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Reflections on college

By Bob Lenhardt 


  College is basically a bunch of rooms where you sit for roughly
two thousand hours and try to memorize things.  The two thousand
hours are spread out over four years; you spend the rest of the time
sleeping and trying to get dates.

  Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

  * Things you will need to know in later life (two hours).  These
include how to make collect telephone calls and get beer and
crepe-paper stains out of your pajamas.

  * Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours).
These are the things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology,
- - -osophy, -istry, -ics, and so on.  The idea is, you memorize these
things, then write them down in little exam books, then forget them.
If you fail to forget them, you become a professor and have to stay
in college for the rest of your life.

  It's very difficult to forget everything.  For example, when I was
in college, I had to memorize -- don't ask me why -- the names of
three metaphysical poets other than John Donne.  I have managed to
forget one of them, but I still remember that the other two were
named Vaughan and Crashaw.  Sometimes, when I'm trying to remember
something important like whether my wife told me to get tuna packed
in oil or tuna packed in water, Vaughan and Crashaw just pop up in
my mind, right there in the supermarket.  It's a terrible waste of
brain cells.

  After you've been in college for a year or so, you're supposed to
choose a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and
forget the most things about.  Here is a very important piece of
advice: Be sure to choose a major that does not involve Known Facts
and Right Answers.

  This means you must *not* major in mathematics, physics, biology,
or chemistry, because these subjects involve actual facts.  If, for
example, you major in mathematics, you're going to wander into class
one day and the professor will say: "Define the cosine integer of
the quadrant of a rhomboid binary axis, and extrapolate your result
to five significant vertices." If you don't come up with *exactly*
the answer the professor has in mind, you fail.  The same is true of
chemistry: if you write in your exam book that carbon and hydrogen
combine to form oak, your professor will flunk you.  He wants you to
come up with the same answer he and all the other chemists have
agreed on.  Scientists are extremely snotty about this.

  So you should major in subjects like English, philosophy,
psychology, and sociology -- subjects in which nobody really
understands what anybody else is talking about, and which involve
virtually no actual facts.  I attended classes in all these
subjects, so I'll give you a quick overview of each:

  ENGLISH: This involves writing papers about long books you have
read little snippets of just before class.  Here is a tip on how to
get good grades on your English papers: Never say anything about a
book that anybody with any common sense would say.  For example,
suppose you are studying Moby-Dick.  Anybody with any common sense
would say that Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters
in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand
times.  So in *your* paper, *you* say Moby-Dick is actually the
Republic of Ireland.  Your professor, who is sick to death of
reading papers and never liked Moby-Dick anyway, will think you are
enormously creative.  If you can regularly come up with lunatic
interpretations of simple stories, you should major in English.

  PHILOSOPHY: Basically, this involves sitting in a room and
deciding there is no such thing as reality and then going to lunch.
You should major in philosophy if you plan to take a lot of drugs.

  PSYCHOLOGY: This involves talking about rats and dreams.
Psychologists are *obsessed* with rats and dreams.  I once spent an
entire semester training a rat to punch little buttons in a certain
sequence, then training my roommate to do the same thing.  The rat
learned much faster.  My roommate is now a doctor.

  If you like rats or dreams, and above all if you dream about rats,
you should major in psychology.

  SOCIOLOGY: For sheer lack of intelligibility, sociology is far and
away the number one subject.  I sat through hundreds of hours of
sociology courses, and read gobs of sociology writing, and I never
once heard or read a coherent statement.  This is because
sociologists want to be considered scientists, so they spend most of
their time translating simple, obvious observations into
scientific-sounding code.  If you plan to major in sociology, you'll
have to learn to do the same thing.  For example, suppose you have
observed that children cry when they fall down.  You should write:
"Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies
of prematurated isolates indicates that a casual relationship exists
between groundward tropism and lachrimatory, or 'crying,' behavior
forms." If you can keep this up for fifty or sixty pages, you will
get a large government grant.

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