Leaving the Sandbox

Two things: 1) We have the power, you shut up. 2) The most difficult thing will be for you to admit you have something intelligent to say.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Stephen Hawking

At this point in my life I am convinced of two things

  1. I have lost my mind.
  2. I know next to nothing about how to get it back. Not that anyone really does.
  3. I have developed a nosey psych radar. Sitting on a bus I cannot help but tune in when I hear any word related to psychology. Like dopamine. Or Freud.
  4. I know a lot more than I give myself credit for.

I just finished my first “History and Systems in Psychology” lecture, I spent the whole lecture thinking “Oh my God! I know I just posted today, but I just want to post about this!” The professor has managed to both terrify me and exhilarate me. Something that has not been accomplished thus far in my university career. I have truly enjoyed professors, loved courses, but never have I been so excited about being so terrified. Except maybe the first time I rode Behemoth at Canada’s Wonderland.

This is the before, after I looked much less excited about my decision, and more grateful I survived.

This is the before, after I looked much less excited about my decision, and more grateful I survived.

My notes from today’s lecture look like they were recorded by a 5 year old with both ADHD and Alzheimer’s. Apparently that’s ok. Given that there’s no exam I’m not even sure they’re necessary. Which is a little unsettling.

Two things: 1) We have the power, you shut up. 2) The most difficult thing will be for you to admit you have something intelligent to say.

Two things:
1) We have the power, you shut up.
2) The most difficult thing will be for you to admit you have something intelligent to say.

It is even more unsettling when you walk into a lecture on the History and Systems of Psychology and are told that by the end of it you may not even believe that psychology is a thing. Wait what? Does that mean I am studying nothing? Staring at empty pages? It has to exist. Otherwise the last three years have been a tragic waste.

Until this moment I have lived in a clearly defined, reinforced box. I love(d) that box. It tells me how to be acceptable. How to be a successful member of this society. The rules of this box tells others how successful I am. How useful I will be. I have lived in a system of numbers. Grades. Weight. Pant size. Age. Income. Numbers everywhere attempting to tell society something about who I am and what I am worth. But those are the rules of the box. If you don’t like ’em go find a new sandbox.

Alright now hold onto the crazy train, it’s very prone to sharp turns.

All this grading business (the measure of my success in the academic world) has suddenly reminded me of the caste systems of the Hindu culture. Some psychologists would argue that our intelligence is pre-existing, biologically determined, just like the caste system, except that from what I know, your position in the caste system is largely determined by your actions in your past life. So grades could be argued as something we’re born into, either biologically, or at the risk of being sacrilegious, who’s to say they aren’t based on some standard of excellence from our previous lives. An interesting thought. I prefer the less deterministic viewpoint whereby I can make a difference if I try harder. Though the lazy person in me does see the appeal of pre-fab intelligence.

So we grade, or I should say we are graded, and these grades decide futures. I worry over them. I spent half my time in Cuba getting drunk poolside, and the other half eagerly awaiting my return to internet access so I could check my grades. The grades that would either earn me my scholarship back or earn me a swift kick in the butt.

It’s maddening.

I hated my science courses because I felt the assessments were an exercise in memorization about concepts that were hard to wrap my head around. Hard in the sense, that to me it was incredibly abstract. Scientists argue that the sciences are purely logical reasoning. Everything makes sense and there is a finite number of possible solutions, conditions, or events. But to me, I can’t interact with it, it is not rooted in life as I experience it. It is a foreign land of test tubes and lab experiments. It can be applied to life, in some senses it is life, but to me I was about as relatable as a rock. I felt like despite having a few neurons to rub together in my head, these courses made me appear to have the IQ of a two year old (in reality I actually did better than most, if not average in all of the classes). And all because I couldn’t memorize a list of items that, let’s be honest here, the professor doesn’t even remember half the time. If I need that information, I’ll look it up.

And then, strangely enough, when a second year biochemisty professor demanded that we think for ourselves and not just take in information osmosis style. He told us to not pay attention to particulars, and rounded everything (Mezeling it. Still an acceptable excuse for error) (except the number of carbons in the sugars, and the structures and orientations of the sugars and DNA), and I hated it. I found his questions obtuse and frustrating. I wasn’t ready to leave my box. Or at least I wasn’t ready to be graded on my adventures outside the box.

So I hate chasing grades, I hate numbers in general really. But now someone has given me the opportunity to determine how I will be graded, what I will submit, and I swear I almost developed an ulcer on the spot. I’m fairly certain a few neural circuits short-circuited. My classmates may have smelled the smoke.

I was horribly paralyzed. I am a wonderfully organized person. Well, in certain areas, my room generally looks like a bomb went off, but I am a planner. I have lists everywhere, I always keep a notepad with me in case a thought strikes. I put everything in my phone, and keep a separate agenda because I like being able to write down my schedule on paper too. I plan every day, start off by writing what I will do when (albeit I hardly ever adhere to said plan). Not having a plan, a set of guidelines to tell me how to get that golden A+ absolutely terrified me. And then I sat on the bus at campus station, and the ideas began to flow. They overflowed from me. I was bursting with them. Like the time I overfilled Timbits at work one time. The effect seems oddly similar – delicious, wonderful.

I have always been bursting with ideas, and recently I decided to share them with the world on this blog. Since these ideas are going to be less about the daily adventures and thoughts and experiences, and more about my adventures in figuring out what exactly this course is about, i.e. what on earth the ‘Systems’ in ‘History and Systems in Psychology’ refers to, they will be contained in their own section.

Below is a brief snippet of the thoughts that came out of today’s lecture, just so you see exactly what pot of hot water you are jumping into (which I already apparently jumped into with both feet).

Dr. Lamontagne presented the idea that psychology really has just stolen ideas from biology and philosophy. I was still so shocked at some of the concepts he was presenting (NO SLIDES! NO TEXTBOOK! WHAT BLASPHEMY IS THIS?!?! WAIT HE’S THE ONLY PROF TEACHING THIS?! CRAP.) that I didn’t have time to absorb this, let alone form my own position. Walking through the creepy dark path home (fear generates the most inspired thoughts for some reason), I realized – it didn’t steal. It is the child of these two doctrines. Parents do not resent children for taking a part of them. And just like the Dugger Family, every branch of psychology has a unique mixture of these two disciplines and focuses.

Just another day in the psych lab... I had video, but it's not formatted properly, and our betta was lazy anyways

Just another day in the psych lab… I had video, but it’s not formatted properly, and our Betta was lazy anyways

He then asked us to think about what science was. And my mind froze. I think of science as biology, physics, chemistry. The basic, pure sciences. Then I thought of well what’s not science? Arts, business, history, philosophy. Where does psychology go? I have no clue. I don’t see it really as a science, it’s too abstract, there’s few concrete set of causes, few A+B=C lines of reasoning. But I retain a sense of smug superiority over the arts majors, after all, we have labs people – we experiment with stuff… well people and small animals, the occasional fish, and sometimes the big animals. So maybe by the beginning of December I will have figured out the answers to those questions.

Perhaps more disturbing that being told that there will be no textbook, you decide how you are to be graded, and by the end you will have been convinced you have done a degree in something that doesn’t exist? The moment Socrates was quoted, referencing knowledge and midwives, and a promise was made that Dr Lamontagne would be a midwife as we gave birth to knowledge?

Or maybe the fact that he instructed us to think first then read. To a bookworm, and someone who currently desperately clings to the current university enterprise, my gut reaction – was well how the Hell am I to learn something I know nothing about without reading first. And it only just struck me – that perhaps there is a middle ground. Or perhaps simply a squabble over vocabulary. The way I see it – you read so you know what to think about. And then you use that knowledge to build and expand, and as your body of knowledge expands, you seek out more knowledge, more information, more angles to look at it from. Does that count as thinking before reading? Because I am sorry, I fail to see how I am to describe the structure of the brain without first reading at least an introductory chapter to form the basis.

We’ll add that to my to-be-figured-out list.

I also fail to see how we are going to be graded, but I think that might be the point. How can one person fairly judge another’s knowledge or opinions. You can’t use the rules of the box, outside the box. It’s like the indoor voice rule – be quite inside, outside all bets are off.

We talked about power, and the educational institution being a business, about top-down and bottom-up communication, about experimental and scientific methods, and freedom, and seeking patterns, reducing chaos, discussing, and the compulsion to ground your opinions in proof.

There was a lot of talk of affectionately fighting, lovingly debating, fondly disagreeing, and kindly challenging each other. Yes love was mentioned in a room full of strangers, several times actually. I am way too jaded for 22 years old if that seems ludicrous.

So this semester will be full of debates and issues. I am fairly certain my family is the source of the whole to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to debate. I am used to debating. My boyfriend is Captain Argumentative. So I am fairly certain I will survive. The question really at this point is what will I learn? What will I discover I already knew? Will I come out with stronger opinions or new ones? Is there neural renovations on the horizon?

Only time will tell.

“He who knows all the answers, has not been asked all the questions.”

Confucius

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Psychology, Science, and the Absence of Certainty | climbing the crazy tree

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