A student notes that the initial two sentences "seem to be subjective claims." Lois Lane believes Superman and Clark Kent are different people. Does this theory take into account that she doesn't know they're the same person? Is semantic proposition number one actually not true, because Superman and Clark Kent are not the same person to her?
"Well, her belief is still about the same person, even if she doesn't know..."
"It is, but that's, like, from God's point of view."
"So, very good," replies Niemeyer, affirming again. "You've got to, in your theory of semantics, account for ways of thinking. She thinks of Superman in a certain way, and she thinks of Clark Kent in a different way. But the object of her belief is the same. You're right that the Millian is very objective: he just looks at the object and says, 'Her beliefs are about this object.' It doesn't account for subjectivity, but the Millian doesn't want to build subjectivity into his account." Moderator Corrigan says it's time to wrap up, and Niemeyer receives a round of applause. Rightly so. For a guy who didn't really get to make his argument, he did remarkably well -- he presented an esoteric aspect of a complex discipline to an audience of the uninitiated. The philosopher descended from the clouds.
Still, there's a certain freedom in talking amongst yourselves. Fellow philosophers -- even fellow philosophers not overly familiar with the philosophy of language -- are going to possess certain habits of mind, certain commonalities of language. Viz. the bright yellow one-sheet entitled "Why Be a Philosophy Major?" (available outside the undergraduate affairs office of the philosophy department): "Philosophy will also train you with definite skills. In all your philosophy classes, you will be taught how to reason effectively...by the time you graduate, your critical skills will be razor sharp. You will be ready for virtually any field. So the simple answer to our question is this: when you graduate, you will be much smarter than your friends; and being smart is a good thing." At the very least, being smart helps you to stay with arguments about meaning and the content of assertions.
Niemeyer got a chance to make his presentation to some of his own later that year, at UCSD's annual undergraduate philosophy conference. "That was beautiful," he recalls. "You have grad students, faculty members, and other students, so it's a very intimidating audience. Philosophy majors and minors apply, and usually, five people get selected -- and usually, they get published in the undergraduate philosophy journal. That happened to me in 2005. But in 2006, though I was selected, there was no journal. Still, we had the conference, and it went really well -- there was more of an exchange. The Q&A went on for a long time." And it went even better later that year, at the McNair Fellowship Research Conference up in Berkeley. "It was an awesome experience. There were all these seminars you could attend, and at the end, there was a tour on this beautiful yacht and a delicious dinner. I gave a presentation with Power Point, and all the feedback slips gave great responses: 'I would love to take a class with you one day.' " A taste of the good life at the end of the undergraduate haul.
For Niemeyer, the road to that awesome experience began in Brazil -- Rio de Janeiro. "I went to a top private school and had an outstanding education. There was a great emphasis on education. It was really intense; I had to stay up until three in the morning, studying. It was the mindset of the society in which I grew up -- you had pressure from your parents, and you had social pressure."
But seismic shifts in the Brazilian economy brought a change in Niemeyer's circumstances. The family moved to a new neighborhood and began attending a nearby Baptist church that Niemeyer recalls as "very, very active. They were responsible for a resocialization house, which would get kids from the streets, bring them in, and educate them, prepare them to be part of the workforce." Niemeyer started doing volunteer work for the house, and eventually, he met another volunteer -- a young woman from Tennessee. "She had come to Brazil through Union University." His attention caught, he found out that she was "a Christian, seriously committed to ministry and with a beautiful heart." They started dating. Two months later, she headed back to Tennessee.
Niemeyer had started college in August of 1998 at Rio's Pontifical Catholic University but dropped out soon after. "I didn't know what I wanted to do. There were 44 people in the class, and 40 didn't know what they wanted to do. I said, 'I'm not going to waste my time and maybe mess up a transcript by getting bad grades because I'm not motivated.' " Plus, there was that girl in the States, and this was back before universal e-mail. "Some months, we had $500 phone bills. Also, we started traveling back and forth." To finance his love affair, he needed a job. "Given the social circle from which I came, I knew a guy who owned a chain of shoe stores. I got a job as a shoe salesman and worked there for nearly two years." In 2000, the well-educated shoe-shiller arrived in the U.S. with $3000 in his wallet and love in his heart and got married.
Three months later, he was ready to leave Tennessee. "I grew up by the beach, surfing," he explains. "I had a very strong bond with the ocean. Tennessee didn't do it." The friend of a cousin praised San Diego and said you could live there on $1600 a month. The Niemeyers headed west, honeymooned just across from Windansea beach, fell in love with America's Finest City, and signed a lease.
Soon after, Niemeyer began taking classes at Mesa College, with a focus on psychology. "I have family members with strong sympathies toward Freudian psychoanalysis. I had been reading Freud since I was a teenager -- he's a great writer, and he said some very interesting things." But it wasn't long before...