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Studying How to focus when science is not your end goal?

  1. Jan 7, 2017 #1
    I'm interested in political philosophy. However, I very strongly respect rationality and the scientific method, and want my impact on the world to be maximizing its application to society in order to optimize our civilization.
    In order to do this, I am completing a bioengineering undergrad. Unfortunately, quite a lot is going on in the world, and it's very easy to procrastinate by datamining various extremist sites.
    My gpa suffers for this. I know I need a logical path to redirect myself when procrasinating, but I am trying to record my philosophy's applications in a cohesive structure at the same time.
    For instance, I am currently studying sound waves in physics, but my mind constantly wanders to comparing the core assumptions of various political extremes in the US from a neuropsychological perspective.

    Arguments I have:
    - I need to learn to think rationally while my brain is still maleable
    - I am limited by time when it comes to science- getting a good GPA

    However, something is missing, and having just started a new semester, the fact that I wander so easily is quite terrifying.
    How can I focus?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 7, 2017 #2


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    In my understanding philosophy is highly rational and logic. Therefore all scientific arguments can be seen as an application of logic. It's just a different framework than a philosophical discourse would be. (I don't dare to take a political debate, e.g. on TV, as an example, as they are usually full of logical flaws and questionable assertions.)

    So soundwaves or bio-engineering might be far away at first glance, but if you can't handle their logical structures, how could you handle Kant, Marx, Hegel, Smith or Machiavelli? Thus you might consider your scientific digressions as an essential exercise rather than a deviation.
  4. Jan 7, 2017 #3


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    A lofty goal, but probably unattainable, IMO.
    There is almost always a lot going on in the world. If you are serious about attaining a bioengineering degree, your focus should be nearly 100% on that discipline. As you say below, your activities outside this goal are affecting your grades. You need to come to a decision about whether the pursuit of this bioeng. degree is what you really want to do.
    See above.
    Sounds more like a weak rationalization to me. There have been several "studies" purporting to show that certain political views indicate mental aberration. These are junk science, IMO.
    Is the first of these your rationalization for wasting time away from your studies? It doesn't sound legitimate, IMO. Your second point is a good reason to focus on your immediate goal (i.e., bioeng. degree) rather than on totally unrelated side interests.
    One approach: set aside specific blocks of time for your studies, with short breaks every hour or two. Also, break things up by performing some physical activity on a regular basis. What worked for me when I was a grad student was going for a run, typically five miles.

    Another thing that might help your focus is to realize that if you don't start approaching your studies in a disciplined fashion, you might not finish the degree you say you want.
  5. Jan 7, 2017 #4
    Preemptive note: I may come off as rude, but I am nothing but greatful for your response :D Genuinely!

    You are making the assumption that gen. Z and other generations raised post-internet think the same way people raised pre-internet do.

    This is a flawed assumption, even in terms of childhood development, but I digress.

    I'm not doing what you think I'm doing. Please do not condescend. I wrote a small summary, but I've excluded it for now. If you're interested, I'll post it, but it is not the topic at hand.
    Basically, having a lot of debates in new and un-seen directions is what gets me in to this mess. Every single time I have this sort of conversation.
    No, it is an argument to do it. Which is why it is on the list.
    Rationality in thought process is taught indirectly, through materials such as chemistry or physics. (I have had this discussion with a professor, who pointed me towards the last stage of development/neurological maleability data.)
    I am slowly realising that the reason I am replying to you first is that you seem condescending, which is a good way to get me to argue.
    However, we are not discussing the same premises. It seems you have the premise of my pursuits not being worthy of a truly scientific mindset. Please abstain from expressing this, or else that is what I will be arguing instead of the topic, entirely by accident.
    If I agreed with this, I wouldn't be where I am, doing what I am doing.
    You are querying into ~5 years of dedicated research. It's a chat I would love to have but I am, as seen in argument #2, limited by time. As it usually takes a minimum of 4 hours to explain, we can exchange contact information and I'll get back to you mid-July.

    The question is not setting them up, but having a rationale to stick to them.

    I have a very difficult time limiting myself to a concept of time. However, this does lead to the realisation that working on two things at once is the equivalent of doing a double-specialist.
    Outlining what research I still have to do for my "side interests" into ""courses"" might help me curb my impulsive disregard of time, so thank you!

    So I'll know what I still have to do when I do have time time, which would stop me from approaching it willy-nilly and wrecking my other schedules.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2017
  6. Jan 7, 2017 #5


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    I started writing out a response to this, and I'll include it below, but while I was writing, your response to Mark77 came up, which seems awfully defensive to me. When you ask for advice on how to deal with an issue you're having, you may not necessarily agree with all the advice you get.

    Anyway, some additional tips to help you focus:
    1. Study early. If you do most of your studying at the end of the day, your brain is tired, you suffer from decision fatigue and it's easier to surrender to temptations. Try getting up early and hitting the books before your classes.
    2. Study first. Define specific goals when you study and reach them before you allow yourself a break.
    3. Be conscious of how you're spending your "down" time. If it's really important to you to compare different political philosophies, plan out your time for working on such problems. Be conscious of when a "break" becomes a separate activity.
    4. Make conscious decisions about who you spend your time with. Make friends with people who have similar goals and who are focused on doing well academically.
    5. Optimizing our civilization is a lofty goal. In order to make progress on that you have to break it into smaller sub-goals. Learn how to set SMART goals (specific, measureable, achievable/actionable, realistic, time-limited).
    6. It might be worth spending some time thinking about why the political philosophy stuff is important to you right now. Is it important enough that you should change your major? Is it arising because of frustration with your current political situation? Does it provide a venue for you to feel "smarter than the average bear" on days when your coursework makes you feel like you're on the other side of the curve? Then, if you understand the underlying causes of your sidetracking your can come up with your own strategies for staying focused.
    7. As always, take good care of yourself. It's a lot easier to focus on your studies when you're getting good sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise and socializing in a healthy way than it is when you're fighting a battle on any of these fronts.
  7. Jan 7, 2017 #6


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    This is a great answer to the OP. And as it fits into the context, I like to mention that Immanuel Kant was almost extreme in those habits. He started the day early, made a short walk in town as a first break, and worked long hours a day. He's been so accurate on this that people could tell by his appearance, whether the church's clock tower was correct. He did almost everything at the same time each day, every day.

    (Just a small anecdote.)
  8. Jan 7, 2017 #7
    To continue from where you leave off, the primary difference between Machiavelli and sound waves is that scientists do not set a boundary after which they stop checking their assumptions. In philosophy it's found in statments like "x is y, which you must accept."
    Science is the methodological continuation of where philosophy quits based on ego. I wouldn't be able to study philosophy since this is what upsets me about the field in general- they don't believe what is proven true, but what is easiest to accept! They don't test their beliefs except when arguing with someone with the same preconcieved method of thought! It's so antique, and obviously a reason science has distanced itself from its field of origin.

    The most efficent method of thought is the scientific one, which is why I am learning it through sound waves.

    (I feel like there's still an argument missing.)
  9. Jan 7, 2017 #8


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    This is not the place to defend philosophy, so I won't. However, I strongly disagree on your opinions, regarding both: physics and philosophy.
    If you don't like Machiavelli, then consider Russel and Popper as examples. The lines you're drawing are quite artificial.
  10. Jan 7, 2017 #9
    Imagine if when you asked a physics question, the first response you got was "please define and prove physics exists with back-up data."
    Would you question the underlying assumptions of such a response?

    1. "decision fatigue" - I've heard of it, but I haven't ever been given a name I can research. Thank you!
    2. "Define specific goals when you study and reach them" - you might notice I'm a little overzelous when it comes to setting goals. To skip to #5, I've heard of SMART goals, I just don't seem to do... something. I'll try to practice and see what it is that I forget. Thank you!
    3. "Be conscious of when a "break" becomes a separate activity." I have no idea how to do that. I have adhd which comes with a tendency to "hyperfocus". I only notice that I'm distracted an hour into being distracted. I've tried pomdoro, but hyperfocus means a truck could drive past me and I wouldn't notice. Little bloops and alarms aren't useful. I need to divide 'break' from 'other research' but in those terms I don't have an idea of break. My entire life revolves around this, and things that aren't it very quickly bring up a point that becomes it.
    4. "Make conscious decisions about who you spend your time with." Now that I think of it, I isolate myself, and the professor I consulted with warned me against that. I'll try to study more on-campus with friends, rather than at home where all of my notes are located.
    5. "It might be worth spending some time thinking about why the political philosophy stuff is important to you right now." Oh no. I ended up writing a rant. I've left it this time, as an example of how my brain starts to hyperfocus. "
      It's important to me because it's right! there! and it's undefined! Everything leads to it, but it doesn't have a cohesive name because fields of research stop at terms like "common morality" or "economic policy of global communication" or "singularity" and quit for the day. I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time, and moreso, am doing it for the sake of it, because I'm obsessed. It might be worthless, or already exist in other terms- which it does- but I am critically obsessed with it. I don't want to be famous- or even publish under a name- I want to get it out there. It's slightly reinforced by an arms-race mentality- someone researching this to purely benefit themselves and the things they already believe - research to benefit only their thought-community- could be dangerous to a civilization. That sounds alarmist and borderline schizophrenic, if not entirely off the deep end, but to help explain why, think of internet subcultures in terms of unconcious thought singularities. They are exemplified when people militize memes, but happen when people create relatively "nonexistant" communities based on mutual philosophy that reinforces their beliefs about the world. Even a community like this- the reinforcement that a single person feels from its existance changes how they act IRL. If sufficently "in it," they will act in a way that reinforces the beliefs of their thought-community instead of their surrounding community, changing the definitions of what a community is in minuta and in a broader sense creating a, for example, university setting without physical borders where someone would mentally spend all of their time, which a few papers have already noted crap I'm doing it again
    6. "It's a lot easier to focus on your studies when you're getting good sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise and socializing in a healthy way than it is when you're fighting a battle on any of these fronts." Oops. I tend to forsake sleep a lot. I'll work on this as well, thank you.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2017
  11. Jan 7, 2017 #10
    Do you want to talk about this at some other time? Or give me a recorded source that echoes the disagreement here that I could read later? I am pointing out lines already drawn. Where do physics and philosophy diverge, if not at a point loosely defined as metacognition, which is inherently flawed?
  12. Jan 7, 2017 #11


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    Where do they diverge? They are so different that this question is strange. Physics is the science interested in understanding how matter and energy work. Philosophy seems to be an interest in understanding human thought and conduct, and the nature of what is the meaning of to understand. Maybe this confuses Philosophy with Psychology.
  13. Jan 7, 2017 #12


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    An answer would breach the rules on PF since it is too close to pure philosophy. Thus I will only mention some facts:
    Most mathematicians, and I think physicists, too, are Platonists, despite their knowledge of Zermelo's, Russel's and Gödel's work or the negative outcome of Hilbert's program or the non-intuitive laws of QM. This list alone - and it is far from being complete - shows the close relationship between the various fields which are by no means separable (IMO). Of course one soon reaches metaphysics and fundamental systems of logic and perception or the understanding of the term reality, by content as well as historical. I don't know Witttgenstein's work good enough, but it seems to me, that what we have here is a debate about language.

    To answer your original question, I think @Mark44 in post #3 and @Choppy in post #5 and Kant's example as described in my post #6 already did this. Also my post #2 has been meant to show you a possible different mental approach. In the end the keyword of all of it is passion. Without passion it will be hard to study in any of the fields. It is the keyword, because it generates the needed pressure to deal with stuff, that isn't easy comprehensible. Of course one might be able to generate this pressure by other means, a lot of them are listed in #5, but passion has the big advantage, that you don't work against the resulting pressure.
  14. Jan 8, 2017 #13
    So, linear thought from x to y. Method of thought!
    Self-looping thought. Method as well! The metacognitive loop is required for its key functions.

    What I'm trying to do is approach (b) through the method of (a), bypassing the loop until I reach it from the opposite direction.
  15. Jan 8, 2017 #14


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    Shouldn't you read books about set theory and study Russel's work then? And as you started with political philosophy, shouldn't you read Smith and Marx? I don't think that your allegations toward philosophy applies to them.
  16. Jan 8, 2017 #15
    • Thank you all for taking your time to respond!
    I will review my passion for my field, and I am sorry for derailing from the topic of the forum.

    Since I'll probably reread this thread a few times, is it possible to lock it? I can stop myself from replying, but not if there's new responses (not that I expect it, but to dissuade the eventuality.)

    Please don't get me started on Marx. I will research Russel, set theory, and all the other names mentioned in this thread that I don't directly recognise. I'll make that a seperate "course" of research. However, Marx and Nietzsche still make errors in logic by not implicitly recognizing the effect of their personal morality/existance- not that this makes them utterly wrong- on the ideas they espouse. I am also somewhat fond of Plato slightly because of this. On occasion I wonder if I am fond because he is further away and thus more heavly translated into hive-thought- the schools- and therefore being just a word, rather than single-person-thought and being a Name against/for which unseperate argument sets form, divided only by other Names like Leninist.

    I'm not sufficently educated to organise my arguments yet. I'm leaving this thread- a collection of unfinished ideas undeleted (because I don't know how to do that..) as long as any potential skimmer knows I recognise the fact that I'm absolutely and utterly wrong 99.9% of the time, but really obsessed with chasing the .1% at my comprehension speed
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017
  17. Jan 8, 2017 #16


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    No, I would search for someone with actual knowledge of physics, and ask him or her my question.
  18. Jan 8, 2017 #17


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    No worries. We don't discuss philosopy of any kind at this forum.
  19. Jan 8, 2017 #18
    I'm sorry. I looked for advice here because the sciences are my home.
    When it comes to science- bio-, my passion is that of knowing, and philosophy is understanding.
    I hope it's enough.
  20. Jan 8, 2017 #19
    Make science your end goal. Specifically, make bio engineering your end goal. And maybe minor in political science or philosophy. Some famous scientist was offered the seat of PM of Isreal but he said "politics is temporary, equations are forever" bla bla
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017
  21. Jan 8, 2017 #20

    Stephen Tashi

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    Do you have any specific ideas how you are going to make an impact on the world using bioengineering? Or is your goal to make an impact on the world by applying rationality and science to political philosophy?

    What would that have to do with having an impact on the world?

    You can find much historical evidence that what goes on in the world politically has less to do with political philosophy than with culture and sociology. (Two interesting books that illustrate this are "Fire In The Lake" and "The Reckoning") So, in my opinion, if you intend have an impact on the world by developing or commenting on political philosophy, you need to arrange it so your ideas happen to coincide with some cultural and social conditions that make people eager to employ you ideas to justify their goals.

    It isn't clear what you mean by "my philosophy's applications". Are you talking about a personal philosophy? Or are you using "my philosophy" to mean the general study of political philosophy? And what would an "application" of your political philosophy be? One may "apply" a philosophy to explain why things happen in the world, or to criticize other political philosophies, or to advocate particular political actions etc. What type of application are you doing?

    There is a difference between "thinking rationally" and applying logic and science to a topic. Logic and science fail to provide answers to important political and social questions. Logic requires a set of definite assumptions and precise definitions in order to work. Science requires sufficient data. People who have a particular point of view can "apply" logic and science by arguing for particular assumptions and definitions, and collecting particular data to support their point of view. Is that the kind of activity that interests you?

    How will a good or bad GPA affect your plans? Do you intend to get an advanced degree in science or are you going to study political philosophy?

    If you aren't interested in specific topics in science then perhaps you can't focus on them.

    My impression is that you are only interested in science as a generality - i.e. that you expect to learn techniques of thinking and perhaps some empirical facts that can be used in thinking about political philosophy - and you expect some aspect of political philosophy to have an impact on the world.
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