposium.