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!

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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.

Examples of Focusing on the Main Points

While all facts are true (or at least should be), not all are relevant to all people.  Everyone has different emphases on what’s important to them.  Here are several examples:

  •  A very common example is emphasis of different details in a news story.  For instance, one may discuss a story with a friend about a crime near where they live.  One person may remember the exact location (for it is nearby a store he patronizes), the other may focus on the time (since it may have woken him up, given it was overnight.)  Both perspectives emphasize different elements, but the same core story.
  • Non-fiction books I read, including certain scientific (and other) books, e.g., the Scientific American Library series, have details that stand out from the rest of the content.  What these actually are depends on the individual.  These things are more worth keeping in mind, and therefore more likely to stick.  Depending on individual interest, understanding, etc., this can vary from person to person.
  • A little adaptation of this principle concerns fiction works, wherein all details can be eventually be rolled up into a main plot.

Also, one thing I resolve to do now is not to try to pick up all details when reading non-fiction.  After all, since when do people really want to “cram” things (except maybe before a test)?  Again, a book may very well serve its purpose in what it communicates, to any level of detail, as well as to many different audiences.

For example, recently, I bought a geomorphology text through Amazon.  While an interesting subject, certain topics, especially math-intensive ones, seemed quite specialized and not relevant (at least right now).  Textbooks of any kind work best under a professor’s instruction anyway.  The book was geared toward juniors and seniors in college, as well as graduate students, so it would have little relevance to me anyway right now.  (I did sell it, by the way, at a local used bookstore, probably with the best revenue ever).  Also, if possible, I might add a double major at the university (one year into enrollment) of geology to the primary biology major, but we’ll take it a step at a time.  Let’s just concentrate on finishing CCP first.  I have our finals for both courses this Monday.

You’re not a camera, so don’t strive for a photographic memory!

Judging the Relevance of Previously Learned Knowledge

Sometimes I get so preoccupied with what I know or wish to learn about, sometimes to the point of arrogance.  The truth is, while knowledge previously learned has found application long after it was learned, sometimes it’s best just to research it at the moment when it’s relevant.

Some things are just common sense situations, as much of say, psychology or history, is.  Coursework just adds jargon and other added insight to it.  But in the natural sciences (the area where I have overall leaned toward), little day-to-day relevance tends to be seen.  In some disciplines, like chemistry, if you were a cook wondering about why certain things behave the way they do (e.g., why oil and water don’t mix), it may make more sense to understand that area of chemistry.  Countless other examples abound in many branches of science.  But scientific knowledge is often seldom relevant (and thus forgettable) until something warrants learning about it.

Keep in mind, our days are becoming more and more “numbered” (cf. Ps. 90), and we shouldn’t pile ourselves with unnecessary baggage, in this case, knowledge that you’ll never use.  This is similar to senior citizens ridding themselves of their material things, even though that is deliberate.  In the case of knowledge, even though unintended, people retaining less of it as they age shows an internal, yet analogous process of removing “clutter.”

Any collection, aside from those created by hobbyists, has an intended purpose.  Here’s an analogy.  Food and clothing aren’t worth anything unless you eat and wear it.  Concerning weapons, an arsenal is useless unless the weapons are to be used.  Considering collections of records, CDs, or cassettes, they aren’t worth anything unless you play them.  Considering calories in your diet, if you don’t burn them, you’ll get fat.  And so on and so forth.  Accruing anything is not worth anything unless you use it.  The same is true with knowledge.  Fortunately, if knowledge isn’t used, chances are you’ll lose it!  At least here there are checks and balances!  I personally think the Lord is directing a person in a certain way when some knowledge bonds more than others.  It works just like a colander, strainer, sieve, etc.; keep what you need, dump what you don’t.

This is a natural process, and indeed apparently supernaturally directed.  You don’t truly know anything for its genuine purpose unless you have faith in God (Prov. 1:7)  Moreover, unlike wisdom from God, worldly wisdom will not solve any problems in everyday life.  (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-31).

Solomon was also right about the ever complicating process of the acquisition of knowledge.  “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Eccl. 12:12).  There is no need to hold allegiance to all the facts in a book, course, or other source of knowledge.  Once you finish, you can move on.  After all, your knowledge base is meant to be retrieved from when necessary, not dwelt on.  In fact, excessively trying to salvage knowledge can be a form of idolatry, as it may not only take priority over its normal use, but also displace devotion to God.  As for the first clause of the Eccl. 12:12 passage, look no further than Google to prove that.

As a college student, both general education and major courses are designed as a foundation that directs the path for working adult life.  They are not meant for their own sake, as much of what I’ve learned so far up to now (from both college courses and elsewhere) can be a blur sometimes.  Often, only one or a few courses in the degree provide substantial impact on one’s career, the rest can be laid aside.

So, since life here on earth is short, and we shouldn’t waste our time dabbling into pursuits that are typically intended to lead to others.  Our learning should be modest, and we should come to terms with what is and isn’t important.  Quite often the most exhilarating learning just comes spontaneously.  And as far as jobs, sometimes the training received therein is more important than the source background.

Finally, “fuzzy” knowledge from years past, when applied to a current situation, may themselves lead to a learning experience itself.

Well, keep your eye out for the garbage truck headed for the “Learning Landfill!”

Dr. Phil, 14 Years Is Enough

Since 2002, Dr. Phil McGraw has made unnecessary stardom out of psychology.  A specialist in forensic psychology, Oprah Winfrey chose him for advice on some case years ago, and he got his own show.  The rest, as they say, is history.  And that history spanning 14 years has just never makes any progress.

In today’s episode, first to be profiled was a 12-year-old girl who was extremely homicidally violent and it got so medically based he had to surrender this case to the realm of psychiatry.  With the help of an MRI radiologist, a prescription was dropped from her profile, a diagnosis was proposed, and she was behaving herself better.

But did they really need Dr. Phil?  They could have gone to a local psychologist and/or psychiatrist, and settle the matter there.

The other story covered was a grown man addicted to video games, perhaps as an excuse for a blood disorder.  Now Dr. Phil has nothing to do with blood, so he shouldn’t even go there.  Leave that to cardiologists and hematologists.  As for the relationship with his wife and child, psychology or even plain marital/family counseling could fit the bill.

See?  The white flag was flown twice.  Also, a few years ago, via Internet, he was equating a suicidal nature to not fearing death.  In reality, though, suicidal thoughts mean wanting to die, a completely different thing.  Could this be his misapplied forensic training haunting him?

In the ending credits, as usual, despite being an “advice” show, you’ll still need a professional for genuine advice.  (Just like the medical shows “The Doctors” and “Dr. Oz.”)  But I personally wouldn’t (pardon the pun) recommend any one with an social or emotional problem to Dr. Phil.

After all, are these matters really our business?

Why Majors Give College Its Identity

College students, who make up a fraction of the high school graduate population (since, remember, college is not for everyone), may be viewed as an “elite” group that want to further their studies in a particular field, which would correspond to the “major.”  And of course, the major, or area of specialization, is just that:  the knowledge of one student’s major will probably be of little relevance to another’s plans.

I currently attend the Community College of Philadelphia, hoping to transfer to a university in a few years.  I am registering to be a biology major, and shall do the same at the university to follow.

You can now see the material covered in a biology major would have little relevance to an art major, a political science major, a sociology major, etc.  What is taught in one major would be quite irrelevant to someone seeking a career in another.  You would hardly use information beyond your major in the career you would expect to pursue.  For example, I was recently browsing through some geology texts in Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, which allows you to preview select books.  While I could definitely understand the material and do the work of such a major, geology is not a profession I would like, and the subject doesn’t hold my interest as much as biology anyway.  So it would be unnecessary to “dabble” in that field (or any field beyond your major) in that amount of depth.  (At least it was good I made such a judgment.)

Of course, you do have the “general education” courses, that can expose you to fields beyond your major, but in less depth than the corresponding major lineup.  The emphasis here, however, is breadth, exposure to a number of different kinds of courses.  This presents a trade-off; you usually can’t have your cake and eat it too.  Of course, if you double major (which many colleges offer), you can dabble in a second area, but it seldom has an advantage over the standard single-major approach.  Minors are a common practice, and while the courses are equivalent to that of a major, the difference is that of quantity, that is, fewer courses.  But since employers tend to pay little regard for minors, it is often a good way to prepare for a hobby or side pursuit.

Moreover, with the Internet now, there are scores of things you can dabble in, but of course, you won’t have the instructive support of a professor.  The Web is useful when you need something for a “quick-reference,” but for an in-depth analysis of a subject, schooling may be more appropriate.  But if you’re already done college, your trajectory in life is probably already set (especially concerning your career), and it would not be worth getting another degree just to merely learn about something.  God has guided you in the direction he wants, and you should be content with what you already have (Phil. 4:11, 12).

No wonder Solomon’s quote in Ecclesiastes 12:12 says excessive study “wearies the body.”  You should be able to draw the line when it’s time.  We were meant to work, indeed (typically) longer than our studies.  Information is always increasing (especially in this very century we live in now), but our personal knowledge capacities are the same.  And that’s a good reason to have specialization.  Polymaths and other generalists are basically a thing of the past, as there was less information out there then.

US President Barack Obama planned to make community college free, rendering half of a four-year (bachelor’s) degree, or an entire associate degree for direct entry into the work force, affordable.  Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who is more of a socialist, patterns much of his politics after the Nordic lands, and hopefully (within the domain of state universities) plans to make bachelor’s degrees free.  These policies are a little too good to be true, since again, college is an elite group.

Knowledge may be power, but only enough in certain fields.  The “bliss” of ignorance of other fields certainly holds true as well, and indeed acts as a balance.

Don’t be too smart for your own good!

 

Reading For the Concepts Amidst the Details

Today (which includes the wee hours of this morning) I was reading through a section of a layman-level book in the Scientific American Library book, Life Processes of Plants (which is really a review for me).  I also took notes based on this material, in a summarizing fashion.  This part of that chapter was about the best time to flower and for seeds to germinate.  However, the skill I really want to convey in this post is getting the bottom line amidst the body of writing and not holding an idolatrous “verbatim bondage” to the text.  (By the way, in this post, the focus is on secular non-fiction.)

So, people may think I have a photographic memory (of sorts).  Well, I deny that, especially since claiming that is arrogant and in fact deceitful when my memory is only sub-par to such.  This is especially the case over time, for as usual, details within text tend to fade (just like the average person).  Also, excessive focus on retention and review of past readings, again, shows that bondage to memorization.  From my conscience, this can be idolatry because can potentially displace adoration to God onto secular reading material.

This thereby may put me in the dilemma of “to keep or not to keep.”  Well, here’s my take on it:

  1. When considering investigating into a topic, judge the worth of a topic and see if it is really necessary for your purposes.  Of course, you should show interest in it as well.  Our days are numbered (cf. Ps 90) and should not be wasted.
  2. Get the main points of a book, website, or any informative material.  Remember, details of anything are the elements of “who, what, when, where, why, and how.”  They shape a written work, but are not the work itself.
  3. When you are done with the book, just let it fly!  After all, if that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t check out books from libraries.  You read something, you comprehend it, and just move on!  There’s a whole world of information to explore than that tiny corner of knowledge you might get preoccupied with.
  4. Finally, last but not least, seek God’s wisdom, especially through prayer and Scriptural reading.

Of course, the details of a written work have their purpose, such as reference, or as discussed above, to steer the course of reading the work.

The Bible is a possible exception to this rule, since it can spiritually shape you along your earthly journey in different ways, perhaps using the same scriptures. But the Bible is meant to transform, not merely to inform.

In a nutshell, summarization is as important for non-fiction as it is for fiction.  (Pun intended.)

So, willing to drop everything and read, and do it again and again and again?