Pictures of Life

Friday, June 15, 2007
A friend was once sitting in a college classroom. The professor was making derisive comments about note-takers, claiming that they frequently miss the point at hand because they are so busy concentrating on taking their notes. The friend thought that a fair point. The professor went so far as to say that he wanted the people in the class right then and there to stop taking notes and start thinking about what he was saying. My friend was nodding his head and happened to notice the fellow next to him who was furiously writing down everything that was being said.

Flabbergasted, my friend asked him, "Didn't you hear what he just said? He said we were supposed to stop taking notes!"

At which the other fellow nodded in agreement, saying "Absolutely. I've got it right here," pointing to his notes.

True story.


Seneca the Younger said...

Heh. I had a student in a philosophy class once who would write something down every time I opened my mouth, even to say "good morning."

loner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
loner said...

I was never much of a note-taker and certainly no highlighter, but I was also sensitive to the fact that my study habits were atrocious by any standard (if workable enough to keep me in the game) and I rarely (maybe never, but the cynic was never far from the surface in those days and as insufferable as I'm sure I was on many occaisons I wasn't the only one) criticized the habits of my compatriots who felt the need to spend four hours a night on weeknights in libraries, defaced (or enhanced) their text books with lots of yellow and/or filled blank sheets of paper with words while being lectured to.

The only class where I remember note-taking to have resulted in an amusing moment was introductory Archaeology. Two professors taught the class in the spring of my freshman year. The American's methods caused no complaints, but the Brit did not take much of a pause (to write things on the chalkboard, etc.) when imparting information, of which there was a lot, and there were complaints to the teaching assistants that some things needed to be put in writing and some thought needed to be given to how much information on ancient civilizations your average 19-year-old could be expected to absorb in the early afternoon on spring days. The complaints were considered and found to have merit and during the first hour when he tried to adapt to the speed with which the note-takers could take notes the Brit actually started to talk about the ancient city of Ur and paused to write "UR" on the chalkboard. I was not the only one who laughed out loud.

Interestingly enough, the earlier post by our esteemed host and friend on computers also had me thinking about my college years. I was an Anthropology major who spent most of his study time during his last couple of years as a student in Berkeley in the various rooms where computer terminals could be accessed and whatever time he could in classes more generally attended by Electrical Engineering & Computer Science majors.

Our host wrote:

Human beings are highly optimized by millions of years of evolution toward making good decisions based on scant information. We call this "gut level feelings" and such "hunches" are usually right.

I believe it's also called "survival instinct." Natural selection tends to favor those with a greater instinct for survival, thereby reienforcing its primacy in species—all species.

Two quotes on what differentiates species Homo from the others:

Man is a tool-using animal.... Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all. —Thomas Carlyle the faculty of making artificial objects, especially tools to make tools. —Henri Bergson

The computer is a tool; the robot can be a tool to make tools. Species Homo will continue to do all sorts of smart and stupid things and whether or not his tools will always enhance his natural survivability there's no question they're greatly enhancing it at present.

The conclusion of a college textbook, so to speak, I kept:

Those who have painted pictures of an organized heaven have, implicitly or otherwise, appealed to the esthetic sense in man to try to gain assent to their plans. We know now that a completely planned heaven is either impossible or unbearable. We know that it is not true that design can come only out of planning. Out of luxuriant waste, winnowed by selection, come designs more beautiful and in greater variety than ever man could plan. This is the lesson of Nature that Darwin has spelled out for us. Man, now that he makes himself, cannot do better than to emulate Nature's example in allowing for waste and encouraging novelty. There is grandeur in this view of life as a complex of cybernetic systems that produce adaptedness without foresight, design without planning, and progress without dictation. From the simplest means, man, now master of his own fate, may evolve societies of a variety and novelty—yes, and even of a beauty—that no man living can now foresee.

Or not...and so it goes.

Knucklehead said...

My own take on this is that the professor wasn't a very good teacher or, perhaps, not much of a thinker about people and how they go about learning.

I take, or not, notes depending I was I expect to do with the information. But whether taking notes or not I have found myself going off and pondering what I just heard while the flow continues on and I wind up lost.

I know people who are prodigious learners as well as prodigious note takers. This professor was an egotistical ass who figured anyone who was as intelligent as he would learn the same way he does. Pretty standard stuff for "liberals" - if you don't do it their way there's something clearly inferior and stupid about you.