Originally from the UK, Dr. Billy Wheeler has spent many years abroad, specifically in Thailand, China, and now Vietnam, as a researcher and a professor in the field of philosophy. Dr. Billy’s stories about the origins of his love for philosophy and science, its impact on his worldview, and the experiences he has gained from his journey across various countries has inspired many students at VinUniversity.
For Dr. Wheeler, his interest in philosophy was piqued at an early age in a highschool class about religions and philosophy, where he discovered a great enjoyment for learning about different religions and foreign ideologies. However, he confessed that at the time, his main interest was science. It was during his A-levels when a true change of heart occured. His philosophy course, originally for fun, had opened a whole new world for him in the realm of philosophy. There, he learned about and from professional philosophers, listened to their talks, and got to know more about the field. It was then, he knew, that his heart was set on philosophy.
Attributing his aptitude for philosophy to his grandmother, he fondly reminisced: “ She [his grandmother] always spent lots of time debating, and she always tried to see things from a different point of view. Even when she agreed with what I said, she would always push me to find the reasons why I believed in it. She also played the devil’s advocate quite a lot.” With an inquisitive mind, and a love for debating that was nurtured from an early age, it is no surprise that he found a calling in the field of philosophy.
Continuing to divulge about his life with philosophy, he revealed the impacts it has had on his world view.
It is unlikely for one to hold onto a belief or an idea forever. Dr. Wheeler affirmed that he himself is no exception, and shared that he had experienced many changes of heart throughout his life. “It’s a good thing,” he claims. “I think if you are an academic philosopher and you go your entire life without ever changing your ideas, I don’t think you’ve really done the right things. In the end, if you never change your ideas, you never change your mind, [then] you are probably not a good philosopher.”
In addition, he believed that studying philosophy lessens people’s tendency to feel the need to defend and convince others of their beliefs as they would change constantly. “I think that the best thing about studying philosophy is that you can come to appreciate why different people hold the beliefs and ideas that they do without necessarily accepting them or without wanting to disprove them either,” he remarked and delved further. “For a lot of people, when they have beliefs that are not the same as others’, they become insecure.” Philosophy changes you in that it opens your mind to the idea that not everyone would think the way you do and that’s okay. That is a sort of understanding that would greatly improve your relationship with people.
Dr. Wheeler himself is quite inquisitive toward people of different cultures, ideas, and beliefs. While working on his PhD in Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, he developed an interest in Asian philosophy, especially in South East Asia. Therefore, after finishing his doctorate, Dr. Wheeler embarked on his journey in Asia: first in Thailand, then in China, and settling finally in Vietnam and working at VinUniversity. Vietnam and VinUniversity, in particular, have presented him with an unexpected opportunity that has and will continue to open the door toward new possibilities and unexplored horizons.
Dr. Wheeler complimented the vibrance of the country’s history and traditions: “There are so many aspects of life on which Vietnamese religious and philosophical traditions exert an influence, from architectures to food, or fashion. There is just so much to experience here!” As a philosopher, such prominence has made his stay all the more enjoyable. Furthermore, he expressed a sort of kinship to the way Vietnamese people lead their lives, highlighting the ease in how they carry themselves through the ups and downs in life, which he claimed was very much to his liking. Enthusiastically, he looks forward to being able to explore more of the country after the pandemic.
During his stay in Vietnam and at VinUniversity, Dr. Wheeler also plans to tackle the challenge of teaching philosophy – a field often prejudiced as having no practical application not only in Vietnam but all over the world. His plan is to initially introduce theoretical concepts through ordinary, everyday experience, and then have students delve further into deeper philosophical questions. He would like to encourage the integration of philosophical thinking and questioning and make it into a part of everyday life, rather than forgettable theories that quickly vanish outside of the classroom.
The mind of a philosopher is one that is constantly changing, but if there is anything Dr. Wheeler can be certain of, it would be his confidence in the knowledge that VinUniversity can bring to its students, together with the enthusiasm to embrace novelties and differences, learn and grow as a community, and bring about diverse changes for the future.