Why Know?

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I came across the following cartoon on Facebook not too long ago:

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This cartoon makes a number of points: That history, for instance, is memorized only because children are forced to do so. That memorizing takes forever. That knowledge pooled from memory and from Google are “technically” indistinguishable. That, given that paradigm, school is futile and even cruel. (In “But torture builds character,” one also hears an echo of Calvin’s father and his outdoor excursions.) Also, given that paradigm, that by memorizing facts rather than searching Google whenever one is curious, one gains nothing.

I hope that recently I’ve answered that second complaint, the erroneous belief that memorizing is laborious and time-consuming. In that same post, I also mentioned that “the purpose of knowing countless facts off the top of one’s head is a question for another day.”

Today is that day. Continue reading

When Science Disappoints

2014-12-18 documentary img02I recently had the audacity to comment upon a YouTube video in which footage of a famous prehistoric animal had supposedly been captured. I didn’t expect much from the footage, and I soon realized that I did indeed recognize the discreditable source of the video. To many people in the scientific world – specifically the area of that world which deals closely with animals and their prehistoric counterparts – this video footage was known to be part of a fictionalized “documentary” put on by the Discovery Channel for their famed and much-loved Shark Week in August of last year. In the film, which ran about two hours, a team of scientists supposedly discovers footage of a Megalodon from a seafloor camera that they are monitoring. Continue reading

Leaving the Party

2014-12-11 fraternities img01I don’t go on Facebook much these days, but every so often I pop on to check for one thing or another and happen to see the first few posts on my feed.  Right before Thanksgiving, a number of those posts were from current or former UVA students expressing their outrage at the situation described in the recent Rolling Stone article on a rape. Continue reading

Playing the Game

2014-11-13 grad school img01On the first day of school in kindergarten, I sat a table and looked a bunch of kids I didn’t know. I was a little bit nervous, as probably any child is in this situation. But then I saw her: the most beautiful girl my five-year-old eyes had ever seen. Emboldened, I walked up to her and said: “You’re very pretty. Will you be my friend?” Continue reading

Math: A Universal Language, Part I

2014-10-30 math books img01I’ve seen math described as a universal language, a prerequisite to philosophy, and the common sense equivalent of Iron Man’s suit. Most people, however, wouldn’t dream of trying to crack open a calculus textbook in their free time. This is understandable for a field so fraught with technical lingo high up and obvious concepts down low. Nevertheless, math has spawned some more popular, commonplace, entry-level literature, which at times even allows for some of the sweeping, beautiful visions from upper-level math. Like that of any other field from art history to English literature, mathematics’ reading material is divided between the technical and the popular. It is true that math is underrepresented in the latter; I said to a friend the other day, “I’m learning how much good mathematical literature is out there.” He replied, “That’s like saying that there’s some Argon in the atmosphere.”[1] I thought, subsequently, that compiling a list for people’s convenience would be a fitting service. Continue reading

On the Art of Storytelling: The Merits and Pitfalls of Interactive Media as a Storytelling Medium

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Once upon a time, a man left his village and traveled in the wilderness for many, many years.  When his wanderings were done and he finally deemed it time to return home, he found that things were not quite as he recalled them.  Where once the village folk had gathered around fires in the evening and hearkened to the voice of the storyteller, who remembered every line of the epics passed down to him through the generations; where once those stories and many more were written on parchment, and later printed on paper; where once children played games and ‘make-believe’ outside with sticks and stone forts…well, the man found that they still played these games, and read these stories, and heard these tales.  But they did other things as well, like scrying far-off or even imaginary events in little speaking boxes and in glowing windows.  And the man found these novel additions quite curious. Continue reading

Two Languages, Two Conversations

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I recently began to pursue graduate education at a large and famous law school, an environment far removed from the close-knit community of my undergraduate college. Differences of all sorts abound between the two schools. Song, poetry, and competitive board games are far less common here, while the chance of meeting a classmate who speaks English as a second (or fourth) language has skyrocketed. In one interesting and important way, the schools are quite alike: The vast majority of students enjoy talking about ideas. Both schools purport to teach their students principles vital to the proper ordering of human lives, and such principles call for probing discussion. Despite this common desire to discuss ideas, the two schools foster dramatically different conversations amongst their students. As this semester passes, I have become increasingly convinced that this can be traced to the different vocabularies in common use at each school. The differences in word choice are so great as to constitute two different languages. Continue reading

The Proper Understanding of Grades

2014-7 Unhappy Student

This past year I tutored a high school freshman in introductory science.  We will call him Adam.  Adam struggled mightily with most of the subjects he was taking at the time, and seemed much more interested in slacking off and relaxing once he got home rather than putting in the effort to study and do his homework.  I was even privy to several of the rather unpleasant adult “tantrums” he would throw if he realized that he was expected to work with me for longer than he initially expected.  Naturally, I tried to impress upon him the importance of working hard, Continue reading

Intersections, Combinations, Misdirections – That’s All One

2014-7-17 Universe img01 Thinking that it sounded fun, I registered last winter for a college course entitled “Symbolic Logic (MTH 303).” I had expected a Junior-level math course, even one so harmlessly christened, to pose a challenge, but it was more grueling than I could have guessed – cruelly so, even, because after every unbearable homework problem had been resolved, all one could think was, “Oh – of course. Obviously. How could I not have seen that? Ugh.” We couldn’t even sympathize with our yesterselves.

(Math, incidentally, is only tangential to this post, and an understanding thereof even moreso. Non-math folks, please hang in there.)

As it turned out, Continue reading