One of the dumb listicle formats we see all the time on the Internet is “X Things I Learned from Y” – for example, just from the past week:
- Five Things I Learned from Wearing Man Pants
- Four Things I Learned from My Catholic Mother
- 3 Things I Learned from the Government Shutdown
- 15 Things I Learned from my Nervous Breakdown
- 15 Things I Learned from Marathoning Pretty Little Liars
You get the idea. Aside from the fact that “X Things I Learned from Y” is a cliché and contemptible for that reason alone, it’s a silly way to frame your knowledge. Why should I care what you learned about anything? I don’t click on these headlines as a rule because:
a) There’s a good chance I already know what you “learned,” since posts like this tend to be full of common sense, or as my friend Seth used to say, “standard shit,” and
b) I have no reason to believe you learned the right things.
If I’m going to read an article about a Pretty Little Liars marathon or some random person’s opinion on the government shutdown, I want some indication from the start that it’s going to be worth my while, that it’s informative or insightful in some way. Like “I Learned How to Seduce Men from a Pretty Little Liars Marathon” – that sounds semi-interesting! Or "The Government Shutdown Proves that Democracy Sucks." My point being, your job as the writer is to look at the four or eight or fifteen things you learned from whatever and then do something with that knowledge – find a theme, make an argument, something.
And now, I will contradict/prove my own advice by showing you some stuff I “learned” in college. These are sentences pulled from a stack of college papers I found in my filing cabinet. I guess I learned this stuff, but I barely remember the context, and it has little to no application in my life.
From a paper on Gottlob Frege’s “On Sense and Reference”:
[Senses] also explain why a statement of the form a=a has a different “cognitive significance” than one of the form a=b, when both are ostensibly claims of identity. Because every name has an associated sense, simply substituting an “equivalent” term into a sentence does not guarantee that we will interpret it in the same way, or even that the true-value will remain the same.
Interestingly I can follow my objections to the Frege paper even though I have no recollection of ever reading the Frege paper; in fact, if you asked me ten minutes ago who Frege was I would have told you that I’d never heard of him. (This was my final paper in my final philosophy class so I must have spent some time on it … GOT AN A, BY THE WAY.)
The following is from a linguistics paper (LING 402, Syntax and Semantics):
It is important to note that whether or not they have an adjective class, languages associate property concepts with either nouns or verbs (or sometimes both). [Sandra] Thompson’s explanation of this involves discourse, or pragmatic usage. In her study of English and Chinese, she found that adjectives and adjectival verbs function mainly as predicates. Their second function is that of introducing new participants. The predicating function is shared with verbs, and the introducing function is shared with nouns.
I don’t know what this means.
Ooh, here’s something that I just learned afresh, from one of my own papers! I’ve often wondered why the hell we should assume that microwave radiation coming from all directions is evidence of the Big Bang. Because, like, couldn’t it just ... be something else? This helps a little:
At the same time, two other physicists were working with the idea that the early universe was extremely bright and hot. They reasoned that, if the universe is expanding, we should be able to see some of this light, since it would only now be reaching us from the very distant parts of the universe. But it would be so greatly red-shifted as to become microwaves, which are of very high frequency. This microwave radiation is the noise that was registering on the detector.
Turns out I already knew that! Incidentally, this was a popular bumper sticker at Rice:
Now for something I really, really don’t remember: a question and answer from my COMP 210 midterm:
Consider the function insert-sort: List-of-Number -> List-of-Number, which takes its unordered input, and returns the same elements in a sorted (non-decreasing) list. For example, (insert-sort (list 8 6 2 4 10)) = (list 2 4 6 8 10). (A) Give two other examples and (B) write the function. (Be sure to follow the template!)
(insert-sort (list 2 1)) = (list 1 2)
(insert-sort empty) = empty
(define insert-sort(lambda (lon)(cond [empty? lon) empty][else (insert (first lon) (insert-sort (rest lon)))])))
I HAVE NO IDEA. Pretty sure it's recursive though.
And finally, here’s a study sheet I made for a neuroscience exam:
ONE THOUSAND THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT NEUROSCIENCE IN A NEUROSCIENCE CLASS. Isn't it pretty (to think so)?