Dealing with Details Down and Dirty

An area I always struggled with before is what details actually “are.”  Well, eureka, it dawned on me, and here is your answer:  statements that answer questions of who, what, where, when, why, and how (much).  Therefore, giving more form, substance, and complexity to a question by answering these questions, and obviously giving them an answer.

However, details, both in their quality and quantity, can be a blessing or a curse.  (Of course, I enjoy the heavy stuff, but many others may not.)  Naturally, details on a topic are pursued by one who is genuinely interested.  If not, you wouldn’t do so.  And often, as they say, ignorance can be bliss.  (No wonder ads will say “see store for details” or websites say likewise “click link for details.”)

Heavy detail must be absorbed slowly, and only portions of what you learn are likely to stay.  Of course, though, if you need to know a particular fact that you may have forgotten, we have the Internet as a rich resource, as well as the more conventional library methods (which are slowly dying) and many other books as well, especially ones you may own.

Remember, in the end, learning is all about utility.  As they say, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it; but it may come back to you if you reviewed it.  Yet it’s not worth investing time into learning subjects (or even isolated facts) that are not relevant to what you would expect out of life.  Also, detail control is an art; it takes trial and error.

And like anything, information (at any level of detail), can be an idol.  Aside from Scripture, most information is secular and explains exactly that — worldly phenomena.

As 1 Cor 10:31 states, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  And, since “all” means “all,” that includes research and choosing reading material.  Amen?

At least you can judge books now, regardless of their covers!

Thoughts on Spring Courses

OK, so I love the content of biology, but it should pass a test (no pun intended).  This “test” is basically to determine my knack for microscopy.  Therefore, I might take a non-majors biology class (along with an unrelated course to accompany it), which is also especially good since I have been out of high school biology for over 10 years.  It should be quite easy in content, given all the stuff I’ve read so far.  Yet we seldom used microscopes, since the sp-ed high school I attended did not have a strong lab focus.  And when we did, just like toy microscopes I have used, it was less than satisfactory.

This will determine if I should pursue biology as a major.  If so, after all these years I would have been correct being the stalwart I have been for the subject, and I would go for it (perhaps as part of the proposed double major mentioned earlier in this blog.  But if not, hey, I can read websites or popular-level books on it.  Maybe even textbooks.  College isn’t the only way of learning, but keep in mind of what makes college what it is:  majors (and all the paraphernalia that goes with them) form a clique of sorts, and are separated by interest, in which one could (typically) care less about another.  Would a math major penetrate into the music major’s coursework, or the business major into biology, or the chemistry’s into criminal justice?  Barring minors and double majors, most likely not.  Besides, unless you are in that field of study, the level of material covered, especially in the junior and senior level courses (and perhaps even some sophomore ones), the info, and detail covered therein, would be of little consequence.  You must follow your own passions.  Alas, you must be willing to make trade-offs among courses, in which case you can only take some courses, but not all, in a major’s elective or flexible core sequence.  That could be the more troubling side, but you have your whole life to learn new things.  After all, that’s what periodicals, trainings, and for some, grad school is for.

And most intellectual territory has become very parochial and specialized, so you just have to find a niche.  For many people, their whole career may revolve around one course in their college years, so most other knowledge is lost.  And many courses are just stepping stones.  In some ways, it shows God’s sovereignty, in that he leads you what is necessary now (and thus part of his will) and what isn’t (stuff you learned for that time but is no longer relevant).  Moreover, while knowledge is power, it can be abused.  Moreover, in many cases, as we all know, ignorance can be bliss sometimes (cf. Eccl. 1:18).  This does not mean we can’t learn, but it should be kept within bounds.  Also too much bondage to knowledge can cause worldliness and even idolatry. (Rom 1:21-23, 25; 1 Cor 8:1-3)

You won’t learn everything there is to know.  If we did, we’d cease to be human.  Thus, as humans, thank the One who gave you any access to knowledge at all, including your very mind!  And enjoy what you DO learn rather than worry about what you can’t.  By the way, if you are in college, as you meet with your advisers, when picking electives, I would imagine it would often be based on past courses and your feelings on those.

Don’t be too smart for your own good!

Don’t Plug Future Outcomes into Present Decisions

So, today I was browsing through my Plant Phys textbook.  Mind you, I put my actual textbooks (Plant Phys, Animal Phys, and Cell Bio, as well as a book on Biomechanics that is unlikely to be used in a course) away in the closet until I actually take those courses at the university (as part of my double major in Biology and Geoscience), which are either updated editions or are a different text altogether.  And I may not take such a course at all.  (If that is the case, they will be judged then.)

Also, based on present conditions, there would be more information than needed for current purposes in those books; as opposed to popular titles like the Scientific American Library I collect (among others).  Yet I have donated them when I was ready to move on, given that I got a good grasp on it.  Moreover, many of my college courses in both majors may reflect much of their content.

As for the content of the Plant Phys text (and all other properly defined textbooks), which looks worthless now, may be worthy and useful when it is done in the context of a course.  But since I am not at that level yet (at least not scholastically, though I know quite a bit at the undergrad level outside of classwork), I am reading this material through the lens of one ill-equipped.  After I earn my degree, it should be second nature, whether I work following then in something related to biology, earth science, a little of both — or even neither!

But, rather than throwing them away (as I have often done previously), I’ll just put them away somewhere, until I encounter those subjects along the line in college (or if the Lord directs me, by self-study, or grad school, etc.)

Textbooks were never meant to be novels!

(The title of the post, by the way, happens to be the moral of this whole account!)

Pitfalls of Learning (and How to Avoid Them)

As we all know, everything should be done in moderation.  The same goes for learning.  We need wisdom from God to learn what we need (and to some degree, want) and eventually, draw the line, topic by topic.

  1. Learning is not memorization.

You can learn key principles without holding too tightly to neighboring details.  In fact, that was a very good piece of advice from a high school teacher.

From what I have heard (as well as in some experience), professors can trim or summarize content of courses from the designated textbook to deliver the intended content of that course.  Moreover, sometimes the textbooks themselves are truncated to make a “custom” edition.  From much of my collegiate experience up to now, it often made sense why certain facts were less important than others.

Even when the core facts are extracted, they are still liable to fade.  In the final analysis, you are getting a degree (read: piece of paper) that qualifies you for so much more than what you did in the four-odd years you spent in school.

2.  Don’t dwell on, constantly review, or routinely “test” recently learned facts.

This kind of mentality makes learning look compulsive, just like smoking, drinking, gambling, etc., can be.  When you’ve grasped the key ideas on a subject, you’re pretty much ready to move on.

In fact, this can easily be observed in the lives of many adults long after their college days are over.  Once they graduate college or other post-secondary program (or even grad school!), most of your knowledge will be pruned in the direction of what you do as a career.  If you were a biology major and deal chiefly with plants, your acquired zoology and its more specialized branches you may have taken is likely to fade (save perhaps entomology, since insects are key figures in the plant world, even though they are animals).  Or an engineer may focus far more on statics than thermodynamics, so statics would take the crown.


3.  Understand why you’re learning a subject.

A book I read about computers many years ago puts it very cogently:  it’s more important to know what you use an electronic device for than how it works.  After all, owner’s manuals don’t disclose the latter, though a more technical manual for professionals may!

So, would you rather watch the Super Bowl for the game, or to judge the quality of the TV’s vertical hold?  (See what I mean?)  Leave the latter to the pros (you know what I mean, not the players you’re watching).

4. Know when to draw the line.

The breadth and depth of subjects can range greatly for a certain topic.  When it’s too easy, it’s boring.  The same is often true for many advanced forms of the same topic!  Too much detail can obscure the “big picture.”  Perhaps that’s why the “lecture filtering” mentioned above by professors is so important in cases as such.  After all, they’re getting paid and are not there for nothing.


The Bible warns about excessive study in verses like Eccl 12:12 and about worldly wisdom in the book of 1 Corinthians.  While learning is good, it should not become an idol.

Facts are like calories, they must be “burnt” to get the full effect of them.  Otherwise, they’re empty.  But at the same time, an “empty fact,” unlike an empty calorie, just gracefully drifts away, reversing the situation!

So, consider what you really need, what you enjoy, whether it’s at school or just when your reading about things.