April 22, 2008
The worry that I might be mistakenly wanting to go to grad school because of nostalgia for college has crossed my mind, but I’ve never taken it seriously. Like Miss Self-Important, I’ve always assumed that the bits of college I liked the most are heavily featured in grad school. As Jacob Levy puts it:
Neither, however, is the warning generically for Chicago undergrads. If you find yourself nostalgic for your Chicago undergrad experience (particularly, say, midterms-through-finals of winter quarter when it feels like your work stretches out forever into both the past and the future) you’re probably doomed to grad school.
For some reason, my most memorable courses were almost all in winter quarter. So I was generally pumped up, work-wise, in winter. I think most of my best work was done during that midterms-through-finals period. And at that stage a one week break at the end of it all sounds heavenly. The real ‘oh shit’ period for me was generally at the end of spring break, when I would realise that one week of rest is simply not enough and there’s eleven more weeks of what just hit me to come. Now I’m not nostalgic for that feeling. But it only lasted for a short while, as the first week of the quarter would quickly descend, with the attendant adrenaline rush from the prospect of novelty.*
In college I used to be pathetically easily distracted from exhaustion. In my current situation, it’s a perpetual struggle to bar exhaustion from my conscious thoughts. This despite sleeping about twice as much as I did in college.
*It’s quite likely that I’ve written this paragraph, nay, the whole blog post, out of pure nostalgia.
April 14, 2008
Eliezer Yudkowsky is putting up a series of posts introducing quantum mechanics in a clear, intuitive, and (needless to say) non-conventional way. Despite already having a long list of quantum thingies to read, I decided to read it because he prefaces the series with a criticism of the conventional tactic of discussing the classical wave/particle duality — a criticism the best physics teacher I’ve ever had shares. I agree with them that that pseudo-classical approach is one of the main reasons why students don’t understand quantum mechanics even after significant instruction.
April 12, 2008
Either that or brave the Sunday downtown crush to get this thing replaced:
April 10, 2008
Casual music lovers are often puzzled by why I find that a knowledge of music theory enhances my music-listening experiences. They voice a common intuition that music is all about the immediate phenomenology — knowing what ‘underlies’ it does not affect the phenomenology of musical experience, and hence should not enhance your immediate musical experience. You may feel an additional sense of satisfaction, after listening to a familiar piece of music, if you’ve studied the piece and hence know some particularly beautiful and thrilling facts about its structure, but this sense of satisfaction is apart from the usual satisfaction you get ‘in the moment’ from listening.
I’d previously described Jerrold Levinson’s position that knowledge of music theory is irrelevant to the immediate musical experience. At that time I surprised myself when I admitted to myself that he had a strong argument. But after re-listening to a few of Andras Schiff’s lecture recitals today, I’ve alighted on an aspect of musical experience that Levinson seems not to have considered, an aspect that is troublesome for his argument.
This aspect dawned on me, appropriately, because I noticed the aspect perception-like reaction I was having to Schiff’s descriptions of the music. Even for pieces that I consider myself to know really well, some of Schiff’s remarks suggest new aspects of the music that I hadn’t considered before (and some of these aspects require a knowledge of music theory if one is to grasp them). After those suggestions are made to me, the next time I hear the piece of music, I hear it differently. And I hear it differently not in the sense that I actively interpret it differently after first ‘taking it in’ through my ears. I mean that it just sounds different in a direct, picture-like manner, the same way that a Necker Cube looks different in its two possible ‘poses’. I hear the music as something else the same way that I sometimes see the Necker Cube as something else.
Levinson’s mistake is in assuming that knowledge of music theory has an impact only in adding to your stock of possible reactions to the music, rather than in fundamentally changing the way you confront the music. Although listening to music is often portrayed as a passive activity, at least relative to other mental activities like reading, it doesn’t have to be that way. The active listener can get very different things out of the music, even on the level of the most superficial layer of his immediate musical experience, just by altering a little his stance towards the music. It’s something like how he cocks his ear towards it, if we must use metaphors. I don’t hear the new aspect that Schiff has taught me to hear in addition to the aspects I used to hear. Instead, I hear a new excerpt (or possibly even a new piece, depending on how much of a holist you are) of music altogether.