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10 Questions with Ryan Ravanpak

Philosophy teacher Ryan Ravanpak is a Tatelbaum Visiting Scholar from California, who currently resides in Cambridge, MA. He teaches Existentialism, Ethics in Technology, and Views of Human Nature. In his time as a Visiting Scholar at Andover, he has started a variety of initiatives both at the Academy and independently.

  1. What interested you in Existentialism?

I was really into the Existentialist stuff back [in high school], and I think a lot of the kids in Andover relate to that. The people that were really big during that time period, you know, they sort of wore their philosophy on their sleeve, and had this whole aesthetic to them. I thought it was always alluring when I was younger.

  1. How did you get interested in Ethics in Technology

Ethics of Tech is an emerging field, it’s really more relevant than it ever was, and it will just be more relevant as time goes on. A lot of times, we create stuff before we really figure out what the implications of that stuff is going to be like. And sometimes that gets us into trouble. So it’s fun to see how to stop us from getting in trouble and what to do.

  1. Why did you decide to teach Views of Human Nature?

For Views of Human Nature, my dissertation was on personal identity, like, “What makes you, you?” And “How do you persist through time?” It’s about your human nature, your essential nature. So I feel like that’s an area of expertise for me.

  1. What made you decide to come to Andover in particular to teach?

I applied and then came here on a visit, and was pretty blown away by the students. You guys are really smart [and] ask really good questions. You’re good writers, you’re engaged. That really appealed to me. I had been teaching at MIT before. And that was also great, but in a different way. I think it was nice to have a change of pace regarding the audience that you’re teaching. You guys are at different points in your life than undergrads at MIT are and it shows in a good way.

  1. What has your experience been as the Tatelbaum Visiting Scholar?

So half of my work is in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, and the other half is in the Tang Institute, working with all of the Tang [affiliated] people… on various initiatives. I also work on the ethiCS project and run some workshops to [help] teachers teach ethics in computer science settings and such. I also do independent research [about] the intersection between bioethics ethics and technology and ethics or philosophy generally.

  1. What’s your answer to the tram philosophy question?

Most people think that in fact, at least they think it’s permissible to turn the lever. But there’s this whole distinction in philosophy, between acts of killing and letting die. There are variations where you could push someone in front of the tram or something, then that feels a little bit more like killing. It’s sort of a little bit more finicky about what you want to do. But yeah, I would turn it to the one man unless it was my loved one.

  1. What are your thoughts on Sigmund Freud?

I think that guy was crazy, man. It’s quite a hoot to read that stuff. I don’t know how seriously it’s taken in psychology anymore. I know that there are still psychoanalysts and such [who consider it], but I think he had some interesting ideas. Maybe [there was] some truth to it, but I think he also got a lot of things wrong.

  1. What’s your favorite place in downtown Andover?

My favorite place downtown… there was a bar that got burned down. I live in Cambridge, so I’m not in the town of Andover very often. But the one time that I did go there, I went to this restaurant-bar that did really good cocktails. Maybe not so relevant for the high school audience, but that’s, like, the only thing I got.

  1. How has been adjusting to the New England weather?

Well, this is the sixth year that I’ve been in New England, so I’ve gotten used to it, to the extent that you really ever can get used to it. I still miss the sunshine at times. [Until a couple days ago], I didn’t see the sun for two weeks… I really thought it was awful.

  1. West Coast or East Coast?

West Coast, Best Coast. The people are warmer, the climate is warmer. I feel like people are a lot more chill and relaxed. You’ve got all the stuff you could want out there. You got beautiful nature. Man, let me tell you about the mountains. Over here, there are no mountains, there are hills, but over there, you get the big ones. That’s good if you like nature.