Monday, March 03, 2008


...the internet can be beautiful.

a webcomic that I recently (relatively so, anyway) discovered has a comment page. The webcomic itself, Gunnerkrigg Court, is a sort of science/magic/technology/mythology thing that is very prettily drawn. (it reminds me of the cel shading on Windwaker).

anyway. the comic today is somewhat of a setup for a man-science-technology versus land-earth-magic debate, and one person commented about how so often we deem it unacceptable or wrong or bad to admit that something might not be answerable. that we might not be able to find an answer to A or B, and that rather than freaking out about it, we should not think that it is such a terrible fate. that it's ok to not know, and that technology probably shouldn't be the be all, end all of our questions. That person made an analogy to enjoying a sunset or a rainbow, and being annoyed when someone pointed out that those things are created by light reflecting off of water and pollution and other things in the air, etc- they wanted to just enjoy the sunset or the rainbow. there was a footnote, too, saying that for something like cancer, though, they would want to know everything possible, as fast as possible, so that it could be eradicated faster.

there were some of your typical "I disagree" posts in varying degrees of politeness, of course- this is the internet.

and then there was this post by refugee, a response to the original rant-about-the-absoluteness-of-knowledge post-

...if you want to cure cancer, you have to know how the rainbow works, and the work only gets done by people who love the explanation as much as they love the rainbow.

and I paused, and went...yes. very true.

I wish that something like that could be printed in every science textbook, because every so often I hear people's reasons for why they're studying what they're studying or working where they're working and I cringe- like the guy in my last physics class who is going to med school to get his that he can get his PhD in psychology. he has no desire to practice medicine, ever.

that terrifies me. and saddens me. and makes me go...but...but...but...

It's like when I was trying to teach my small language group about the international polar year so that we could make an advertisement for it for one of our evening programs. I told them of our task, and then of our topic (IPY), and they groaned. They didn't want something boring, they wanted something cool, like kvikklunsj (norwegian KitKat) or kosetime (activity period). I said no way, dude, IPY is so much cooler than kvikklunsj or kosetime, and started explaining what it was and why it was so much cooler than it sounded initially.

and I got a 12-13 year old girl shrug/sigh and a "whatever, let's just do something easy and get it over with" in response. I felt like I'd been punched in the sternum, and it wasn't until much later that summer that I really realized how much it hurt.

much later that summer I was asked to guest-teach a class, again about IPY or something similar, and I was very nervous because...why were they going to care? they were even younger than my small group, there were more of them, and really- learning about foreign concepts in a foreign language is not the easiest of things to do. especially at 10. but I prepared (sort of. I had lots of colors of whiteboard markers and a small whiteboard. that counts for a lot, at times.) and I walked over to give my spiel. I had games planned. the great old standard, bop- (i.e. shout someone else's name so the 'it' person doesn't tag you and has to run to them), pictionary*, etc.

we didn't get to any of them.

instead, they derailed me into a discussion about oceanography and how currents shape the weather/ photosynthesis/ el nino-la nina-el viejo/ and and and...all stuff that I had just spent a semester studying. and not just "ocean big, ocean make wind go, little things in ocean make big things in ocean, us eat big things, what do you think?" (that's what I started with, but they kept asking questions, and I'd answer them, and they'd ask different questions, etc.)

when I found myself trying desperately to think of the norwegian words for diel vertical migration and carbon sequestering, my brain sort of shut down. I remembered that I was talking to 9-10 year olds. (what is that, second grade? third?). my fellow counselors were looking a little strangely at me. I stopped. I took a deep breath. I made a little joke about needing to stop me before I get to geek-out mode, and sorry for the digression, and mentally added the comment of "Norwegian camp. where you're supposed to be using Norwegian primarily and English secondarily." (that's really hard to do when you're in mid-geekout. try it.) I tried getting back on track- (oh, look! norway has an arctic indigenous culture- quick! tell me what you think of that! look! so does the US!).

they revolted. "but why does [the carbon] go to the bottom?" "does norway have el nino?" "where does el nino come from?" "how can you see [algae] from space if they're so little?" ...and they didn't stop until it was time for dinner. They went to the dining hall, and I went to the staff lounge to drop off my whiteboard in a daze. a daze, yes, but an energetic daze. it had been so much fun, and I felt great and excited and some of my fellow staff members were looking at me going...what are you on, and why aren't you sharing?...I was on the rush of teaching something I love to kids, and they were getting into it.

I don't know if any of them are going to remember much of it. I hope they are, or at least enough that at some point down the line they'll hear a snippet of information in class or read a paragraph or see a Jeopardy question and go "hey- coasts like norway are productive because upwelling brings nutrients to the upper waters and the big fish follow the little fish that follow the plankton that follow the nutrients."

or maybe they'll just go "DVM...DVM...why does that sound so familiar?"

and I'll be content with that. if I can be a source of the random 'pop-up-in-the-brain' factoids, I'm happy.

*pictionary is a very strange looking word. picture-dictionary, yes, but also...brings to mind some tweedy professor studying the battle tactics and civilization of the picts. my brain is wired strangely.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

..'my brain is strangely wired'. --
hmm familial DNA perhaps? (from waaaay back, methinks) Thanks for the great post. mor