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!)

Let’s Just Live In The Present, Okay?

Since it’s autumn now, why not soak up the beauty while it’s here?

If there is one word that defines my activity in life, that would be “plan.”  While I do enjoy things now, sometimes I make too many long-term goals, which turns into substantial worry and uneasiness in life.  As you have seen in the recent posts dealing with educational qualms, there is nothing wrong with learning things unconventionally.  And while I am more open minded than I used to be concerning plans, I still find myself preoccupied with the goal for a certain career and other future factors.

Well, the answer is simple:  one day at a time!  I brag about it more than I adhere to it.  In Mat 6:34, Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow.  And even tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, let alone next month, next year, etc.  Yet I am so focused on coordinating future plans not for what they will be, but what they should be.  College dreams are a top example.

Psych Text Cell Bio Text Plant Phys

The first textbook in the above row is the one currently for school use, which I currently use for my lone college class this semester in Psychology.  The middle text is an aging (dating from 2002) but still amazing text dealing with cell biology, heavy both literally and figuratively.  (It contains over 1600 pages!)  That textbook, like most I obtain, is “just for fun.”  And with enough prep from that and further knowledge of chemistry (especially organic), and the fact that both introductory and organic chemistry have good online texts, I’ll be ready for the right-hand book on plant physiology, which I have owned countless times, in different editions (one of which was a rental).  This copy isn’t current either (also from 2002), but it sufficed for the price.  And again, I intend it for mere pleasure reading.  By the way, it hasn’t arrived yet; it’s still in the mail.

An out-of-print book from 1978 (which therefore makes it somewhat obsolete but still with some truth), entitled College on Your Own, reveals how you can rival college-level expertise in a number of fields, such as history, math, science, psychology, philosophy, economics, etc.  While I enjoy classroom settings, I am equally apt at self-learning, wherein the latter may in fact may allow for more “personally relevant” applications and implications.  As you may guess, the book equally advocates both degree completion (for career potential) and personal knowledge (just for the sake of it, which, as a Christian myself, can help expose God’s wonders in nature more intimately.)

Finally, being Sunday as I type this portion, I thought I would it would be appropriate to include a summary of my church service’s sermon!  It was out of Esther, a book known to be the only book In Scripture not to mention the name “God.”  We all know about the fact we should take up our cross and follow Jesus, and do what is right even when it isn’t always fun.  (In a nutshell, the Jews were about to be exterminated, and Esther (a Jew) takes the great risk of entering a potentially lethal situation, to protect the Jews.  In a way, Jesus was the ultimate Esther, since, as God incarnate, while He was sinless, He became sin to absolve believers from their sin, in his Passion culminating in his death, followed by resurrection.)  And this is an eternal sacrifice, not just the temporal one faced by Esther.

So for me, what does this mean, based on the “one day at a time” mantra?  Well, God is sovereign and the people, places, and things in life he brings are all part of his grand scheme (cf. Rom 8:28).  And they need not always be pleasant.  You never know what’s going to happen next year, or even tomorrow (which isn’t guaranteed anyway).  Thus, we should embrace what you can do now rather than worry or excessively plan the next steps.


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.