David Peeters: ‘Netflix helps all interesting cultural diversity go down the tubes’

David Peeters: ‘Netflix helps all interesting cultural diversity go down the tubes’

Nightmares, daydreams, and unfulfilled wishes: in the section ’13 questions’ scientists show themselves from a different side. This time: David Peeters, assistant professor of communication and cognition at the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences.

David Peeters

1. If you were not a scientist, what would you be doing?

“The thing I would love most is to write enormously thick novels and be able to live from that. That seems to me the highest goal in life: to write a novel for eternity. Now that I don’t have time for that for the time being, and half the world has the attention span of a fried goldfish, I just try to throw a well-formulated tweet into the world every now and then. You have to start somewhere.”

2. What is your greatest source of jealousy?

“I think I’m hardly ever jealous. There are a lot of things others are better at than I am, though, like drilling holes in walls or talking to strangers, but I’ve given up hope that I’ll ever get good at that.

“Perhaps unwittingly, I can become envious of certain sports achievements: a pass by the outside right that splits a defense open, or running a half marathon within the hour.”

3. What makes you lie awake at night?

“The use of the word ‘entrepreneurship’ within a university. If I hear that word one more time in the Dante building, I’m going to scream so loudly that several windows will break and paintings will spontaneously fall off the walls. That word should be banned: Dante cannot keep turning in his grave.

“Apart from this, I lie awake because of too much iced coffee with whipped cream, but I found out that a melatonin pill before bedtime works well against that. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for sleep deprivation caused by the word entrepreneurship.”

4. You have an unexpected afternoon off, how do you spend it?

“That’s a tough one, because I can’t really remember the last time that was the case. At the moment, I think it would be really great to sleep for a whole afternoon after eating two Bossche bollen.”

5. Best criticism you’ve ever had?

“A few years back I had entered the final round for a Veni grant and was given presentation training. The critical lady who gave the training gave me the advice that I should come across much more like a king. That was a real eye-opener – even prior to the interview for the grant I was already shining like a king in the waiting room among all sorts of shivering candidates.”

6. What should be general knowledge?

“That on a dartboard you can throw out the starting score of 501 with only nine darts. Darts is a greatly underrated sport anyway. I can think of few things more wonderful than watching professional darts players who take their sport terribly seriously and then go on to talk about it. An hour of watching darts, especially in the winter months, is never wasted time.”

7. Who is your great role model and why?

“I can have great admiration for people who are very eloquent. Poet Amanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s inauguration; Professor Juliette Schaafsma; writer Charlotte Mutsaers.

“I also really like people who are very intelligent and at the same time crazy as hell. We need more of those kinds of geeks in this country. Misfits who don’t care about the whole rat race and stick to their own plans.”

8. What really needs to change at the university?

“Well, do you have a minute? The basic grant has to come back. Doing two Master’s programs must become affordable again. There must be more room for fundamental research and truth telling. There is far too little diversity among academic staff. The number of female and male professors must be equalized and not at the current snail’s pace. We must get rid of narcissistic Bokitos. The academic year must be shorter.”

9. What aspect do you find difficult about your job?

“Systems and bureaucracy you can’t do anything about. That it takes months for a laptop to be delivered while I can have it within a day if I order it myself. Because of that kind of nonsense, I will end up in an insane asylum long before retirement age.”

10. What was your personal eureka moment?

“The other day I found out by chance that the word breakfast literally means to break (the nightly) fast (in the morning). That was really nice; that you suddenly feel you can fathom the world as if you are looking through a crystal.

“Now this eureka moment wasn’t really my doing, because I just read it on Twitter, and also during working hours, and it’s not really a eureka moment at all, but it was nice all the same.”

11. Beyoncé or Bach?

“Phew, tricky! I really like depressive singer-songwriter music. Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, that genre. It’s a shame that these kinds of singers often kill themselves pretty quickly. I also think Limonadeglazen wodka by Spinvis is a very successful song.

“By the way, I can’t fail to mention here that I find the Snollebollekes phrase ‘het is jammer van de zolder / maar het dak, dat gaat eraf ‘ (It’s a shame about the attic/but the roof, it’s going off) poetically very strong. In short: I’m going for Beyonce.”

12. Never work or never take a vacation again?

“I’m very sorry for all the students, but I’m really going to go for never working again then. I think it would be wonderful to have a vacation all the time – I don’t think I’d ever be bored. Living in nature and spending hours watching foraging nuthatches or migrating cranes. Together with a cup of tea.”

13. Netflix or reading?

“Read, read, read! It’s not good for the whole world to sit on the same Ikea sofa with the same drink watching the same Netflix series – not long from now, all the interesting cultural diversity will end up going down the tubes. I recommend starting by reading De kunst is mijn slagveld (Art is My Battlefield) by Nanne Tepper. Actually, everyone should read that, although I’m starting to contradict myself a bit now.”

‘You don’t hear what you hear, but what you see’

Recently, David Peeters discovered that hand gestures play an important role in understanding what someone is saying. They can even change a word’s meaning. Univers spoke with the assistant professor about his research.


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