Ph.D. stands for doctor of philosophy. Doctor is from the Latin doctor which means ‘teacher’. Philosophy is from the Greek (the verb phileo ‘I love’ plus the noun sophia ‘wisdom’). From an etymological standpoint, a doctor of philosophy is one who teaches others to love wisdom.
But etymology is often a misleading guide to reality. Just ask a butterfly or a pineapple.
There’s an old joke that Ph.D. stands for permanent head damage. Humor usually has more truth buried inside it than etymology. I am convinced that most Ph.D.s have a little crazy in them.
You see, to earn a Ph.D. one must convince not only oneself but also a committee that you are one of the world’s leading experts about one narrow slice of reality. Ideally, you convince the committee that you know more about this very narrow problem than anyone else who has ever lived.
And here’s where the crazy comes in: this idea that you are uniquely qualified to hold a certain opinion in a very esoteric area becomes a habit which creeps into other areas of your life. You convince yourself that you are right and the world is wrong about something quite trivial. Everyone does this to a degree, but there is one important difference: the Ph.D. believes something absolutely crazy.
At this point you are thinking to yourself, “Glen, I know several Ph.D. holders. They’re nice, normal people.”
Yes. They are. They are also insane about something unexpected. They have learned through experience to keep their craziness well‐masked. You have to dig down deep.
Talk with your friend long enough and you will likely discover that they raise hamsters for food. Or that they have a plan for which stores to loot in which order after the next major natural disaster, and actually have a shopping list secreted about their person at all times for just such an eventuality. Or that they believe in flooding preschools with marijuana smoke to keep the kids calm. Or that they keep a bazooka in the trunk of their car.
And that’s just the way it is. Some things come with accessories — Barbie dolls are one and Ph.D.s are another. You just have to learn to live with it. This is why I have a much higher tolerance for eccentric beliefs in outside speakers for my ministry if they have a doctorate. I expect the crazy. I actually welcome the crazy — it keeps things interesting.
So if you are my friend and are in pursuit of a Ph.D., know that I love you and that I won’t be distressed when you turn crazy in a few years.
And if you already have your Ph.D., just remember that I know. Somewhere deep in the recesses of your brain is an idea. I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know what it’s about. But I know it is so insane that your family has tried to slip pharmaceuticals into your meals on more than one occasion, which is why you only eat foods that are translucent. Which is crazy.