Learning

Mar. 7th, 2008 08:22 am
quasigeostrophy: (Opus gazing)
I've had this conversation with a few folks at school, including my advisor, trying to come up with the best way to describe how I feel about what I've learned, and why, in a way, I don't feel like I've learned much.

Sure, I've picked up the lingo and how to deal with the concepts mathematically in order to measure and describe them numerically, but conceptually, pretty much everything has fit. It just makes sense. The best way to describe it is that nothing has shattered my world view. This I picked up from James Burke, the author/journalist/science historian famous for his Connections series of documentaries over the years. But this comes from his second major series, one that's less well-known (and isn't available anywhere on DVD AFAIK): The Day the Universe Changed. While his perspective was global and societal, it applies personally as well. Everything one knows comprises one's universe, in a sense, and that universe changes when something is learned that doesn't fit and yet cannot be denied. One of Burke's examples (of many throughout the series) was how the printing press transformed knowledge: it took our memories away.

That's why I felt I hadn't learned anything - conceptually, my universe hasn't changed. Sure, the lingo makes talking about it easier, and being able to work with the concepts mathematically is very cool, but it makes sense. One of the reasons I think I'm sticking with cloud physics is, particularly at the very small scales described, I think some concept(s) may be lurking around the corner that won't make sense for a while. My advisor has pointed out that a lot of concepts in that subfield are counter-intuitive, so I'm just waiting.

Yes, I am learning the lingo and the math, and I know boat loads more than before I started back to school, but I feel like I learn more when I have to adjust my world view. When my universe changes.

Another aspect I'm dealing with is being wrong. I think this has contributed to my feeling of not having learned a whole lot as well. I haven't been wrong much, and I don't mean to sound smug, but at least academically, that's borne out. The A grades have come frequently because I have good recall and get the right answers in papers and on exams. The recall is not as good as when I was in my 20s, of course, but it's still above-average, particularly when a topic is of interest (and there are a lot of those for me). Yesterday's cloud physics midterm was mentally exhausting, only partly because I had a headache from hell and it took longer than the class period. I feel like there were several thought questions I didn't nail down completely, and one I blanked on. Ironically, being the major course in my chosen focus area, it will be ironic if I get my first B in cloud physics. But I think, if I do, if I'm wrong a lot more than I have been, I will learn that material much better than any other I've encountered thus far.

It comes down to not being afraid of being wrong. I need to be out at the edge of my comfort level. Last week, we had a paper discussion in class, and when I was talking about a paper I had chosen to present to the rest of the class (my advisor and one other student, in this case - cloud physics this semester is a class of two), my advisor kept asking me questions that I wasn't sure how to answer. She was leading me to a particular answer, and we got there after a few minutes, but it was an uncomfortable ride. But that's exactly what I need to do - I need more of that kind of "edge of uncomfortable" situation if I'm going to get though a Ph.D. I can write a paper, and no one, least of all my advisor, has any doubts I could probably complete a dissertation in my sleep. But I want to be able not only to complete the oral defense comfortably, I need to be able to be comfortable conversing with colleagues. Because, at the Ph.D. level, that's what the faculty is doing - they're making a colleague.

Anyway, for me to learn, it seems that two things are necessary: something that changes my concept of the universe, and being wrong at first. YMMV. :-)
quasigeostrophy: (PVP - menstruating star trek)
(Disclaimer: These opinions were formed upon my initial encounter with the viral "Anonymous" videos yesterday morning, before personal issues struck very close to home as a result of differences of opinion elsewhere.)

1. Behaving in the same manner as one's intended target doesn't differentiate one from that target. Group A hates group B for doing X. So, in order to stop B, A does X to B. Who is the more "evil"?

2. Who gets to define "evil"? No one in history we define today as such ever thought of themselves as such. Hitler believed he was right. So did thousands of others who supported him. Same for the Borgias. Or Genghis Khan. The list goes on. And the definition constantly evolves.

3. Lack of responsibility is already rampant today. Anyone could go join some group similar to "Anonymous" and institute a DDoS against whomever the Target du Jour is and never be held accountable. It's like playing Illuminati with all the cards face down.

4. Freedom of speech is not a matter of convenience. This probably should tie in with #2, but just because group A spouts some theocratic or other message group B doesn't like, group B should just try to get their message out as well or better. The right to free speech doesn't equate to the right to be heard, either, but that doesn't mean group B has the right to prevent group A's message from being delivered.

ETA: 5. Life is not a science fiction story.
quasigeostrophy: (Opus gazing)
Pondered this one for a while.

I've long said that I don't feel 40 (or whatever recent applicable age).

I do try to take personal responsibility for things I should, and I try to act like an adult about responsible matters as much as possible. No, I'm not perfect and continue to work on improving those areas in which acting like a responsible adult is important. And making those improvements is part of it, too. But that's not what I mean by not feeling grown up.

One of my most important values, in others but more importantly in myself, is a sense of humor.

For as long as I can remember, I've seen people, younger than me, especially now, who are sour, cranky, and crotchety. Maybe they feel their supposed entitlement has been screwed or fate has not smiled on them or whatever, but they can't laugh about things anymore or be silly.

No, I've not had a major (IMHO) trauma or major physical ailment strike me. But I'm not without my own history of negatives. And I have met people who do seem to have gotten a worse lot in life than I did who can laugh, so I know it can be done.

If you can't laugh and be silly now and then, what's the point? :-)
quasigeostrophy: (Default)
Last seen in [livejournal.com profile] klwalton's journal:

Ask me for "top five" lists of pretty much anything, and I will list you my top five of that thing or things.

Addendum: My lists are not likely to be in order, most-favorite to fifth, but I should be able to come up with a general top five.

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