09:32:21 pm on
Thursday 16 Sep 2021

Looking for a Job
Sjef Frenken

This is an excerpt from Corvus: and other stories by Sjef Frenken. Click here for more information on this new book.
 

Brian DuMont was born with, if not a silver, at least a semi-precious culinary utensil of some kind in his mouth. Which is a long way of saying that his parents were, if not rich, at least reasonably well-off. They were able, for instance, to send their only child to any university that accepted him.

Brian's father was a physicist; his mother molecular biologist, and, in her spare time an historical novelist. Their curiosity was not confined to the disciplines of their occupations. Brian too showed an early interest in a variety of fields.

He obtained from Boston University an honours BA with a combined major Renaissance Fashion and Early Modern Philosophy. He followed this up with an MA in Aeronautical Engineering from MIT, and a PhD in Forensic Kinesiology from York University in Toronto.

He did postdoctoral studies in Cognitive Sciences, specializing in Artificial Intelligence at Oxford, and spent enough time at the Sorbonne get a Lisence in sociology.

Fate moved its fickle finger: as if their purpose on earth had been fulfilled by paying for the diversified education of their son. Brian's father and mother died within a few months of each other, with just enough money leftover to pay for their funeral.

Brian is now 39 years old. He would have to look for a job. And he was ready. With the stellar qualifications, that should pose no problem, he thought.

He tried the government. It took two weeks for the government to get back to him with the news that nowhere even in its most obscure sections of its organization chart was there a position that needed someone with his qualifications. There was an opening for a postmaster in the Aleutians, and a heavy equipment operator in American Samoa, there was also an opening for a clerk at the US consular agency in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Did Mr Dumas speak French? Brian left his application just in case.

Next he dispatched inquiries to all universities he thought might be interested in his spectrum of qualifications. None bit.

Then it was a round of visits to headhunters. He was invited to drop by the firm with the unlikely but appropriate name of Head, Hunter and Associates. Mr. John Hunter himself reviewed him in his opulent office.

“I've looked over your CV,” said Mr Hunter, “and I'm impressed. I've never come across anyone with your range of interests and qualifications.”

Brian smiled, please. This sounded like a good start.

“But,” said Mr. Hunter, “there is a problem. A major problem.”

Brian asked what the problem was.

“I can see you're a man of many parts,” said Mr. Hunter, “but you're over-qualified. In this day and age, the people companies look for are specialists. They are not looking for generalist; they want people who can keep their nose to the grindstone all the time. In a word, Brian, you lack focus.” He underlined the word by repeating it: focus.

“I can adapt,” said Brian, full of hope. “I may be a Jack-of-all-trades, but I'm a master of at least a few. All I ask is a chance to prove it.”

“Unfortunately, we can't afford ourselves that luxury,” said Mr. Hunter. “I'm afraid we can't run the risk. We can't help you. I wish you luck.

They shook hands. Brian left.

When he got home to a small apartment, he took stock of his situation. With the aid of some Scotch on ice, and some soothing guitar music by Tárrega, he considered his options. “Think outside the box!” he exhorted himself. If you were clever enough to absorb the knowledge of so many fields, you ought to be smart enough to think your way out of this quagmire. If you can't find a job, damnit, invent one!

Brian took a pad of paper and picked up a pen. He drew a map of the branches of knowledge lines going off in all directions, with branches splintering into more branches and branchlettes. All the Sciences and Arts and their sub and sub-sub-divisions. A veritable spider’s nest. Brian said to himself, “Now I have two options; think of an entirely new field of Science or the Arts or think of a field of Science or the Arts where a major new development is possible.”

It took Brian more than a week to realize he couldn't think of any field of Science or the Arts that had not been covered to some extent. That rushed him thinking of some aspect of Arts or Science that had escaped human attention and inquiry thus far.

That evening, a learned it acquaintance by the name of Louis Bachauer happened to send him a link to a lecture on the difference between prophecy and prediction. And there Brian discovered the germ of an idea. What if one turned the process backwards? A kind of Bayesian inference applied to a non-Science subject?

Through the mess caused by the remaining contents of the bottle of Scotch, Brian discerned a path to deliver him out of his predicament; he would initiate a systematic inquiry into an altogether new subject – a Paelophilosophy, concentrating on Cro-Magnon ethics. He was sure no one had yet set one step on that, as yet, uncharted field. He knew the term Cro-Magnon was no longer part of the scientific lexicon, but it recently coin equivalent “Anatomically Modern Humans” didn't have the same ring to it, and besides, hardly anyone knew of the new appellation.

Brian knew that there was always funding available for research. And where his unusual set of qualifications apparently made him unsuitable for employment, it would surely impress people holding the purse strings of the funding agencies.

His letters resulted in several enthusiastic responses. He was invited for an interview with the vice president of the F. Foundation.

“Mr. DuMont, we are fascinated by your application for funding. And, let me say this up front, we are predisposed to approve it. However, we'd like to find out a little more,” said the vice V-P, whose name was Skelton. It strikes us that your study would add a bit of glamour to our image. It has not received the public attention that it had a few decades ago. I'm not blaming BnB Gates, mind you, but their gifts have blown all of us funding agencies out of the water, so to speak.”

“Well,” said Brian, “perhaps I can explain it this way. I assume you had at least the taste of Philosophy in college …”

“Yes,” said Mr. Skelton, I took it for two years at Cornell.”

“You know then that Philosophy courses usually start with early Greeks and then overtime, via Descartes, wind up with Wittgenstein.”

I never got as far as Wittgenstein, we stopped at Bertrand Russell.”

“What I want to do is start with the threads that end at Wittgenstein, and go back to Aristotle, Plato, and Thalis, to the Egyptians and the Babylonians and project that thread into pre-history. Surely our primitive ancestors would, in their free time, when they were not hunting and gathering, or killing mammoths or being devoured by saber-toothed Tigers, have spent a few moments here and there primitively thinking about their primitive role in their very limited universe. We intend to extrapolate backward in time. We know the various paths of Philosophy at the present; we know the earliest path that recorded history has shown us; and now we must make the leap into pre-history. It would be a process comparable to what is called reverse engineering.”

“I see,” said Mr. Shelton. “I guess it would be allied in a way to Paleontology. I agree with you: those primitive people must have given the eternal question some rudimentary thought. Yes, Mr. DuMont, I think you've got something there.

“Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway,” said Brian, “this is not something that can be done in the usual six months to a year. This will mean a lifetime's work.

“Oh, I understand.” said Mr. Skelton. “We may not be able to fund any travel associated with your project, and there may be other restrictions, but I suppose that once you have our funding secured, you will have no trouble finding additional monies you require from our fellow agencies.  We all find ourselves in the shadow of the Gates family.”

And so it has transpired. Brian is now establishing himself as an authority on Paleophilosophy. It is expected that his monumental textbook on the subject will be published by the Oxford University Press in about two years. And that should assure him of a tenured position at a university of his choice.

You may ask if Paleophilosophy would have become a university discipline if Brian had not had that seemingly useless monopoly of academic credentials? My best answer is to urge you to read W. Somerset Maugham’s short story entitled “The Verger.”

Off you go!

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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