experiment

Small Wins and Deliberate Mediocrity

"Tiny goals, even absurdly tiny ones, can be an effective way to sneak under the radar of your mind, which always stands ready to procrastinate on, or otherwise resist, bigger ambitions: you might laugh at the idea of doing 15 seconds of exercise, but for exactly that reason, you’re also much less likely to resist it. (The next day, make it 20 seconds, and so on.)"

~ Oliver Burkeman

This is the Time

Two of six excellent letters of advice to new college students from “Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend,” New York Times, September 25, 2010:

College is your chance to see what you’ve been missing, both in the outside world and within yourself. Use this time to explore as much as you can.

Take classes in many different subjects before picking your major. Try lots of different clubs and activities. Make friends with people who grew up much poorer than you, and others much richer. Date someone of a different race or religion. (And no, hooking up at a party doesn’t count.) Spend a semester abroad or save up and go backpacking in Europe or Asia.

Somewhere in your childhood is a gaping hole. Fill this hole. Don’t know what classical music is all about? That’s bad. Don’t know who Lady Gaga is? That’s worse. If you were raised in a protected cocoon, this is the time to experience the world beyond.

College is also a chance to learn new things about yourself. Never been much of a leader? Try forming a club or a band.

The best things I did in college all involved explorations like this. I was originally a theater major but by branching out and taking a math class I discovered I actually liked math, and I enjoyed hanging out with technical people.

By dabbling in leadership — I ran the math club and directed a musical — I learned how to formulate a vision and persuade people to join me in bringing it to life. Now I’m planning to become an entrepreneur after graduate school. It may seem crazy, but it was running a dinky club that set me on the path to seeing myself as someone who could run a business.

Try lots of things in college. You never know what’s going to stick.

— TIM NOVIKOFF, Ph.D. student in applied mathematics at Cornell

*     *     *     *     *

Devices have become security blankets. Take the time to wean yourself.

Start by scheduling a few Internet-free hours each day, with your phone turned off. It’s the only way you’ll be able to read anything seriously, whether it’s Plato or Derrida on Plato. (And remember, you’ll get more out of reading Derrida on Plato if you read Plato first.) This will also have the benefit of making you harder to reach, and thus more mysterious and fascinating to new friends and acquaintances.

When you leave your room for class, leave the laptop behind. In a lecture, you’ll only waste your time and your parents’ money, disrespect your professor and annoy whoever is trying to pay attention around you by spending the whole hour on Facebook.

You don’t need a computer to take notes — good note-taking is not transcribing. All that clack, clack, clacking ... you’re a student, not a court reporter. And in seminar or discussion sections, get used to being around a table with a dozen other humans, a few books and your ideas. After all, you have the rest of your life to hide behind a screen during meetings.

— CHRISTINE SMALLWOOD, Ph.D. student in English and American literature at Columbia

Read the other essays here…

Waiting on a Different Time Scale

From “A Test of Patience,” by Mats Bigert, Cabinet Magazine, Issue 34, Summer 2009:

Pitch Drop Experiment The Pitch Drop Experiment was initiated in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, to demonstrate for his ­students that some substances that appear to be solid are actually fluid. A heated sample of pitch, a naturally occurring petroleum substance, was poured into a funnel-shaped glass container and sealed. After three years, the sample had apparently coagulated and it was time to kick-start what is now the longest-running, and what must surely be one of the slowest, laboratory experiments in history. Parnell unsealed the funnel and the pitch was free to flow. After a couple of years, a drop began to form, but it took eight years for it finally to fall, the student audience of the experiment having long since graduated. The experiment continued, nevertheless, since it required no maintenance, and every eight or so years, a little baby drop left the nest of mama pitch for the growing expanse of papa pitch below. Eventually, after the eighth, and most recent, drop fell on 28 November 2000, the viscosity of pitch was finally calculated to be roughly one hundred billion times that of water.

To date, no one has ever witnessed an actual drop fall and there is no visual documentation of the dramatic event. The closest anyone has ever come was in April 1979 when Professor John Mainstone, who now maintains the experiment, came­ to work on a Sunday afternoon. He noted that the pitch drop was just about to touch down, but he did not have time to stay and watch. On returning the following morning, Mainstone saw, much to his chagrin, that the drop had fallen. Even modern technology has been foiled in its attempt to capture direct evidence of the pitch’s clandestine maneuvers; a video camera placed to monitor the experiment happened to fail at the very moment the eighth drop fell.

Timeline

Date

Event

Duration
(months)

1927

Experiment set up

 

1930

The stem was cut

 

December 1938

1st drop fell

96-107

February 1947

2nd drop fell

99

April 1954

3rd drop fell

86

May 1962

4th drop fell

97

August 1970

5th drop fell

99

April 1979

6th drop fell

104

July 1988

7th drop fell

111

28 November 2000

8th drop fell

148

Life is an Experiment

“Life consists in penetrating the unknown, and fashioning our actions in accord with the new knowledge thus acquired.”

~ Leo Tolstoy, from The Kingdom of God Is within You

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions.  All life is an experiment.  The more experiments you make, the better.  What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn?  What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice?  Up again, you shall nevermore be so afraid of a tumble again.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Journals, November 11, 1842

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”

~ Anaïs Nin, from D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study

“What is a scientist after all? It is a curious [person] looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what's going on."

~ Jacques Cousteau, from The Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 1971

“The greater one's science, the deeper the sense of mystery.”

~ Vladimir Nabokov, from Strong Opinions

"Everybody's a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We're all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos."

~ David Cronenberg, from Cronenberg on Cronenberg