What I Learned Last Week

20140204-150149.jpgIt’s a bit awkward when you sit down to write a blog post about everything you learned last week and your mind goes completely blank. I know that I didn’t do much besides studying, but I don’t remember a thing, haha. At that point I pull out my trusty binder and refer to the prodigious notes created last week. And now I remember one thing: I got a 100% on my chemistry exam! That literally stunned me. I am not strong in science or math, so I’ve thought it impossible for me to do well in a subject like chemistry. I don’t know how the rest of the course will go, but so far I’m doing good!

In chemistry, I learned the nomenclature for covalent and ionic bond compounds. It is really quite amazing to realize there’s a method and order to what things are called. Like, “carbon dioxide” is meaningful and actually conveys information besides just knowing there’s carbon and oxygen. What does it mean? Well, we know that carbon and oxygen are both non-metals, so their bond is covalent as ionic bonds typically form between metals and non-metals. We know that oxygen is an anion (has a negative charge) because of the “ide” ending, so the carbon is a cation. We also know that there’s one carbon ion and two oxygen ions because carbon doesn’t have a prefix and the oxide has a “di” prefix. Isn’t that neat? I also learned about trends in the periodic table, from first ionization energy to electronegativity to oxidation states. These trends make a lot of sense once you understand what the periodic table means. With the principles down, the rest of it is just intuitive.

In my spare time I’m catching up on some lectures from my Fantasy/Sci-Fi Literature class last semester that I didn’t get to at the time. Last week I watched lectures on Lewis Carroll’s books, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I found it interesting to learn how Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are stories that deal with the reality of death and mortality. Subtly woven into these delightful, nonsensical tales are themes of life’s brevity and our eventual encounter with death. There are  rather macabre “death jokes” scattered through the stories that children don’t pick up on, but which would be quite evident to an adult. Another point is how Carroll enjoyed playing with the inherent ambiguity of language. (Can I mention how happy I am to use one of my favorite words, “ambiguous” in this post?) Words have isolated meaning, and meaning that only comes from the context. Typically there a normal interpretation and a magical or fantastic interpretation. To take my professor’s example, if I say, “I walked down the street and turned into a drugstore,” the normal interpretation is that as I walked down the street, I entered a building wherein there was a drugstore. Or the fantastic interpretation is that I actually became a drugstore. I think commonly we distinguish between these two interpretations by using the word “literal.” Some people take everything literally, and so would ask, “how did you become a drugstore?” in all seriously. I think that as we grow up we learn to automatically assume the realistic interpretation, but children are much more open to the fantastic. So by writing for children, we’re able to indulge in our fascination with the fantastic, and it is completely acceptable. Okay, enough on that for now : )

I also started an Introduction to Philosophy class last week and that’s been really great! The first week attempted to answer the oft-asked question, “what is philosophy?” I appreciated this because often after telling someone that I enjoy philosophy, they’ll ask, “you know, I’ve always wondered what that actually is.” And then I spend an eternity stumbling about and trying to inadequately explain it. But now I have a much clearer way to define it. Philosophy is essentially working out the best way to think about things. It isn’t really something you study, it is something you do. Philosophy is an activity in which we engage. How is this different than other subjects? For instance, we study history. To do philosophy on history would be ask questions like, “how do we verify the reality of the past? How do we understand time? Is this the right way to conceptualize time? What can we actually know for certain about the past?” and ultimately one could ask questions like, “how do we know truth? what is truth? Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Is there one absolute interpretation of the past or are there parallel version of the past, all of which are ‘true’?” So you see, it can get pretty deep, haha. But that’s philosophy, not history. When we study history we’ve already established a framework for how to understand and study the past, and then we just go ahead and study it. Philosophy is questioning our presuppositions and frameworks for looking at things. Therefore, one can ask philosophical questions about basically everything. And that made me realize that I really do spend my life doing philosophy, haha. Is my philosophy necessary? Probably not. Philosophy is important in the sense that it asks questions about things we take for granted, but not every presupposition must be questioned. And not everyone has to do philosophy. As my professor said, if a brain surgeon were to spend his time doing philosophy about his area of work, he wouldn’t make a very good brain surgeon. Sometimes we just have to do and not constantly question. But there have been situations throughout history where philosophers asked extremely important questions about our basic framework for understanding ourselves and the world. These questions can lead to error, skepticism, and in modern times to despair and nihilism, but there are questions we must ask nonetheless. What does it mean to be human? Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Is there an objective reality or is it the extension of our cognitive functions? What is freedom? Do we have free will? Whether we consciously ponder these questions on a regular basis, we should have an answer. And what I love about philosophy is how it fits in so well with Christianity. The Christian framework, based on the reality of God, answers all these questions and gives us confidence where we don’t really know the answers. Philosophy can be seen a path of skepticism and nihilism, but for the Christian, it is yet another area of life where God’s sovereignty informs our perspective and evidences His glory.

I won’t overwhelm you with any more notes right now, but at least there’s a little peek into what I’ve been up to lately. I’m spending this afternoon at a local coffee shop studying for my Interwar Years class (hence the picture at the top of this post) and trying to get my homework done in time to catch the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate tonight!

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