Chaos under control (from butterflies to Hitler)

Lorentz attractor
When things are chaotic, the little details make big differences. If we can use this to control and overcome the forces of nature, we can use it in other ways, too. But how much does it really help us?

How to start a blog the right way - Less is more

Take charge of the bare necessities to be a good writer.

When physicists and philosophers collide

The Montagues and Capulets. The foxes and the hedgehogs. The peanut butter and jelly.
Physics and philosophy have always been at odds with one another. But, when they collide, it's like a thought experiment of particles tied to railroad tracks with the string theory leading the train.

Can't stop the gods from genetic engineering

The future is now. Genetic engineering, or modification of our biological genomes, has made tremendous strides over the past few years. This power would allow us to potentially find cures for otherwise untreatable diseases. But, as with many places of the intersection between science and humanity, we find ourselves in a tangle of ethical conundrums. Who can decide how to significantly affect someone's genetic offspring?

Our fragile minds under surveillance

Maybe Hippocrates would have envisioned greater security for his patients' health information.
When it comes to issues in mental health, the day-to-day problems of the mentally ill seem like they might be more than enough for anyone to handle. Mental illness is stigmatized, increasingly rising, difficult to detect and cure, culture plays a role in it, and psychiatry still struggles as the most scientifically backward field of medicine. I've written about the privacy of mental health data, the role culture plays in mental health, the nature of disease, and a bit of our stigma of depression, but I've yet to tackle one certain mystery: our existential threat to our minds.

The monsters we fight (and the ones we save) in our simulated horrors

When we talk about our moral behavior and epistemic access to knowledge, video games would be the last place anyone would expect to serious discussion. Existentialism, ethics, and bad puns come together.

Sexism in science

Why learning about ethics doesn't make you more ethical

Philosophers "are always on the outside making stupid remarks." - Richard Feynman
At the heart of everything we do, we hope there's a message. We hope there's a meaning behind what we learn and the work we create. When we learn and contribute to society, we always hope that what we do not only makes the lives of other people better, but adds value or meaning to our own selves. At the end of the day, what are we if we're not making ourselves better people?

Taking risks for a brighter tomorrow

Chillin' with Vinton #FatherOfTheInternet
When I attended the Emerging Researchers National Conference in DC last February, Vinton Cerf, one of the "fathers" of the internet, gave an incredibly inspirational speech about his journey through life. He humorously opened up with, "Well, I'm not sure what you all would love to hear from an old fart like me," with a playful attitude that eased the tension in the banquet hall.

We need philosophers - and the liberal arts too

Never Let Schooling Interfere with Education

"The Education of Jupiter" Jacob Jordaens
As students, many of us struggle to realize the true gifts of a college education. We might learn and education ourselves for other purposes such as preparing for future careers, earning good grades, developing professional "skills", and other reasons, but none of them come close to what really matters when we learn about things. In reality, a career-focused education might not even be the best way to prepare for a career, good grades might not teach you everything you should understand from a course, and professional skills might just be a way to replace important skills with marketability. For these reasons, it's clear we need a better understanding of what it means to learn and what's really important from our education. As students, it's our duty to emphasize the "purpose," whatever it may be, and meditate on these values as a 21st-century philosophical inquiry.

Complacency in the Medical-Industrial Complex

Long gone are the days of scientists only locked up in labs, secluded from everything but their microscopes and calculators. Now, more than ever, scientists find themselves writing reports and grant proposals, managing jobs, sitting on committees, and delivering lectures.

No One Scientist Should Have All That Power

Science says so, so it must be true. (Source)
Whether or not we have been aware of it, we put a lot of faith into people who study science. It doesn't matter if I'm writing for my university newspaper or meeting other students at a party. Whenever I tell people about my scientific interests, many people are impressed (as they should be). But the praise should stop there. The value of studying science is that you become knowledgable about science (along with other values similar to empathy, language, and rational thought), but it doesn't make anyone qualified to speak about other fields. Despite this, we've taken too much about science for granted. Too much of the public has come to authoritatively trust science as a objectively true source of knowledge to the point where scientists are deemed more moral, trustworthy, valuable, and overall better people on these faulty assumptions.

Cross-examining Neuroscience

Moreso than most fields of science, neuroscience has very much a humane element in that what neuroscience says about the mind plays a central role in what makes us human. Our understanding of the brain spans strategies from naïve reductionism to cogito ergo sum. Are we computers or animals? Do our thoughts control us or do we control them? How does the reasoning of one person differ from another? But, in all the places these questions have shaken our self-understanding, the courtroom invites the greatest minds to bring justice from ethics, law, science, and everything else. How does neuroscience fare in the legal system?

Protecting the Privacy of Mental Health Data

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here....

When speaking about the rights of an individual to his/her personal information, it's easy to overlook the "personal" nature of mental health data. And, within the rhetoric of mental health, we spend a lot of time expressing the behavior, feelings and thoughts of those who suffer from mental illness, but we forget about the a deeper issue: who should know about it?

The War in Science in the War

A billboard at Oak Ridge Facility in Tennessee warns people to keep silent about anything they see or hear there. Oak Ridge was a town built in 1942 to house workers and the laboratory that developed the Manhattan Project – the secret second world war program that built the atomic bomb. 
Whether we like it or not, science has been a key player in our political affairs. The acronym STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) arose partly out of national security concerns such as World War II, the War on Cancer, and the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik. But how has science really played out through the wars?

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here...

Making Sense of Statistics

"Figures often beguile me," he wrote, "particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." - Mark Twain
Very few of us truly understand numbers. Some simply aren't good at math, others haven't had the best learning methods, and there are people without the appropriate information. Regardless, we have a moral imperative to learn how to make sense of quantitative information when it affects our lives in the way it does. News channels, politicians, and professionals from all fields clutter speeches and proposals with percentages, figures, theories, and anything else built of numbers. As a result, mathematics has gained ulterior political motives through agendas, poor analysis skills, and a lack of humanism in our interpretation of statistics. More than ever, these are the times when we fear what "studies say" or "science reports" about the things we do, the way we eat, the clothes we wear, the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, or the presence of guns in our garages.

A Theory of Everything, for Everyone

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here....

Hilbert's tomb
Since a theory of everything would unite all the forces of matter, it would be elegant in how much information could be explained so simply. The math and physics behind theory would all have a function with everything else, and there would be nothing below it. As MIT Physics Professor Frank Wilczek put it, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” [3] But, during the 19th century, while physiologist Emil du-Bois Raymond proclaimed "ignoramus et ignorabimus" (or "we do not know and we will not know"), mathematician David Hilbert would write "For the mathematician there is no Ignorabimus, and, in my opinion, not at all for natural science either. ... The true reason why [no one] has succeeded in finding an unsolvable problem is, in my opinion, that there is no unsolvable problem. In contrast to the foolish Ignorabimus, our credo avers: We must know, We shall know.'"

How Much Do We Know About the Brain?

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here....
Neuroscience is sexy - don't believe the hype.
Neuroscience, the scientific study of the nervous system, has allowed us to understand how our brains work.

In addition, with our ever-increasing knowledge of social and behavioral sciences, we have gained a lot of insight into human behavior. And neuroscience gives us empirical evidence (verified through scientific experiments) for how the brain influences that behavior. But the brain isn’t simple, and neither is our behavior.

A Modern Look at Science's Anglophonia

Don't cross the streams: Mark Twain messing around in Nikola Tesla's laboratory in 1894. Twain's fascination with technology lead him to engage in many amazing conversations with the physicist-engineer. The literature and writing covering Tesla's work (from the oscillator, the lightbulb, and the alternating current), much like the rest of science, wouldn't be the same without an English-driven nature of science.
During the summer after my freshman year, I was given the wonderful opportunity to study plant biology at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. To my surprise, I ended up working in a lab with entirely Chinese scientists. Most of them casually communicated in their native language with each other. Apart from awkward lab lunches and some difficulties communicating about the research, it wasn't a big issue for me. (Of course, some of my mentor's programming notes were, to my disadvantage, written in Chinese). But I realized how much of a struggle it is for non-English speakers to become scientists. Though my family is from India, I had the luxury of growing up multilingually (in a household that spoke English, Hindi, and Arabic), but for the aspiring researcher in Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, or Malaysia, the English-driven, or Anglophone, world of science is a struggle.

A Philosophy of Life at IU: On Volunteering, Leadership, and Well-roundedness

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think." - David Foster Wallace
When David Foster Wallace addressed the graduating seniors at Kenyon College (like he has done so at several other universities), he made sure to instill ideas of personal growth and meaning in the way we live our lives. Much more important than the actual content we know or the money we make, he encouraged students to embrace the uncomfortable ideas, question ourselves, and develop a keen critical awareness. These skills, many of which of central to the liberal arts education, help us in whatever future careers we choose.

Douglas Hofstadter's perpetual search for beauty

"Hofstadter's butterfly, showing the energy levels, E, of Bloch electrons in a magnetic field.In the limit of weak modulation, shown here, the inverse magnetic flux ratio Φ0/Φ determines the internal structure of a Landau band. For example, at Φo/Φ = 1/3, a Landau band splits into three sub-bands." 
Rarely do you find people so influential across disparate fields who would rather explore those interests with alacrity, celerity, vim, vigor, and vitality than the typical duties of a professor.

Are You a Bromide? Find out with These Three Easy Questions!

1. Which of the following would you most likely want to form a bond with?
a.) Aluminum
b.) A Texas Carbon
c.) Texas
d.) Probably someone who is both reliable and interesting

2. Do you care about culture or the arts?
a.) Nah.
b.) Yeah!

3. Have you ever wanted to attack a primary carbon attached to an ideal leaving group?
a.) Of course.
b.) No way!

Elegance in science

The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty. This element I call an ultimate end. No reason can be asked or given why the soul seeks beauty. Beauty, in its largest and profoundest sense, is one expression for the universe.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson ("Beauty" from Nature, published as part of Nature; Addresses and Lectures)

Challenge the Status Quo: Strengths and Limitations of Academic Freedom

Undergraduates of America,

The time to change history is yours. 

It's likely that you've spent most of your life growing up in a bubble. It might be true that, in your hometown, you never knew much about the world around you. You may have wondered about things and desired to learn more, but it might have been difficult for you. You might have felt powerless, oppressed, or weak in any way at some points throughout your life. Now that you're at the university, But the world is exciting, terrifying, and absurd. And that's what makes you human. Take it in stride. 
"Elsipogtog" by Fanny Aaisha

Imposter Syndrome: Noble Humility or Shameful Insecurity?

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here....

From the first day of an introductory course in philosophy, psychology, or any field, we are inundated by the daunting knowledge and opportunities of the world. You realize that there's so much to explore and learn. The things you know about the world might be wrong, and the things that you're proud of might seem trivial, irrelevant, or unimportant in the face of the amazing things that others have done. Others might tell you that you're intelligent, hardworking, or diligent, but you feel as though you're not what everyone thinks you are. To make matters worse, socioeconomic and biological factors of the world might cause us to lose sight of what we truly have control over. We might think that we are only doing well because we were born to the right family, the top school, or the best genes. Students of color might feel as though they are recipients of affirmative action. Women might feel as though society should not expect them to believe they are intelligent. It doesn't matter if you're the prince or the pauper, the smartest or the strongest, the highest or the lowest. You wonder, "How did I get here?"

"We are What We Do": The American Dream and Education

Who are we? At the beginning of many of my classes and activities (from kindergarten to college), my teachers sometimes coerce us to introducing ourselves to others. It usually involves telling others your name and a something you do. You can share that you play a sport, an instrument, or a video game; you can tell others about a hobby or a skill; or you can introduce yourself with your job. We see each other as trumpeters, origami enthusiasts, or accountants. We define ourselves by what we do. Why?

How to Make a Beautiful Science Presentation

Now that my internship at the University of Chicago Conte Center for Computational Neuropsychiatric Genomics is over, I'm home in Indiana for a week before heading back to Bloomington for the start of university. During the last week of the internship, I received a great deal of praise for my project presentation. I'm very grateful for the appreciation of those who enjoyed it, and, since I spend a great deal of time putting it together, I'd like to talk about how scientists should make presentations (whether that presentation is a powerpoint, poster, talk, or anything similar).

De-Stigmatizing Mental Illness: An Inquiry into Depression

'Nature vs. Nurture' vs. 'Nature and Nature'

Here at IU, we have a lot of campaigns directed towards the de-stigmatization of mental illness. Last year, the Hutton Honors College hosted a discussion about issues with Autism in Pop Culture. Though the discussion mostly consisted of sharing personal stories of those with the disease and speaking of our desire to let them know that it is okay to have it, there wasn't much critical thought put into the assumptions upon which our views toward mental health are built. We were too intimate with a desire to accept one another for who we are that we didn't try to understand what autism, or any disease, really is.

Why IU needs Science Communication

The Eclectic Lunatic: At The Crossroads of Knowledge

The other day I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with a high school friend. Through our conversation, we serendipitously wandered through topics of Nietzsche, statistical inaccuracies in peer-reviewed literature, ethnography, and much more that we had both studied. It was only speculation of both of our limited backgrounds, though. Neither of us intended to claim expertise on any of the subjects nor could reliably do justice to all of the topics we mentioned, but would enjoyed to muse about little things we had read here and there. Particularly, she was very interested in my academic background of physics and philosophy.

On a purely anecdotal level, I've already met plenty of students with studying disparate fields. Combinations like biology and art history, mathematics and philosophy, theatre and literature, and neuroscience and gender studies are just a few examples of degree programs of students only satisfied in intellectual diversity. These paths of disparate majors might have unexplored value, as well. We are already seeing more humanities majors entering medical school, and a students have perceived greater gains when studying seemingly unrelated fields.

How do you Promote Diversity in Academia and STEM? Introspection.

Here's a challenge: take some time every day and think about what's important for you. But don't just stop at the superficial: step outside the system. Think about how you would define importance, and where it comes from. What does value mean? How do you choose something as important over another? Go further and think about the way you create meaning for actions, challenges, problems, and whatever else lurks in the unexplored, overlooked compartments of your everyday experiences. Do some serious reflection on why you're doing what you're doing every day. Write down your thoughts somewhere, and read it to yourself every now and then.

My Advice for Incoming Freshman

The world is yours: you're in college now. As you walk the paths of university campus between dauntingly beautiful academic buildings to the newfound comfort of your residence hall, keep in mind why you're here: to learn.

How to Gain Professional Skills: "Don't put Descartes before the Horse"

As you grow as a professional, you find yourself more and more conscious about your image and the way others perceive you. Not as superficial as the suit you wear or the lines on your resume, but, in a world in which we only interact with one another for short amounts of time, the way you are able to convey pertinent information to others in an ethical and sound manner becomes who you are. I like to think of this as "professionalism," or some sort of skill that one obtains through years of experience and study. In examples that are easiest to observe, we could talk about "public speaking skills," "writing skills," "networking skills," or other things that will allow you to succeed.

DNA Pac-Man: A biological twist on the LSD hunter

waka waka
My friends and I have been working on a python-based version of Pac-Man in which RNA bases are eaten and transcribed into amino acids. Check it out!

Factually Accurate about Factoids

Did you know that Stephen Hawking thinks IQ-swagger is for "losers"? Or that your friends have more friends than you do?

What is Bioinformatics?

One scientist might call it "intersection of biology, computer science, and sometimes statistics." Another may say it is the use of "computational methods for comparative analysis of genome data." For most people, it's just a bunch of compiling errors and pull requests. To most people, "bioinformatics" is so new and obscure that there isn't even a standardized or popularly-used abbreviation for it. ("Bioinfo"? "Bioinf" "BI"?) Fortunately this only means that you may exhaust of air when speaking about your discipline or run out of characters when tweeting about your genome-wide association results #JustBioinfoThings. But, before I dive into what bioinformatics is, let's understand a bit about the history of computer science and how biologists came to need them.

Should Competitiveness Drive Education?

The first Heraean Games began as an annual foot race of young women in competition for the position of the priestess for the goddess, Hera.
When my friends I were discussing possible medical schools to apply to, one of my friends explained how she chose not to apply to the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago after she heard stories of the "competitive" nature of the students. Speaking as a student who loves excitement and challenge of my courses, no matter how I could obtain the experience, I would definitely enjoy a great amount of competitiveness among my own peers, even in the setting of grinding doctor-hopefuls. Bear in mind that competitiveness is not the same as rigorous, and, given our dissenting beliefs about the situation, it is not immediately self-evident how competitiveness should affect us anyway. This is important because, among pre-medical students, we've become so tunnel-visioned and focused on the goal of entering a medical school that "competitive applicant" has become synonymous with "good applicant." This diction implies that a competitiveness is inherent to all good medical school applicants because we know we must compete against other amazing students. Intrigued, I wondered whether or not there was a healthy amount of competition that would produce the best doctors.

Academic Burnout: Taking Breaks and Breaking Habits

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” — Muhammad Ali
Though this saying has been around long before Muhammad Ali, I think this sentiment explains the ways we forget about what's really important to us during bigger endeavors. It's very relevant to burnout that students and faculty face. When my friends and I recall the troubles and trials we have faced over our college years, we often draw upon the long nights with problem sets, lab reports, essays. I sometimes wonder that, when I feel tired after finishing a Logic proof, whether or not I will truly be able to handle much more difficult and demanding work in the future. My initial impression of future problems is that the endurance necessary for a graduate-level education or any cool career is much greater than anything I have to sit through during my four years working towards an undergraduate degree. I've even been considering taking a gap year or two before graduate/medical school. It becomes apparent, though, that, in order to prepare ourselves for challenges and problems of the future, we must learn how to adapt to the minor struggles that will continuously wear away at ourselves over a long period of time. I think Dr. Richard Gunderman put it best when he wrote, "Burnout is the sum of hundreds and thousands of tiny betrayals of purpose, each one so minute that it hardly attracts notice."

"What's in a rose? That which we call a name": Semiotics in Science

"What's the use of their having names," the Gnat said, "if they won't answer to them?"
"No use to them," said Alice; "but it's useful to the people that name them, I suppose. If not, why do they have names at all?"
"I can't say," the Gnat replied.
-Lewis Carroll 
Through the Looking-Glass 

The (Wrong) Reasons to Become a Doctor: A Medical Ethicist's Perspective

This post is written from the point-of-view of pre-medical students, but I believe the issues and topics that I discuss can be applied to any undergraduate student who has a desire to learn. 

As we search for meaning in our lives, we worry most about "Why do we want to become a doctor?" Indeed, as our fragile souls are knocked and swayed by existential crises and moments of doubt and insecurity by the overture of every Chemistry exam or weekend of volunteering, our searches for meaning and satisfaction ultimately leave us with only our constructed answers. Though it would be ridiculous to make decisions of the rest of our life in response to the temporary moodiness that mark any neophyte, whether we like it or not we, undergraduates, are forced to ask ourselves what we want to do with our lives and why. It's important to put things into a bigger perspective that, while we are here to learn about ourselves and the rest of the world, we should not feel pressured to forget about our purpose.

The Unspoken Harm in the (Pre)-Medical Experience: On History and Education

When the United States established its medical school system, we could have easily chosen to mimic Europe and create an alternative to the undergraduate degree for students who specifically wanted to become doctors. Instead, we created an idea of a "pre-medical student" who would finish a four-year bachelor's degree in addition to pre-medical requirements before entering medical school. This would allow a unique, liberating approach in which we embrace the fruits of a liberal arts education while simultaneously preparing for professional school.

Rhetoric and Models of Learning: Memorization vs. Application, Bloom's Taxonomy

I'm only four weeks into my internship at the Conte Center for Computational Neuropsychiatric Genomics at the University of Chicago, and I've already heard about three different people tell me the mathematical aphorism, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest that a model, graph, or diagram of any sort, by its own nature, should or could completely represent everything about reality. But students and researchers in areas of mathematics and statistics understand very well that data and information can often be misleading. We often look for theory in data without knowing what data actually represents, and the way we communicate scientific information can have on how another person perceives it.

A Natural Talent for the Natural Sciences

One day, during the first semester of my freshman year at Indiana University, I was sitting among a group of other students as part of a meeting for an organization. As we went around introducing ourselves, a blonde female student told us that she was majoring in Mathematics. This was met with shock from the other students, complete with audible gasps and double takes. And there's no doubt that the initial reaction from our group was at least, in part, motivated by the fact that we realized there was a girl who wanted to study mathematics.

Re-imagining the Self and Freedom from Distraction

Last Thursday, I visited the Ryerson and Burnham Library of the Art Institute of Chicago where I meandered the solitude granted by the bookshelves of cultural theory. Away from the hustle and bustle of crowded exhibits, I sat against a wall with a book on American History sitting in my lap. I savored the academic freedom of choosing what to study from a myriad of books and the personal freedom granted being far from the nature of the city and research lab. But, in the most fundamental sense, what is freedom? I personally greatly enjoy the freedom given to me by virtue of working in a dry lab. Since I perform my entire scientific research on a computer, I am not burdened by the physical limitations of experimental science, and there exist swaths of knowledge only a few keystrokes away. Does having more options and opportunities give us more freedom? Is freedom something that we should strive to achieve at all costs?

Drawing Value from our Stories; The Mark of the Mature Man

I wanted to share a small story that I recently had which sheds some light on the way pre-medical students (and undergraduates in general) perceive their education. For our medical school admissions applications, we are required to write personal statements that show more about who we are and why we are each amazing candidates for the path to becoming a doctor. Unlike the stringent requirements of completing activities (volunteering, research, extracurriculars, etc.) this gives each of us a unique way to show who we really are. But it raises a lot of fundamental questions about us.

The Appropriate Rhetoric on the Purpose of a College Education

Since I was a young high schooler, I've felt uncomfortable with the way I am expected prepare for college, and, even in college, this fear has not subsided. I've never been able to shake off the pressure to fit myself into a mold to please future admissions officers or employers and subsequently felt rather disillusioned that the things I do are only meant to fill up lines on a resume rather than give myself anything else. Surely there are reasons why, for example, medical school admissions officers would want us to volunteer and gain leadership experience. There are definitely benefits and valuable things that we can get from extracurriculars, but those details don't change the fact that there has been a distinct shift in the purpose of our education over the past several decades; we are turning the high school & college experiences away from learning how to grow as a person and towards providing a practical benefit. 

The Purpose of Art and the Beauty of Science

I've already touched a little bit about how our study of aesthetics may parallel the value we derive from other experiences, including experiences like a college student's education. From the films on the big screen to Egyptian hieroglyphics (or even the most extreme modern versions of nihilism), art has has caused an insane amount of controversy among philosophers surrounding its purpose and nature. In this article, I'd like to explore the relationship between art and science, and, specifically, how the I'm not sure how much of a parallel there is between theories of art and theories of how we approach science, but I do believe that an exploration of cultural and aesthetic value can help scientists understand what meaning they truly draw from science and, overall, help everyone take steps to determine the value of a college education.
M. C. Escher: dismissed by the art world and venerated by mathematicians

The Art of Asking a Question

I sat in front of the professor during office hours two days before the midterm exam. As I was flipping through my notes, page after page, I was searching for something that would allow me to ask a question. What were the things that I was at least a little bit "fuzzy" on? What material that we have learned could potentially be on the exam? And how could I create a question? The professor would stare at me with an earnest smile and his hands clasped together on his desk as he waited for a query. 

Myths in Medicine: The Epistemology behind so-called "Conflicts-of-Interest"

As tempting as it may be for one to believe that the medical products industry is free of corruption and that there are no people acting for heinous purposes, it's difficult for anyone to take a position on issues in the health care industry without extensive knowledge. With the negativity of the discourse and multitude of issues surrounding making sure that we can provide for the health of everyone, it would be very refreshing and relieving for one to believe that all of those are simply results of misinformation and bad statistics.

On the Value of a College Education: A Philosophy Professor's Perspective

Why do we go to college? Surely, we know that spending four years to get a degree should have much more value than just sitting through a few tests and racking up lines on a resume. We oughta learn how to think, for “an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted.” (Deresiewicz). Are we here to prepare ourselves for a future career? Or do we need ot embrace deeper meanings behind the things that we study? On top of that, what significance does the different approaches to education put forward by professors have on the way that we think and grow as human beings? Recently, I've been speaking to a few of my professors about the value of a college education.

Logic and the Crossroads of Philosophy, Mathematics, and Science

Though I'm studying a wide breadth of math, science, and philosophy courses, I never really had much of an interest in the philosophy of science. Every now and then, I would find myself reading up about ethics, linguistics, art history, but even the philosophy of science seemed like irrelevant disputing of semantics and terms that don't tell us very much. Why should I care whether our scientific knowledge is going through a paradigm shift or some other type of cycle? I once liked to heed to Feynman's quote "The philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is useful to birds." However true it may be that the philosophy of science is useful and amazing to study, it never seemed too relevant to me, as a lad interested in the natural sciences and mathematics. I preferred to leave philosophy to philosophy and leave science to science. But, like many stories, this one has a turning point. (insert "meta" joke here)

Among my classes this past semester was an upper-level logic course taught by Dr. David McCarty. From day one of the class, I knew I was in for a wild ride. Imagine a class of 30 students in a small, somewhat-adequately lit room with no windows. The desks sat close to one another with pieces of water and ice on the floor from the snowy walk to class. I looked around to see only a few familiar faces. This desolate atmosphere was only matched by daily quizzes and automatic course failure for tardiness or phone disruption. Keep in mind: this is a logic class. We would teach ourselves how to complete fundamental and rigorous proofs and theorems as though we questioned the reasoning of reasoning itself. And, like all the ironic tendencies of the universe, the course was amazing.

It should not come as a surprise that there were only about 20 students remaining in the course by the end, and it should not be surprising that we struggled a lot. As students, we were forced to ask questions and give answers. There was no spoon-feeding nor hand-holding. It was only questions and answers from the students and professors. Learning logic was a group passion, if there could be such a thing as that. Like a Socratic dialogue that forced us to make something of ourselves, Dr. McCarty lead our winding journey through database models and recursive relations that pushed the boundaries of what could be taught in any course: be it math, science, or philosophy.

(Programs for recursive relations can also explain how rabbit populations increase over time. Just look at how far I've come along the way too!)
Anyways, during the last week of the course (as we had all mostly accepted our fate), we explored the history of logic for a bit. Maybe you have noticed that I have been sparing the reader many of the difficult and intricate details of logic and mathematics (so as not to be a bore), but, being at the crossroads of philosophy, mathematics, and science, the lives of various mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers who could study a field that would otherwise seem incredibly trivial to someone really makes you stop and wonder. Perhaps there is more to mathematics than just being a tool for scientists? Is there an aesthetic or an epistemic quality to it? The course allowed me to understand what the natural world really meant to us, human beings. In other words, it was kind of cool.

Last week I began my internship at the University of Chicago. Quite similar to my experience at Cornell University last summer, I'm working on a bioinformatics project at the Conte Center for Computational Neuropsychiatric Genomics. Those are some big words that basically mean I push buttons on a computer and look at numbers until I learn something or other. Mostly I look at the DNA of the brain.

Before I finish, I need to mention that logic doesn't actually tell you how things work. Unlike the empirical sciences that may have elements of reductionist phenomena (such as how Chemistry can explain biological phenomena or Physics can explain chemical phenomena), logic is truly its own monster. I will (hopefully) write more about actual content of logic and science in upcoming posts. As for the actual reasons why we do things, perhaps those reasons are best left unanswered for now. For Kant once wrote:

"we find that the more a cultivated reason purposely occupies itself with the enjoyment of life and with happiness, so much the further does one get away from true satisfaction;" (4:386 "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals")

Finally, I'm proud to announce that I will be writing for the Indiana Daily Student in the Fall. More greatness to come! I promise!

Learning Why We Learn: A Call to Action for all Undergraduates

The Pre-medical Motive: Curiosity, Practicality, and Numbers

We are what we learn.

As a lie in the bedroom of my dorm, I have only a few weeks left of classes for this semester. This summer I will have the wonderful opportunity of performing research at the Conte Center of the University of Chicago.  

If anything, my participation in activities and classes year have certainly shaken the way I perceive the world. After taking an introductory philosophy course during my freshman year, I decided to explore the breadth that the discipline has to offer this year through courses in epistemology, ethics, and logic. These courses certainly were not no-brainers, and they've definitely given me a taste of the difficult journey that is yet to come. But, on top of that, my journey through the humanities has given me the insight into deeper issues that pre-medical students face.