As I mentioned in my previous post, I failed to obtain funding for my VIDI project last year. I received three referee reports, one of which had the worst evaluation possible: unfundable. One referee objected to nearly every aspect of the project as well as my ability to carry it out. I had written a project proposal on the “Mechanization of Consciousness” in the 19th century, “How the Machine gave up the Ghost” (alternative I considered: “Losing our Minds over a No-Brainer”). In essence I wanted to look at the two main forms of reductionism influenced the birth and development of psychology and philosophy of mind in the second half of the 19th century. On the hand hand, there was biological reductionism, legitimated by Darwinism, claiming that since the difference between man and animal was only in degree, not in kind, for physical as well as mental capacities, and since animals had been and could still be considered as biological automata, the mind could be reduced to the body and psychology could be reduced to physiology. On the other hand, in the 19th century the first mechanical devices were envisioned (e.g. Babbage’s Analytical Engine) and produced that could perform the equivalent of mental acts. Just like physical tools and machines relieved physical labor, tools like arithmetical and logical calculators could relieve psychical labor. Precisely the faculty that made us human (reason), precisely the highest and most abstract sciences (mathematics and logic), could be done by cranking a widget. So in analysing these two forms of mechanism, my project would combine history of philosohy, history of psychology, and history of science and technology , involving a PhD student and a Postdoc. Specificaly, I wanted a postdoc with a background in the history and philosophy of 19th century biology, physiology, and darwinism, to complement my own expertise in the history of logic and mathematics, as well as psychology, in the School of Brentano. Yet, the reviewer objected that I myself, as the PI, should already have all the expertise and wrote that “The proposal is in essence for a chance for the applicant to expand his competency”. I didn’t really know how to respond to this. I didn’t really consider my project as “interdisciplinary”, since it was historical and dealt with a period in which all the relevant disciplines were not yet wholly and completely formed, let alone separated. Moreover, how could anyone propose any truly innovative project without aiming to broaden and deepen one’s competency? Despite my work on Brentano’s descriptive psychology as science of consciousness, the origins of Gestalt psychology in Christian von Ehrenfels, Stumpf’s discussions with Wundt and his pupils, etc. the reviewer thought that “The applicant does not seem well-informed in the history of psychology of the 19th century.” This statement was particularly galling, since the other two referees commended my project and expertise precisely on this point. Based mostly on the objections from this referee report, in the end I wasn’t even invited to do an interview and hence did not get my grant. Of course I spent most of 2016 revising my project. In October 2016 I submitted a new VIDI grant application, this time much closer to the core area’s of my expertise. I am curious how I did this year with my new project proposal. The referee reports should be in around the end of the month or early next month. This is my last chance for this kind of grant in the Netherlands, so fingers crossed!
My Failed VIDI application
08 Sunday Jan 2017