Three disciplines, 200 pages, and one year of hard work dedicated to unpacking the human consciousness: Chelsea Cantos ’20 is finally done with her thesis!! Read after the jump to hear all about Chelsea’s mind-blowing study, how she’s doing, and why she wrote a thesis two times longer than your typical philosophy capstone.
Wesleying: Okay, so can you please state your name and pronouns and your majors slash minor?
CC: I’m Chelsea, Chelsea Cantos. She/her pronouns. I’m a history and philosophy double major. And I have a certificate in social, cultural and critical theory.
What is the title of your thesis?
It’s called Being Finite Toward a New Understanding of Human Consciousness.
What kind of thesis is it? Is it history and philosophy?
It’s just a philosophy thesis.
What is what is it about and what format is it in?
It’s definitely longer than other philosophy theses. They’re usually about 50 to 100 pages, but mine ended up being 210 pages. It’s a topic that I’ve kind of been thinking about since my sophomore year. It’s a class that I took sophomore year, kind of really stuck with me. And then I took an unrelated class, or a class that I thought was unrelated last year. I took Philosophy of Mind and was really able to apply it. It just kind of struck me at at a certain point. I was able to apply the reading from my sophomore year class, which was a class on Martin Heidegger’s “Being in Time”. The whole class was just reading this one book because it’s really hard, but it revolutionized philosophy. There are two schools in philosophy. There’s analytic and continental, and until very recently, they haven’t really overlapped. This product tries to take Heidegger’s continental phenomenology from the German tradition and apply it to some of the analytic philosophy of mind that American and British philosophers were doing at the time.
And why did you have 200 pages?
Yeah, like I said, I’ve been working on it and had been thinking about it for three years rather than just one year and I worked on it pretty much all last summer. So I just started really early. And I think also a lot of the issues that I’m working with, like the issue of Being in Time itself is a really long book because the structure is very thorough, and it’s kind of a ground up structure. So to understand any kind of concept in the middle, and finitude is the concept that I mainly drew from being in time, finitude is kind of at the top, so you have to understand everything below it. So there was just a lot to work out and a lot of explanatory work to be done. Also secondary literature on Heidegger is just, there’s a whole spectrum. You get secondary literature that gets really bogged down by his peculiar terminological lexicon and then you have the other end of the spectrum where the philosophers can see past his really peculiar use vocabulary and really get at the philosophy. Parsing through that scholarship and finding what worked and what didn’t really get Heidegger right was a big part of it. So it ended up it ended up taking quite a bit of space.
What was your favorite part to write?
That’s a really good question. I have a section early on that is called “Why Being in Time” because it’s not really intuitive on the face of it why this book would be relevant. My urge to use this particular book is really personal, it’s rooted in really personal reasons. The intuition comes from consciousness and mindedness has been something that I have thought about for a while. And it’s very central to my philosophical concerns. The particular reason why I think Being in Time is well suited to talking about the issue in the way that I think is correct, is personal. Also, in one of the last sections in the third chapter, one of the central sources I use was actually a philosopher who is world famous. She works now at Georgetown, and they have a really strong philosophy department and one of my advisors early on in the process, told me that he was talking to her because they they’d went to grad school together, and that he was talking to her about my project. She writes on the same concepts of Heidegger’s as me, but less trying to bridge it with the analytic tradition. She writes on finitude, and she said she wanted to have to have a phone call or Skype call with me. So we ended up talking and I ended up getting this really deep insight into her work, just from like a conversation with her. I got to hear what she was thinking about my ideas really early on. So I think that that section where I wrote on her work was really strong. There’s going to be a dimension to it that maybe other works that come out on her philosophy won’t have.
What was it like working from home and being interrupted by Covid19?
Yeah, I’m from Los Angeles, but I didn’t go home. So I’m staying with my boyfriend and his family who have a house in Litchfield, Connecticut. I had so many materials from my carrel, like so many books. My advisor lives in Connecticut, so it just made more sense for me to stay here because of the time difference. Luckily, the disruption itself was not so egregious. Obviously having a thesis carrel at school and having the structure of my whole life as a student at school was way more conducive to working on a project like this. Having to wake up with absolutely nothing ahead of you except doing your thesis is really tough. I’m lucky that I’m staying with someone who’s also a philosophy major. So I have someone to bounce ideas off of and talk about philosophy. But just having to wake up in the morning and realize that the only thing that there is to do is just work on your pieces for many, many, many hours per day made me on the whole less productive. The flip side, that I’ve seen in myself and with a lot of other people is that somehow when we all had to leave and got our lives taken from us, the standard for how our thesis could be got raised, because we all realize that we would have nothing to do but work on them. One of those nights where I was stressing I was like, it’s not gonna be as good as I want it to be. But actually, I think that it might be better than it would have been because there’s no chance I would have been able to devote all this time to it at school. And I was really able to do a deep dive into some of the issues that maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to if I was just working on this in normal life at school where I have three jobs on campus and I’m still enrolled in classes and just like generally have friends to see and things that I would rather be doing. So I think somehow, the bar got raised.
How did you procrastinate writing your thesis?
There was built in procrastination at school because the way I set up my schedule was that I had dedicated Wednesdays and Fridays, like the whole day, just to working like I work 11 to one at West wings on Wednesday, and then I would just go to the library and work until a bar night. Then on Fridays, I worked in admissions as the senior interviewer from 9 to 1130. And then I would just go straight to the library and just work all day. I knew that if I commit myself to working for those times that like I wouldn’t be trying to do other things. But now I mean, we’re on a lake. So just kind of going outside is really enticing. Some days, at night you just have no reason not to drink in this setting, and you just take that a little too far and then you’re just like, violently hung over the next day and can’t do work. But I think the only thing in quarantine that would really stop me from working is just not wanting to sit down and do it. There really is no alternative here. The philosophy department is just the most empathetic and compassionate and understanding and also just smart group of people. They know how to let you talk about things that aren’t related to philosophy. Like I could talk about what I might talk about in a therapists office, and they would find a way to help me make it philosophical and make it a productive conversation, which is cool. And that’s something I do anyway. Just probably not well.
What is the word that you use the most in your thesis?
On a kind of obvious level, finitude and mindedness are the two central concepts that I’m trying to link. So those are kind of obvious, but if it isn’t one of those two words the word constituted or ontological “constitution” or “constituted by” or “constitute” or any conjugation of that with a descriptor in front of it.
Did you have any advice for future thesis writers?
I’m sure that this has been said a lot, but at a certain point, you realize in the process that you are only bound to your thesis by the fact that you care about it. I definitely feel like I saw people hit points where they were like, why am I actually doing this again, like this isn’t really worth it. And it’s you don’t have to write a thesis, it’s possible to still get some form of honors, like you can get Phi Beta Kappa. You can do a department project, if you’re interested in something that’s just one semester and the requirements are just a little lower. The only real reason to do a thesis is if you really care about it, and think that your work in your area could contribute to the body of scholarship within which you’re writing. People forget that that’s what we’re supposed to have the opportunity to do at Wesleyan because we have a liberal arts college with a heavy focus on research. Our professors publish a lot. That’s one of the main reasons we’re supposed to be able to do this. Also, don’t listen to people who say to try to really push yourself on it first semester of working on your thesis, because I did that. I was very dedicated to it for the summer and worked on it very diligently, and I was still up for the last week straight. It did not take any pressure off of this back end. I would say definitely work on it and devote attention to it, but you don’t need to kill yourself with it both semesters because you’re gonna kill yourself with it second semester anyway.
Do you have anything else to add?
I will say that I really hope for next year’s class that they are on campus for this. It sucked just having to submit it and then go to sleep. It was really heartbreaking to realize that there was no light at the end of the tunnel, there’s just more tunnel. There didn’t come like this moment of freedom because we weren’t at Wesleyan. It was just the realization that you don’t have to write it anymore. And I really hope that like at the end of the long year of hard work that the class of 2021 would get to be dramatic in that moment.