My philosophy of learning is killing me

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In summary, the conversation revolves around the struggle of wanting to delve deep into the understanding of scientific concepts but also needing to balance that desire with completing assigned coursework. The speakers share their personal experiences and offer advice on how to manage this internal conflict. They also mention the importance of accepting limitations and pursuing further study in advanced degrees.
  • #1
I've been thinking about a personal trait of mine for a long time now. I feel like I don't have anyone in my surroundings to talk to about this either, since it's both a personal problem and at the same time a scientific one.

I have been studying engineering for two years now and my results are overall far from satisfying. The thing is that I on occasions get excellent grades and compliments from the teachers. Other times I fail completely.

When I read about science I always feel like there is more to it which ends up in "the big search for true understanding". The stuff we have in school often seem utterly specialised and lacking a bigger picture. In maths for example, I cannot accept things given for truths without getting to prove and realize it myself. This is of course a nice thing, sometimes. Unfortunately there are just so many areas of mathematics and physics that no single person can fully understand even a fraction of it all. Still I always get a very bad feeling when I skip rigorous proofs as if I'm being an idiot just learning things by memory.

For example, during the calculus course I spent nearly half the time trying to grasp concepts of limits and continuity reading books about the philosophical implications of the two and how it all started with Newton and Leibniz. In the meantime my fellow students were doing integrals and finding limits like madmen. When the exam came I of course failed because even though I might have had a deeper understanding, I could not do it in practice.

To sum things up, this is haunting me, it's like a trap I want to be in and stay out of at the same time. I try to stick to the doings of the course I take but sometimes I get too tempted to dig deepe. And I always end up wasting weeks worth doing things that honsestly don't lead me anywhere nearer a deeper understanding. Anybody who recognises this feeling?
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  • #3
Jame, I totally understand your situation. I had a tendency to to that, too, when I was in college. It seems my desire for complete understanding wasn't as strong as yours. Most of the time I could force myself to override the desire to delve deeply into an idea, because I had limited time to get my homework done.

When I would find something interesting that I wanted to "chew on" for a while, I would make myself finish my homework. Once that was finished I would go a little deeper, as a reward to myself for finishing the assignment.
  • #4
rewebster said:
"Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems."
- Rene Descartes (1596-1650), "Discours de la Methode"

what a great collection of quotes! I have a poster of "do or do not. there is no try" in my room.
  • #5
lisab said:
When I would find something interesting that I wanted to "chew on" for a while, I would make myself finish my homework. Once that was finished I would go a little deeper, as a reward to myself for finishing the assignment.

That is pretty much what I would suggest. You kind of have to accept that there isn't any time to delve in depth into everything you learn in undergrad courses. Instead, you have to trust that someone else DID delve into depth to ensure that what you're being taught is correct. If you pursue an advanced degree, you WILL get to delve into depth in this material, at least some of it. If you don't pursue an advanced degree, you can always pursue what interests you in your free time.
  • #6
I was in that same trap myself too Jame. I have since learned that it takes years of study in order to really go into depth of any particular subject. And I mean years upon years.
  • #7
Thank you very much for your thoughtful responses! I guess I just have to accept the fact that I'm a mere mortal with a limited mind and lifetime. It's also nice to hear that I'm not the only one feeling like this, since my exam failures have a tendency to ruin my self esteem making me think that I'm nothing but stupid and strange.

Guess I'll start today with not getting into the world of spherical harmonics, coordinate transformations and that stuff, and just take what my QM book says for truth. At least not before I've solved the assigned problems. It's really hard to do though, like having a piece of candy right in front of you and not eat it until you've finished your meal.

(Great quotes from rewebster by the way!)

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