Some Ways To Power Your Learning Potential

Here are some interesting ways that you can learn things quicker, and sharper.  Indeed, it attests to the modern theory of “neuroplasticity,” which is very comforting, for even as brain cells die (at least from what I’ve heard) they can re-route easily.  Moreover, in the real world, people young and old alike can learn by awesome tricks.

One method is known as the mnemonic.  For example, “HOMES” represents the Great Lakes of North America (i.e., Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).  Another is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” namely, the order of math operations, comprising parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.  Mnemonics are everywhere, and can even be cleverly invented.

Moreover, an even more powerful memory trick is to associate concepts using a “bridge.”  This is known as associative learning, and the method is known as conditioning.  In fact, this can be used just as appropriately (and perhaps more so) on behavioral research.  You may have heard of Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov’s immortal experiment on the dog that connected a two-step process into one (i.e., the dog no longer needs the powdered meat for a salivation response, as it has been overridden by a bell, which was earlier rung almost simultaneously, and now the bell is sufficient).

To place this concept in the human race, I will give you a few facts I know by using this method (and perhaps any close kin):

-Muhammad, the top Islamic prophet, was born in AD 570.  I know this thanks to a Pennsylvania telephone area code.  See?  That’s the power of associationfor Muhammad had nothing to do with phones or Pennsylvania.
-The very date (May 18th) of writing this post in 1980 was when the first “true” eruption of Washington State’s Mt. St. Helens.  Its dress rehearsal, a steam eruption, was actually on my birthday (March 27th) that same year.  (I was not born until 1988, not to mention I live on the US East Coast).
-When dialing phone numbers (and to help memorize them), I dissect them into the three parts:  area code, exchange (the first three digits of the phone number proper), and the last four digits, a number of ways can be useful (no pun intended).  Among them are the geometric pattern your finger traverses on the keypad, or comparing actual numeric details such as digit order, etc.  Of course, this is the case only in the US, Canada, and most Caribbean islands.
-Same thing with any scholastic procedure, whether through the grades, in college, grad school, whatever, one level is preparing you for the next, often known as a prerequisite.

There are also many reverse cases, wherein knowledge learned elsewhere may have a golden opportunity for application.  Especially in fiction.

-A few years ago, on the long-running American TV crime drama “CSI:  Crime Scene Investigation” (2000-2015)  In one scene of an episode I noticed the mention of an opening in the rear eye socket.  This right there, shows you that you’ll never know when an application of a previous fact may sneak out at you.
The Genesis Code, a novel I am trying to read but have been displaced from (as it is with many books) involves a Roman Catholic office in the Vatican, which is a remnant of the atrocious Inquisition many centuries ago.
Eaters of the Dead, by the late, great Michael Crichton concerns Arab encounters with the Swedish Vikings.  (Crichton’s overall style is quite compatible with the scientifically-conscious, including me.)

One more comment I should make is that even if you are encountering the same facts you have before, with knowledge input between then and now, it can truly enrich the original knowledge.  Yet, more than anything else, this dynamic concerns Christians and the Bible, especially because its intent is more than information, but transformation.  In other words, not just knowledge, but wisdom.

I could go on and on, but, long story short, using your existing knowledge, you can easily enrich and compound on it.  And as everyone’s situation is different (e.g., intelligence, age, areas of expertise), be kind to help others depending on their needs.  This includes controlling breadth and depth to keep them interested.

“Long live MacGyver”

Reference Nostalgia

Generations before the Millennials may remember striving diligently through library materials, such as encyclopedias, atlases, almanacs, etc., especially for school projects.  Unfortunately, this diligence has surrendered to convenience.  The wave came first through computer software, then through the internet.  And as many have tried to “surf” the web, rip tides are inevitable.

Let’s start with Google.  It has been synonymous for quite sometime with searching the web.  Or maybe even searching, period.  In any case, let the searcher beware.

And now you have an “encyclopedia,” known as Wikipedia, which, being a public entity in which people try to look things up, there is little or no assurance of scholarly backup.  Sure, the sources in the references may be scholarly.  And there are varying differences of technicality among Wikipedia articles.  But the contributors (read:  writers) are responsible for what goes in and out of it (along with a few “bots”).  And, whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, articles constantly change!

Alas, I must confess, I am prone to using Wikipedia myself.  Therefore, I want to avoid preaching about it, but just follow your heart.  Besides, in scholastic situations, instructors advise their students not to use it (or any encyclopedia) for projects assigned.

Ok, moving on.  Yesterday I felt I had the dilemma of keeping either the print set (1981, though most content seems to been written in, say, the early 70s), and the more modern computer program (2012). But since they work as a team, there really was no “dilemma” to begin with!  Some libraries, in fact, may retain multiple editions of a reference source.  Though in the 21st century, many libraries have purged much of their reference material.

And there is much potential in that.  Back to Google (or any of its rivals, e.g. Bing), you can get even more content.  Or if you prefer print, consult a number of references.  Or even websites!  See, there is a good element to the web.  It just requires wisdom.

Until you’re satisfied with a topic, the more references, the merrier.  Think of them as a team, whether separate works and/or different editions of one work. And if you’re totally puzzled in one source, try another.  Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

Glorifying God in All Fields of Work

Before I discuss this question, I must admit at a church I attended in the summer of 2015 had an incredible (and indelible) sermon series.  It was right on target for my career situation, both then and now.

Overall, it discussed the truth of work and keeping away from having too ambitious of an attitude toward it.  In other words, if someone wishes to “change the world,” a hope for such a breakthrough is totally in God’s hands.  Thus, the likelihood of such a change tends to be slim.  So, we must think in terms of “baby steps,” no matter what our careers entail.

The bottom line is whatever you do, you should do it to God’s glory, and with the spirit of Christian love.  This applies to all careers, from truck drivers to doctors.  (This does not mean you should deal strictly with Christians, because, likewise, their salvation is personal.)

Fast forward 2 years for the meat and potatoes.  While I am (and have been) a Biology major hopeful, I recently thought there was no jobs that fit the bill.  Well, things have changed, and things are looking brighter.

That radical change of heart concerned the various positions of cell and molecular biology, the dominant field today.  Previously, I was cynical toward that, since I thought such research was an excuse to prolong life as well as to eradicate certain diseases, and hence make the world more “worldly.”  (Of course, on earth, just because we cure everything that exists doesn’t make death any less inevitable.)

But the good side of such scientific progress is that 1) extension of the average life expectancy gives time more for better Gospel reception 2) it won’t make anything more “sacred” to target the “worldliness” mentioned above; of course, this earth is worldly by definition, and people may or may not receive the Gospel (this depends on God’s will) 3)  Over the past few centuries we have made great strides, so why stop them now?  Such serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are apparently far more formidable than such ailments like polio, measles, etc., which can be addressed by certain vaccines and similar barriers.  Not to mention, all this is done for the good of people like me and you, as Phil 2:3, 4 advocates, whether as a true biologist, a biology technician, or similar occupation.

So, should I pursue such a career?  Well, in any case, the Bible is the central source of wisdom for Christians, and that is my guide.  Prayer is welcome as well, from wherever your neck of the woods may be.

No matter what your job is, as long as it is done to God’s glory, renders work as worship.  AMEN

The Worth of One’s Knowledge Base

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  (Prov 1:7, ESV)

Unbelievers, while being just as able as believers to obtain knowledge, do not thoroughly understand what something means in the long run.  Based on this, Christians have a higher purpose for this, as cited in Phil 2:4 (ESV):

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Fundamentally, we can all use our knowledge bases for the common good, and to advance the kingdom of God.  Whatever your area of expertise is, there is somewhere you can fulfill the needs and demands of whom you serve.

On a personal level, knowledge compounds and inter-plays with previously learned knowledge prior to the newer information.  Whether its a mere pronunciation difference or a topic that builds on something you learned 20 years ago (making for a great review LOL), knowledge is always useful to some extent.

But first of all, let’s discuss what this thing called “wisdom.”  Basically, it is living within God’s parameters of earthly existence to survive and thrive.  This is not the same as actual “earthly” wisdom.  James describes the difference like this:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

“Heavenly” wisdom comes only through the Holy Spirit, through prayer, Scripture reading, preaching, and other means of grace.  Thus Christians have a fuller awareness of doing what is best as their clock on earth ticks.

And as in all things, moderation.  Ecclesiastes (a Biblical wisdom book, which, like Proverbs, is attributed to Solomon) illustrates when you should draw the line on certain things, such as pleasure, work, and learning.  Yes, we share this terrestrial ball.  But not forever.  So while you should enjoy things on this earth, don’t get too absorbed in them.  For example, Eccl. 12:12 puts secular study like this:

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Learning is good, and is something we do whether we like it or not.  But if you study with selfish ambition, that is basically folly.  Yet when done in moderation (as with all your tasks), understanding our natural world (or any other area(s) of knowledge) can bear great benefit.  By the way, since Solomon’s time, “books” have met their rival distant cousin: the Internet.  Gutenberg sure helped, though.

Wow, now we have made a bridge between a number of areas of thought!  Would you like to buy it?  (It’s far cheaper than Brooklyn’s for sure!)

Teach What You’ve Just Learned

At CCP, I am doing a public speaking class.  While I am near flunking this course, I have learned some valuable tips and tricks to use to present facts, for the good of both speaker and listener.

When I endeavor to learn material with substantial, if not overwhelming, detail (for example, stuff from Cronodon), a few reads and especially a pleasant “lecture” with a friend, can power learning.

  1.  Read the material until you have a “working” comprehension of the material.
  2. Copy various ideas, whether small details or major facts, onto index cards.
  3. Practice a little by speaking, first in your own mind, then to your listener(s)

It is also good to test yourself on your newly-acquired knowledge.  So by teaching others and testing yourself on this material, you’ll get a grasp on whatever information that is second to none!

Zeroing In On Your True Interests

Biology degrees, unlike physical science degrees (i.e., chemistry, physics, geology, etc.), tend to have a whole bunch of course options for biology elective credit, which you can pick to a total of, say, 5-8 courses.  Moreover, different schools have different “concentration” programs, to orient you in a certain direction.  Yet for me, I prefer the general degrees because you can tailor it to your (mostly) exact interests.

The CCP Biology I (taking now) and Biology II (spring) should give me a general idea, and can give a further standard against which colleges to judge.  The top 3 options currently are West Chester, Widener, and ESU (East Stroudsburg University).  One of my sisters has studied at ESU.  While they all have their own merits, I should tour all of them to determine what college serves me best.

And I am discerning which courses (and their general subject areas) to take, which is more of getting a feel for them than actually deciding.  After all, we should take things one semester at a time.  But I can say my favorite types of courses are ones that primarily involve “action,” e.g., physiology, rather than structure or identification, e.g., anatomy, morphology, pathology, systematics, etc.  But again, you won’t like everything in college.

In this age of information, specialization is paramount.  You can’t really be a generalist anymore and get much done, aside from actually learning the stuff.  While I wouldn’t call such an endeavor a “waste,” it’s far less fruitful than if you just do one thing and do it right.  Brain capacity is constant, yet information quantity is skyrocketing.  So we must each do our part and “zero in!”

Why Biology?

Each program [at ESU] helps students to think. But when a student chooses a program, it is a choice of what to think about. A physics major thinks about different things than a psychology major.  A math major has different matters on her mind than an art major., Dr. Peter Hawkes, Dean of Arts and Sciences at East Stroudsburg University.

While you will always learn new things beyond your college major in your lifetime, college gives you a trajectory for your career and other areas of adult life.

 

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My introductory biology textbook.

For me, that number one thing is biology.  It has a beauty of both unity and diversity.  Contradictory as they may seem, it is a reality.  Diversity in all the life forms on Earth manifests God’s beauty in their habitats and niches, yet their unity in all the core systemic processes equally shows what a wonderful and providential Creator He is.  (Evolutionists claim that all life is not from a common creator, but a common ancestor.  But what is that ancestor?!?)  Remember the idea that cells come only from other cells, and so forth.

And even at the moment, before transfer to a university, I love looking at numerous websites concerning biology.  These can be about animals, plants, neural processes, you name it.  Of course, God made all these structures and processes; the scientists among us just named them.

So to all my fellow undergraduates, whatever your passion, biology or otherwise, go for it!

When the Time is Right

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33)

The past few days have been troublesome for learning things.  Sure, school’s been good, but my attitude toward different subjects has made me a little iffy about my tolerance for certain subjects.  In other words, in my major study field of biology, I have felt a nervousness about certain topics, whether in school or in my personal learning, primarily due to suspicion about overwhelming detail in certain subjects (and sources of such).  The one that is pertinent today is gastropods, or snails and slugs, in case you were wondering.  Yet this is currently a topic of personal study, not in school.

This entire preoccupation turned out quite moot, since it was utterly dependent on the mood of the moment.  Sometimes I’m in the mood to read certain material, other times I feel it may not be the time.

I should keep in mind what Jesus said at the Sermon on the Mount in the above quotation.  Whatever you strive for, keep God in the center.  If it isn’t absolutely pressing as school (or whatever endeavor) is, the best way to approach things is to just determine if your mood (or mind) is well poised to take on doing something non-essential.

Bottom line?  Try to determine how disposed you are toward a certain task that is “on the side” of your chief responsibilities.  In other words, set priorities.  This will help you decide if the time is right.

Why Textbooks Don’t Cut It On Their Own

Since high school, I’ve had a draw to college textbooks of many kinds, especially in the sciences.  Even though a given subject is of interest, the truth is, I’ve never felt confident to finish a text front to back.

Perhaps the main reason for such is the fact that without any instructor, you can’t guarantee your getting the right information.  Even if you can comprehend the writing with no problem, textbook material needs that actual power imparted by the professor in order to know exactly what is going on. This is especially true when you consider a college’s prerequisites for a given subject.  Reading such a book (and usually, thus taking such a class) warrants previous knowledge.

Moreover, especially in the natural sciences, you need labs, field trips, and many other practical exercises to truly learn concepts.  And of course, the lecture is at the center of it all.

Also, the fact that textbooks are constantly updated means inevitably that, as you grow older, you will miss newer material taught long after you graduated.  But again, you should be content with the position you are in now.

Now if you are out of college and wish to use a textbook for additional learning (e.g., when your school didn’t offer  a given class), I don’t see anything wrong with that.  But I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get there, as I would have to test that statement.

So I must resist spending money on texts that have nothing to do with my coursework, and just take “baby steps” toward the goals I may aspire to achieve.  And I’ll leave the choices of texts to the professors.  And ultimately, all of it is in God’s hands.

So until then, just Google things, or if you dare, use Wikipedia.  LOL

Putting God In Charge of All Intellectual Pursuits

Our individual lives are a tiny fragment of all time.  Yet God gave us a mind to learn, reason, analyze, and create.  We must therefore come to terms with certain areas of our transient lifetime, and let our intellect follow suit.

1.  Unlike God, knowledge always changes.

Consider great minds like Newton, Descartes, Franklin, Jefferson, Pasteur, Einstein, and sundry others.  Some were Christians, some were not, the important thing to remember is that we have moved far beyond the potential of their time.  Yet they never got to see this later activity and development.  Not to get too morbid, but all people should consider what they have achieved and leave the achievement of future generations to God.  In the case of Christians, we could care less what happens on earth once we enter and eternally enjoy the overwhelming and magnificent heavenly fellowship with God and his people.  That’s at least how I see it.

For practical consideration on this earth today, we must accept the fact that we will never know everything.  As a budding scientist (and most likely a biologist of some sort), I understand that people in my bunch may make discoveries (or at least participate in such activity), but those discoveries always change.  A college textbook used when one is say, age 20, will be a dinosaur (no pun intended) when one is 50.  Yet people aren’t chasing after newer editions.  Instead, they keep up to date with scholarly periodicals focused on their field.  While some people love holding onto their textbooks, others would rather limit it to those books that are relevant as a reference, especially in the courses most pertinent to your current job.  The rest might as well be rubbish.

2.  Only God is omniscient and only He knows the “exact truth”

Earthly information is not only subject to change, it is also really only a shadow of the exact truth.  Whether antiquated or cutting-edge, all human knowledge is fallible.  Even the Bible, God’s Word, is subject to interpretation.  (This causes splits in churches, but that’s for another post.)  In any case, what is quite commonsense today was highly arcane at one time.  Newton was quite intrigued by the falling apple, which we now know as the law of gravity, which is now a mere staple (unless you wanted to study it in detail).  Same thing with living cells (the name came from the resemblance to a prison “cell”).  And let’s not forget Franklin’s kite, which could have put his life in jeopardy.  Copernicus and Galileo were the first heliocentric proponents, yet they got some pretty nasty treatment from the Inquisition, etc.

Whatever it is, science is an interpretation.  Hypotheses and theories change over time, and they are the backbone of science.  Another type of scientific statement, the law, is a more stable, observational principle, e.g., Newton’s three laws.  Even they could occasionally be modified.

Conclusion

All human endeavors (including science and many others) are imperfect.  Thanks to Jesus, we now enjoy the freedom of exploring our world, sometimes to a scientific extent.  And that includes people like me.  As Thomas Aquinas put it, if faith or reason need to be chosen, pick faith.  There is nothing wrong with reason, but it is always secondary to faith.  God created our minds, not vice versa.

Because knowledge is a creation of the Creator, it should never be worshiped.  It may very well be fruitful to detach from books that it would be time to move on from, as you have learned many of the main principles, though perhaps not all the details, and certainly not verbatim (hardly anyone can do that!)  I think God is in action when “pruning” the knowledge that is not needed.