Re: Getting smarter

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And a very specific version of the latter in my first two years of graduate school

I was just thinking yesterday about how I sure do know a lot of crap that I didn't know two years ago.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:39 AM
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Also I was thinking (not very originally, I don't think) that later nostalgia has to be directly related to the insane pace of learning and novelty during certain life stages, and wondering if anybody had studied that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:41 AM
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I don't feel very nostalgiac for any other time in my life. Except maybe summer camp, but that was only four weeks at a time, spread out over years, which doesn't exactly seem like a life stage.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:44 AM
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Okay, theory in 2 summarily withdrawn. Maybe nostalgia is related to the soft light, the gentle memories, the time a-passin' like a distant half-heard train.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:46 AM
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Like many men, I suspect that my learning (of both academic and practical subjects) slowed dramatically with the rising tide of testosterone ca age sixteen.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:46 AM
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You know, 5 sparks a memory: about the same time, I remember thinking that there was no one I could drum up a real crush on at my school. I mean, there were plenty of guys that I thought were basically cute, but I'd had two head-over-heels experiences in 9th and 10th grade, and there was no one really catching my interest. (Our high school had about 1200 students in it, so it wasn't too hard to feel like you knew who everyone was in your grade or so.)

Anyway, I wonder if my lack of love interests played a role.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:50 AM
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Yeah, I feel like half the information in my head was acquired between age 12 and 16. Somehow back then I had the attention span to just plow through a big stack o' books all the time. Now I'm much more distractible. I blame the internet.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:52 AM
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I distinctly remember having a terrible feeling towards the end of the year I took off after high school to sit around and smoke pot that it had been a really long time since I learned anything new. It freaked me out, like maybe I was going to lose the knack.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:55 AM
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As far as unfogged (and blogs more generally) I think it has actually led to me engaging less with people who I think are saying stupid things, since I've gotten much better at figuring out which debates are likely to be basically pointless (by having epic numbers of pointless debates, but anyhow).


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:58 AM
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Oh, 9 is totally me, too. I have zero patience for an unproductive conversation, and I can identify it so much earlier now.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:59 AM
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When I was about 16, I had a very stark experience of grasping concepts at an accelerated rate.

I had a very stark experience of the opposite. at least for maths. I had until that point been in the super-accelerated maths class at school, and one of the better (but nowhere near the best) students in it. But around about 16 I bumped into more and more concepts that I just couldn't get my head around, or at least not in any intuitive way. So whereas probably 90% of the people in my class went on to do what was called double maths A-level, I dropped down a few streams to just do ordinary maths, which in practice meant going back and revising stuff we'd been studying one or two years before.

That said, I did certainly learn a lot more on the humanities side of things at the same time.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:02 AM
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@9,10: So I guess the trolls are going to have to up their game.

One thing I've been pleased to notice as I get older is that the conventional wisdom that all your real assimilation of new concepts happens before your mid twenties seems to be incorrect.

Just in the last few years I feel like I've gone through a sort of phase transition re: my understanding of certain areas of math, where now it's all much more intuitive than it used to be.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:08 AM
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I've complained about this before over the last year or so, but I've been feeling dimmer lately -- shorter attention span, less focus, no inclination to read anything remotely challenging. At 41, I doubt that's actually related to aging (possibly a slowmoving brain tumor, of course) -- my job's gotten more scattered and interrupty over the last year, and I think that's bad for my functioning.

I don't think I ever had an experience like the one in the post -- there's never been a time when something was too hard for me and then I came back and it worked. (I've often run into things that were too hard to understand immediately until I learned how to do them, and then became conceptually clear after I learned them by rote, but that wasn't so much development as the process I go through with anything that's really hard.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:15 AM
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12.1: not talking about trolls, even. Just people with strongly held beliefs and no real ability or interest to engage them meaningfully.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:15 AM
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9, 10: I kind of miss the pointless debates. Not enough to keep on engaging the way I used to, but I liked the arguing, and it does just seem pointless lately, mostly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:16 AM
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15: no you don't.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:17 AM
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There was this one particular homework problem, which was the straw that caused me to drop the class. It showed a diagram of a foot and ankle, in the motion of taking a step, and had a bunch of arrows super-imposed over it. In hindsight, I'm sure the point was for you to do some vector addition, but I was so lost that I dropped the entire class. (That may have been the only class I ever dropped, in fact.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:18 AM
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16: I wanted pointless debates, not just contradiction.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:19 AM
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11. This is me too. I sometimes wonder if I'd grasp the Additional Maths syllabus if I went back to it now though. Do I actually have a deficient capacity for maths that was disguised at an early age by the fact that I was very good at arithmetic or was I simply taught badly or what?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:19 AM
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Anyhow I sort of understand what you mean but it's like how I started to feel with political blogging. It just felt like furiously blowing on a little toy sailboat to make it circle a bathtub.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:20 AM
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We love you, too Heebie!


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:21 AM
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18: nuh uh!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:21 AM
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11, 19: This sounds like sort of what we were talking about the other day, with the belief that there are just people who are good and bad at math, and once you hit something you don't get, there's no hope of getting past it. I think math teaching is really bad at getting people past roadblocks.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:21 AM
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I got totally fed up with math and gave up on it and then learned a heap of it in my late 20s/early 30s.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:23 AM
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17: Man, I loved vectors in physics. I am waiting like a cat at a mousehole for one of the kids to get to a physics class and need help with force diagrams. I just found them so satisfying.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:23 AM
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Actually, I had similar issues when I took physics in college: I just couldn't read between the lines. There was a problem with a chain sliding off a table, and it was accelerating as more of the chain went over the side, and you were supposed to compute something about it - maybe the position equation.

Anyway, I assumed the chain went "Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk" as each link went over the edge (as it was drawn in the diagram!), and was completely lost. I had no sense of "pretend the chain is a line with constant mass" or anything.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:26 AM
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I've long suspected that most mathematicians believe 23 wholeheartedly.


Posted by: Kreskin | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:29 AM
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Most mathematicians are terrible math instructors.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:33 AM
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I have noticed that whenever I try to explain anything math related to Caroline she gets very angry, starts crying, and stomps off. After that I vow to never mention it again, and usually within a week (sometimes more like a month or two) she has it firmly under her belt with no other prodding. Obviously her teachers are covering the same material at school, where she does not have the luxury of being allowed to stomp off and cry. I remember this conversation vividly with adding multi digit numbers (and it didn't help that the way I did it was ever so slightly different from the way her teacher did it), subtracting multi digit numbers, and long division. I'm not sure if the screaming fit helps her figure out the concept, stands in the way of her grasping the concept, or is completely unrelated.


Posted by: Molly | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:36 AM
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This is me too. I sometimes wonder if I'd grasp the Additional Maths syllabus if I went back to it now though. Do I actually have a deficient capacity for maths that was disguised at an early age by the fact that I was very good at arithmetic or was I simply taught badly or what?

I suspect for me it's just that I'm very lazy and once I stopped being able to just grok concepts more or less instantly I couldn't be bothered.



Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:40 AM
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I get mad at myself for commenting or arguing to the meta, rather than the kernel of a proposition. It feels like cheating because i'm taking the easier way somehow.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:43 AM
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I had a similar experience to that described in the OP, when I was about 14. Understanding abstract/symbolic systems suddenly became not only possible, but super fun and all I ever wanted to do. I even feel like the way I experienced language changed. Before that, using language felt more to me like an assemblage of phrases that matched up (or not) to the requisite social situations. Afterwards, it felt like a productive, rule-governed system, like using a very sophisticated, powerful tool set.

Anyway, once I hit that point, I think I was every bit as smart as I was ever going to be in my life, in terms of reasoning ability and memory.


Posted by: real ffeJ annaH | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:50 AM
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This is me too. I sometimes wonder if I'd grasp the Additional Maths syllabus if I went back to it now though.

Every few years I pull out the text for the course during which I suddenly and decisively hit a wall that ended my plan to major in math, thinking maybe I'll be able to make some sense of it this time without the pressure or whatever. Ha ha no, still impenetrable.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:50 AM
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29: I think part of it is that she's decided her teachers are Legitimate Math Authorities while we are General Purpose Obstacles to Whatever She Wants in Life. The window of opportunity for teaching her math has gone the way of the chance to influence her taste in music.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:54 AM
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I can't remember any time I've got noticeably smarter. If anything, I've noticed the reverse. Either my current job is unusually boring and rote and the lack of stimulation is atrophying my intellect, or my current job is normal and my previous one as a reporter was unusually sharpening, or I'm so satisfied with my social life these days (sorry to humblebrag) that I don't feel the need to try so hard or show off around here.

As for math, my parents considered me smart enough to have me take a few classes above my grade level, in both English and math. I hated that in English, but I can admit that my outcome was no worse than it would have been in the normal track and maybe somewhat better. In math, I was getting Cs by my senior year, so I'm not sure it was a good idea or not. I wound up taking very little math in college. It was an unusually open curriculum. I studied math so little, in fact, that I kind of regret it and have thought briefly (very briefly) about some CC class just to make myself more well-rounded.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:55 AM
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||

An email just got sent around to the grad students in the department that a visiting professor at another school is looking for somebody to "ta/ke a copy edited book man/uscript and track do/wn the missing biog/raphical information and ad/dress other questions" by the time the book is due to the publisher on APRIL NINTH. The name of the (twenty years in the making, apparently) book: "WHEN: T/he A/rt of P/erfect T/iming"

|>


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:08 AM
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The thing my brain does that doesn't make any sense is that if I learn a language* and then don't use it for a while, like months or years, it kind of gets better while I'm ignoring it. It sets, like Jello! I realize this very very subjective description will make Sifu's head explode.

*this is old anecdata, it occurs to me. I haven't started a new language in a decade. This is very weird for me. I used to be the language guy. I'd actually be apprehensive about starting a new one as my brain is very sluggish and I'm sure I'd no longer be especially good at it.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:11 AM
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The thing my brain does that doesn't make any sense is that if I learn a language* and then don't use it for a while, like months or years, it kind of gets better while I'm ignoring it. It sets, like Jello! I realize this very very subjective description will make Sifu's head explode.

*this is old anecdata, it occurs to me. I haven't started a new language in a decade. This is very weird for me. I used to be the language guy. I'd actually be apprehensive about starting a new one as my brain is very sluggish and I'm sure I'd no longer be especially good at it.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:12 AM
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Another thing my brain does is double-post.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:13 AM
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38.1: nah it's only sciencey descriptions that make my head explode. Subjective jello is copacetic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:15 AM
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I had an experience similar to the OP as an undergraduate (which sounds depressingly like a cliche of "bright college days"). I remember saying that I got to college and discovered the humanities. It did feel like finding out that there was a whole bunch of new fields that were fun to study.

Part of that experience was just exposure, but also, I think it mattered that I was old enough to be a little bit smarter socially. I'd always been good at reasoning from abstract principles, but by college I was slightly better at understanding how people behaved. I think it also helped getting away from home. My family never felt oppressive -- we've always been close, but I was the youngest and it took some of the fun out of discovering things to feel like everybody else already knew it. Being good at math was different because nobody else in the family was particularly inclined towards math, but it probably did make me more hesitant to attempt the humanities.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:17 AM
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I had Ginger Yellow and chris y's experience with math—through tenth grade or so I was rocketing through, then I could just barely get through multivariable calculus, and I retained virtually none of the information I theoretically learned in that class.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:17 AM
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A corollary is that the meaner we are to each other's arguments on here, provided we argue in good faith, the smarter we get. And that is wonderful because I like to fight with y'all.

But those who use this space to just be catty lower the discourse and make us stupid, so it is necessary for me to insult them directly.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:19 AM
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42: My experience with math is also similar.

In general, I reached my peak at around 11. All my breakthroughs since then have been in grasping the extent of my stupidity.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:21 AM
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I wish I knew why my connection is super slow everywhere lately.

42 was me, as were many unsigned comments last night.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:23 AM
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I took a bunch of linguistics classes in college and in one in particular (Semantics, I think), I COULD NOT figure out how to write the paper for it. I knew I didn't know how, and I spent hours and hours looking at journal articles trying to figure out what the organization was supposed to be like and what sorts of things I was supposed to include. (For whatever reason, it did not occur to me to ask the professor.) I totally failed. I never figured it out, I knew I didn't know what I was doing, and I got a C in the class.

Four years later when I went to grad school for linguistics, the standard organization of linguistics papers seemed so straightforward that I was kind of angry at baby me for not having figured it out.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:25 AM
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33: You studied measure theory as an undergraduate, and in the early or middle part of the program?


Posted by: Kreskin | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:32 AM
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I haven't started a new language in a decade. This is very weird for me. I used to be the language guy.

I also feel kind of weird about not having started studying any new languages since college (and about not having kept up with any of the languages I started then, but that's sort of a different anxiety). I'm thinking of taking a Yup'ik class in the fall, mostly because it would be helpful for my job, and it'll be interesting to see how it feels to be starting a new language again.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:34 AM
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by the time the book is due to the publisher on APRIL NINTH.

Nice.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:45 AM
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Yeah, I get a lot from talking with you people. It's like freshman year without the weed.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:50 AM
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I never directly hit my limits in math, but I hit physics classes where I needed to be a lot more fluid with a particular flavor of math than I was, and just doing those physics classes (statistical mechanics and classical mechanics, specifically) wasn't getting me up to speed quickly enough. That was a serious drag.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:52 AM
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36: that's wonderful


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:53 AM
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47 is what I was thinking, too.

I bet the only reason I was more successful at math than all you reprobates is because I wasn't on any sort of accelerated schedule whatsoever, and didn't see measure theory until graduate school, and didn't see Cal III until my sophomore year of college, and so on.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:57 AM
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47: first semester sophomore year. The class was called something like "probability", on the majors/honors track, but hoo boy it was not what I was expecting. I think it was nominally a 3rd-year class but the major track started with nominally 2nd-year classes. It was clearly a far more serious program than I had any business being in, though I did well enough in the first two semesters somehow (real analysis and vector spaces, or something like that).


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 8:58 AM
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The advanced section in E&M during grad school took me beyond my abilities in math. I struggled through, barely. That seemed to be mostly a problem of too many directions to go with any given thing, though, and lack of enough insight to prune some possibilities ex ante.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 9:00 AM
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Yup'ik is useful for everyone's job, Teo.

I find the comments here interesting and also vaguely depressing for reasons I can't put my finger quite on. I definitely had an experience around 15-16 where I felt suddenly much smarter. In a lot I ways I feel like my brain, work habits, etc basically formed then and all the rest has just been a coda. I mean, in college, law school and grad school I for sure felt like I was learning a lot quickly (and sometimes still feel that way when I have to do a crash course learning something for a case) but it doesn't really feel like I'm getting smarter, to the contrary more like a long process of getting dumber.

I can't believe you all are giving up on pointless arguing. I signed up for pointless arguing!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 9:02 AM
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48: Then you can tell us how many words for snow there really are.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 9:08 AM
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I guess my intellectual nostalgia is not for college, but for the summer language thing I did at IU between years of college. I daresay those were my happiest times. It was ten weeks of intensive language study with other dorks, and you lived in a little room in a big Soviet-looking dorm and ate all your meals with your professors and fellow dorks, sometimes speaking English, sometimes target language. (Occasionally you left campus to go to a Tibetan restaurant or something because Bloomington had like three of them.)

I was really good at languages. I haven't felt that good at anything in a very long time.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 10:10 AM
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I definitely feel less intelligent than at previous points in my life, although it may not be true from an IQ perspective (I know, flawed, but the measure I have available since I took one shortly after college and another about a month ago when MENSA was offering them for free.) Anyway, my suspicion is that I've lost a bit of the mental whateverness that we've discussed deep in TFA due to now being on an effective medication regime for depression. It's a worthwhile tradeoff, but it does make me understand a bit better why schizophrenics and others so often go off their meds.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 10:15 AM
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57 is just memory

I have never felt smart. Maybe I am not very smart.

For me, the patterns and structures are "out there" in the text or in the world, and the work I have to do is moving my bullshit out of the way. Not concentration or focus, but relaxation and openness, the Zen thing, emptying myself and then sense or meaning would be something I see rather than create.

Maybe that means I haven't worked and other people consciously move data among mental boxes until they get a good fit...maybe not. I just look at the problem and try to relax and let the solution find me.

So, since the patterns and structures are outside myself, so is intelligence. Belongs to the world, not me.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 10:21 AM
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I have seen the kanji for "wave".

Is it gone? Does the brain erase itself? Is their a hard limit and in order to imprint I have to clear space? How exactly do I search my brain, if it is still there?

I think mnemonics do exactly the work I mentioned above, clearing the bullshit out of consciousness so that...something...can do its work of remembering.

Same with problem-solving. If there is anything inside that could be called intelligence, I don't feel I can take credit for or possession of it. It doesn't feel that situated, directed, or controlled.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 10:32 AM
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I remember a similar experience when someone gave me a book senior year of high school, and I couldn't get past chapter 1. Not that I wasn't interested; I just couldn't absorb the argument. I returned to the book junior year of college, and read it in one sitting. I didn't find it even remotely challenging. Clearly, some kind of intellectual growth happened in the meantime. I'm not sure how much of it was bigger vocabulary, how much was better knowledge of the historical context, how much was practice at deconstructing an argument, and how much was sheer cognitive maturation.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 10:52 AM
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47 &ff: I got measure theory in the middle of an undergraduate program as well, though not IIRC tied to probability. Both at a SLAC (probably senior year though) (no, wait, we got a little sophomore year) and once in my Junior Year at Big Good Cheap State Flagship U.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 10:56 AM
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For my performance in the Duke TIP seventh grade talent search (that thing where you take the ACT or SAT in seventh grade), I was given (among other books) an anthology of 100 best short stories of world literature. I remember reading only two of the stories. "In the Penal Colony" blew my mind and made me kind of scared to keep the book on my shelf. "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" was completely impenetrable to me. I remember reading the words but not being able to make any sense out of the sentences at all. I'm not sure when things would have clicked for me with Borges' language, since I didn't try it again until college.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:12 AM
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I don't recognize a period growing up when I got smarter. During the middle of high school I did get excited enough by physics, learning through it that math could be more interesting than the exercise in repetitive precision it had been presented as up to that point, that I brought more focus to school, arguing with teachers, and test taking, if not grades, that I built up enough momentum to take me to college. Two years in I that enthusiasm had vanished, replaced with weariness and a feeling of despair whenever I thought about an academic subject (or anything, for that matter). This I experienced as depression and a feeling of getting much dumber.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:20 AM
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Which continued until I started taking B12 a year and a half back.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:24 AM
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I feel very stupid at the moment but I suspect that's because it's hard to do philosophy with half a brain while sleep-deprived.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:28 AM
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47 33: You studied measure theory as an undergraduate, and in the early or middle part of the program?

It was second quarter of the first-year honors analysis class in my undergrad program. (I guess some people took that as second-years, but it was definitely an early course.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:28 AM
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76: Pregnancy insomnia is so maddening. "This is my last chance to sleep for years and I can't?" I spent my last trimester largely on our couch because for some reason I slept slightly better there than in bed.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:30 AM
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I slept like a log while pregnant. Good gravy do I miss that. That and extra beautiful Breck girl pregnancy hair.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:32 AM
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I am so, so grateful for the existence of melatonin. I think it kept January-February from utterly crushing my soul.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:33 AM
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55 The advanced section in E&M during grad school

I'm glad I never took a graduate E&M class. As far as I can tell they should all be renamed "Special Functions for Masochists", and don't contain much physics.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:36 AM
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I've had insomnia the whole time, and now it's mostly that I wake up feeling vibrant and refreshed -- at 2am. But then I crash an hour later and can't sleep.

The pregnancy hair is pretty cool. Growing like crazy, thick, perfect spirals every day. But I am so dependent on automated reminders for my calendar to remember weekly meetings, etc. It's like I'm on strong cold medicine.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:41 AM
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72: yep. The time I spent with Gradshteyn and Ryzhik was an utter waste. Had I been smarter I would have spent more time thinking about the problems and less trying to "work" them.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:43 AM
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So, avoid taking E&M while pregnant, eh?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:51 AM
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they should all be renamed "Special Functions for Masochists"

And be advertised with glossy postcards.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 11:52 AM
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Have I mentioned my colleague who quips "the bigger the belly, the smaller the brain!" ? I want to punch her.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 12:27 PM
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Growing like crazy, thick, perfect spirals every day.

*pines*

My pregnancy hair was more like a large animal attached to my head.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 12:31 PM
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avoid taking E&M while pregnant, eh?
Your gametes might vary.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 12:36 PM
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My experience is a mix of 56 and 65. It's hard to separate the feeling of 'not being as quick as I used to be' from the fearfulness that keeps me from doing anything that would actually exercise my brain, or the general despair about wasted opportunities.


Posted by: X. Trapnel | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 12:38 PM
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I really remember hitting the wall with math -- it has had a big impact on my life, as I have been in situtations where I could have been much more successful if I had had better math skills. Strangely, I did great in real analysis but really hit the wall with matrix algebra, vectors, differential equations...comparatively simple stuff to a math person. I could do *rote* problems (if I had a recipe) but my brain didn't seem to bend to *think* that way. I couldn't take a new situation and use the right mathematical tools to model it.

The way I think about it is that I have very good verbal skills and for a lot of areas of math I was basically talking my way through it in my head -- describing the problems in some kind of narrative way and memorizing what the next step was. But at a certain point math fluency requires that you actually speak the language instead of translate it.

I still do have a decent sense of when I'm getting snowed with math, enough to ask good verbal questions about mathematical models. But not to construct them myself.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 12:44 PM
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differential equations...comparatively simple stuff

Don't feel bad about finding differential equations hard. They are. A few are easy, but they're the exceptions.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 12:52 PM
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Also the textbooks are terrible and no one likes to teach it.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:05 PM
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Plus it's so damn much writing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:07 PM
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Damn, I'd really like to hit a cognitive growth spurt now.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:11 PM
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And probably not even in cursive anymore.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:11 PM
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V. I. Arnold's Ordinary Differential Equations is a beautiful book.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:12 PM
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Differential equations are easy, it's just finding analytic solutions to them that's hard. Usually when you encounter one in the wild the best you can do is numerically solve. Why people teach classes that are all about the handful of analytically solvable examples, I have no idea. I never took one of those classes, either.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:15 PM
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Because we're assigned to teach it, have a poor understanding of the big picture, and just want to follow a textbook.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:20 PM
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87: Lots of nice little illustrations.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:20 PM
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Techniques of integration has the same issue.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:21 PM
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88.1.1: yes, writing down equations can be very easy. I generally assume I'm going to solve them, and not call it a day having created a model--silly me.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:22 PM
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At least with techniques of integration, I fully understand what is necessary for their other classes, and what is stupid, (most of it).


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:22 PM
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88: Well, the hell I'd trust a numerical solution I didn't regularly check against some analytical ones. What's else to do? Actual physical models? Hard enough in my field and I'm working at STP near ground level!

trapnel, while I obviously cannot promise that anything will get better, a lot of my self greened up again eventually after bombing out of Grad School I. In fact, what might yet get me through Grad School II are work and emotional habits that I could only learn at a job that wasn't my `true work'.

Don't know if that counts as getting smarter.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:29 PM
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I had some great ODE & PDE classes with a prof old enough to not lean on computing. I think of Green as an intercessory spirit.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:30 PM
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Writing down the correct equation is not generally easy for good questions!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:31 PM
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Writing down the correct question is not generally easy, for good questions!


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:32 PM
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I am embarrassed to say I don't use computers in any of my classes, including diff eq. It just seems like a pain in the ass to get a computer classroom, figure out assignments, deal with IT headaches, for a marginal pay-off...and there are other faculty members who are really enthusiastic about technology in the classroom, so I figure the students aren't being shortchanged overall.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:33 PM
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Also true!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:34 PM
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But once you've done boh of those getting a goodish answer mostly just means apply computers.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:35 PM
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This is very much like the transition for 11th grade to 12th grade math in my experience. For an entire year, more or less nothing made any sense. Then, within the first week of 12th grade math, all of the 11th grade stuff was, in fact, as obvious as the 11th grade teacher kept telling us it was.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:39 PM
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I think vectors might have been the concept in question, in fact, but it's been so long since I did any math harder than the arithmetic my alarm clock makes me do to shut it off.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:42 PM
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I don't really even understand where diff eqs arise. I mean, how one might write one down to model something, besides tanks of water with one concentration of saline entering, mixing perfectly, and leaving.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:44 PM
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since I did any math harder than the arithmetic my alarm clock makes me do to shut it off

You have to do arithmetic to shut off your alarm clock?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 1:46 PM
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Techniques of integration has the same issue.

Another thing that killed me. I would think that I understood how to set up a problem and what integration was conceptually, but then there would be this forest of terms within the integration symbol that I had to simplify and the 'kill me now' point followed quickly afterwards. Plus, as soon as things got involved I would lose all confidence that I was simplifying correctly, so even after I got through a few lines if an issue popped up I would think I had to start the entire process all over again. If the terms stayed complicated after I had worked at it I would have no idea if it was because I screwed up or they really were complicated. I'll admit I lost patience quickly with this process.

getting a goodish answer mostly just means apply computers

at least back in my day it seemed like computers were massively underused in developing math skills/intuition -- there seemed to be big unused opportunities for computers to clear away the calculation underbrush and let you focus on building intuition and understanding systems mathematically. Even in setting up equations initially -- e.g. could you program a problem in some kind of agent-based modeling kind of way (I am interested in entities like this who interact like that) and then have a computer come up with some equations describing outputs like changes, growth, whatever?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 2:02 PM
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77: "The bigger the belly, the shorter the temper." Punch.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 2:04 PM
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105: Now you have *two* problems.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 2:24 PM
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I don't understand how so many of you seem to remember what you did each term at university. I have really no idea. That's also when I got stuck at maths. Perhaps the two are related.

I'm learning stuff now - doing a human biology course - and it's fun. I recommend learning new things.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 2:25 PM
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92 88.1.1: yes, writing down equations can be very easy. I generally assume I'm going to solve them, and not call it a day having created a model--silly me.

Why not respond to what I actually wrote? I solve differential equations all the time. Numerically.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 2:47 PM
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Presumably you also solve linear differential equations exactly.

I'd have expected that you'd also want to solve things exactly using power series sometimes. Though maybe in practice that's just a particular case of solving numerically, since you're only actually going to compute the first bunch of coefficients and thereby have an approximate solution.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 2:56 PM
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108: I don't understand how so many of you seem to remember what you did each term at university.

Yes. I can mostly recall general impressions. Honing in, to who it may concern, my college career:

Freshman year: Learning to live with others. Choking then relaxing about classes. Social ineptness.

Sophomore year: Best year, socially speaking; ineptness not as obvious. Interesting classes. Sick all the time. Briefly meet my future spouse (but don't have a clue that we would re-meet and marry 8 years later).

Junior year: Less interesting and more difficult classes. More complex social life; ineptness manifests itself in new ways. Healthier because of improved sleeping and eating habits. Jaded for no good reason.

Senior year: Independent research projects totally fun. Still more complicated social life; refined ineptness. Apply to grad school, interview for jobs. Jadedness dissipates - last month or two of college, feel like I'm getting the hang of it. Leave.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 3:05 PM
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I find with math in particular that routinely if I can't understand something, if I just come back to it a long time later then it seems much easier. I think my brain needs a year to get over the "What the fuck is this shit?!" reaction.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 3:48 PM
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Thomas Lamarre

Digital media, however, do not touch the real or impress it into images. Rather digital media generate images from numbers, at a remove, as if no longer beholden to the real. Moreover, because any of the old media can be digitized, new media loosen the grip that old media have on reality, by opening them to manipulations and transformations that cast doubt on their hold on reality. Digital media generate realities rather than record them. They champion imagination and fantasy over documentary. In effect, new media dispense with the logic of origins.

Intelligence/reason is synthetic and distributed. Always has been.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 5:00 PM
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88

Differential equations are easy, it's just finding analytic solutions to them that's hard. Usually when you encounter one in the wild the best you can do is numerically solve. Why people teach classes that are all about the handful of analytically solvable examples, I have no idea. ...

This is just another example of academia being slow to adjust to changing times. Before computers this was really important. And models that can be solved analytically still aid understanding.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 5:27 PM
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103

I don't really even understand where diff eqs arise. I mean, how one might write one down to model something, besides tanks of water with one concentration of saline entering, mixing perfectly, and leaving.

Really? Seems to me they are everywhere. If you brake at .2g are long does it take you to stop? At 6% interest how long does it take you to double your money? (I know you can quibble the last is really a difference equation.)


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 5:34 PM
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15

9, 10: I kind of miss the pointless debates. Not enough to keep on engaging the way I used to, but I liked the arguing, and it does just seem pointless lately, mostly.

Well you could say playing recreational sports is pointless in that it doesn't matter which team wins but it can be fun and keep you physically fit. And it depends on what you would be doing instead, in my case this includes things like solving online jigsaw puzzles which doesn't actually have a lot of point either.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 6:10 PM
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I see no reason to read beyond the first 10 comments of this thread.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03-28-13 7:56 PM
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I have a long comment on a tangent to the OP and the whole math-related discussion, but the margins on this thread aren't large enough. I'll either half-ass it soon or try and query the Mineshaft eventually.


Posted by: Awl | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 4:45 AM
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115: I get which systems lend themselves to DEs, it just seems mysterious how you might actually write down a DE that describes the system. Outside of textbook examples.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 5:23 AM
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109: because I was annoyed by the tone, and not the content of your response.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 5:49 AM
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120: which, yes, is lame. Sorry.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 5:57 AM
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I guess I should have asked myself, "Am I about to be annoying?"


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 6:08 AM
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Wait what was annoying about that?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 6:10 AM
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Not quite read all of the thread, but:

I definitely remember a point where maths stopped being trivially easy. Somewhere around the transition from Higher/A-level maths (end of high school) to university level maths. I was probably among the best in our school at maths [I missed out on the annual school prize, but I assume I came second]* and I scored close to a perfect score on the Higher [97% or something, iirc]. But at university, I could still do it, but I had to work at it and things no longer made intuitive sense without putting the hours in. And since I didn't put the hours in ...

A few years back I was writing a philosophy of science seminar paper on optics, and went and read some of the physics textbooks on the topic. I found I could pick the maths up OK when I actually cared about understanding it, but it still took a bit of work. It didn't come naturally like, say, philosophy or areas of philosophy/maths overlap (e.g. logic).

In terms of a sudden jump in ability/understanding, definitely the two years of the Bee Fill. I've talked to a few friends who did it the same year(s) and are now tenured or tenure-tracks Profs, and they all agree, they were never as good at philosophy before or since. Definitely not during their doctoral research, which serves as an en-dumbing phase after.

I feel pretty stupid these days, though. Even before the babysplosion event.

* and I've always assumed skull-duggery. Which amused more than annoyed, but it has stuck in my mind. The overall 'Dux'* medal went to the guy who got the Maths prize, and I _pwned_ him at every other subject. My suspicion at the time is that they preferred the medal to go to the nicely turned out prefect rather than the long-haired stoner/metal type.

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dux#Education


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 6:34 AM
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Learning new stuff in general is great. My lottery-winning dreams don't really involve great personal luxury, but they do involve having lots of time to devote to learning new stuff, and getting better at stuff I already like to do.

There was a guy who graduated at the ceremony as me in Glasgow, who was doing, iirc, his 3rd or 4th PhD, and he already had about 6 other degrees. He was retired, in (I think) in his late 70s or so. He'd spent the 20 years or so since he retired studying subjects he found interesting, for no other reason than it was fun. Also, I think, he got to socialise a lot with younger people, and it kept his life interesting and active. Seemed a fine enough way to spend retirement to me. Plus, I presume lots of travel and cool stuff in the 20 weeks a year he wasn't at university.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 8:16 AM
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When I was in grad school there was a guy in his late 50s or thereabouts taking advanced classes for shits and giggles. He had a physics PhD and had made a ton of money somehow so he decided to refresh his knowledge and extend it a bit. I think he took classes outside of physics as well.

If I made a shit-ton of money I'd just go back to grad school as well. I'd take some of the classes I avoided and probably retake some of the classes I really enjoyed. Essear is right that graduate E&M is just special functions for masochists, but I loved it and would retake it in a heartbeat.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 8:29 AM
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My eyes tire more easily which makes it harder for me to follow denser arguments if the prose is not lively or well punctuated.

I think that there is an emotional component, though, because I think that I am doing better than I was 10 years ago. I'm also on a more even keel emotionally than I was then.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 03-29-13 1:27 PM
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124: In terms of a sudden jump in ability/understanding, definitely the two years of the Bee Fill. I've talked to a few friends who did it the same year(s) and are now tenured or tenure-tracks Profs, and they all agree, they were never as good at philosophy before or since. Definitely not during their doctoral research, which serves as an en-dumbing phase after.

This is interesting. Taking the Bee Fill to be the rough equivalent of a Master's here, I'd say that yeah, I progressed by leaps and bounds in the first 2 years of grad school. Things I'd been groping around as an undergraduate -- not clueless, but finding mysteries everywhere -- were suddenly perfectly handleable, and I could work with them. I took two years off between undergrad and grad schools, and certainly didn't study philosophy during that time, so I'm not sure what happened.

Regarding "aha" moments, there's one I clearly recall, as an undergraduate. I was taking a course on (William) James and Wittgenstein, and putting together my final paper: at some point I realized I was on the wrong track altogether, was fundamentally misunderstanding something about James. The paper was going to be a complete loss, no way I could finesse this unless I ironed it out. I went to dinner, utterly preoccupied by the problem I was having, basically muttering internally to myself, and *boom*, light dawned. Ohhhhhh. !!!

It was awesome. I was probably sold at that moment on philosophy as the thing for me.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-31-13 11:44 AM
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