The Key to Having a Worthwhile Existence

11 06 2009

Time seems to go fast, especially as you get older. Just before my fifth birthday,  I remember reflecting (do four-year-olds reflect?) on how long the past year had been. After celebrating my birthday a few weeks ago, I reflected again – except this time, it seems that the previous year sprinted by.

What was the difference between those years? Memorability. When you are four years old, almost everything you do is vivid, new, and exciting. One day would have more unique memories than a week, or even a month, for me now. Looking back now, I don’t feel very satisfied or fulfilled about the past semester; it seems much shorter than the one before it. When compared to freshman year at school, this year seems to be a fraction of the time – because it had fewer memorable experiences.

This implies that the more memorable experiences you have, the more satisfying and fulfilling your life seems – because as you think back, there appears to be more that happened. It’s all about our perception. If every day for you consists of drinking a cup of coffee, going to work, coming home, watching TV, and going to sleep, you probably won’t perceive the past year as being long or fulfilling. On your deathbed (if you have the luxury of slowly dying in a bed) your life will feel, well, empty.

This leads some people to conclude that life is about emotions, and they become emotional monsters that ride a constant rollercoaster that ultimately wrecks – they contribute nothing. Other people conclude that life is about experiences, and they do as much as they can – only to find that having one experience after another leaves one burnt out, and ultimately empty. Studying for test after test gave me many experiences this semester, but not at all fulfilling ones.

So how does one have a life that feels long and fulfilling? Have memorable experiences. Routine boosts productivity, but it is a trade-off with memories. You want both of these, so it takes some balance.

This brings us right back to where we started. Today I was listening to an accelerated learning audiobook, and the author described how when emotions are combined with an experience, it becomes much more memorable. When we are young, we have intense emotional experiences associated with everything – from our first time in a grocery store, to playing on the pavement in the middle of the road. If we can mix emotions with our day-to-day activities now, when we look back, we’ll feel that we have had a great deal of time in which we’ve done a great deal of interesting things – and feel satisfied.

You may have heard people talk about how doing something new with your romantic partner can spice up a stale relationship. The same goes for your life – go try something new, or something that is interesting to you, or anything that gives you memorable experiences. It’ll stick out in your mind later, and you’ll feel like you’ve lived a much longer, much happier life.


1 06 2009
Synaesthesia - My Visuals

Synaesthesia - My Visuals

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve seen most things in colors. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered almost nobody else shared the same experiences with me. My sister does; we’ve had a few interesting discussions on what we see and how they differ – for whatever reason, I feel almost nauseous when I try to picture what she describes. It’s just… wrong!

This condition is called “synaesthesia”, or “synesthesia”; you can read more about it here if you like. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized it extended beyond colors: I have distinct waveforms in my mind when I listen to music, almost like a visualizer. Years are a heavily spacial concept (for example, 1980 is much farther away than 1990, or 2015, in my mind) that appear in almost a calendar format, except with years instead of days.

The picture I posted at the beginning of this blog is a quick approximation of what I see; not all the hues are just right, but the urge to scrub my brain with sleep is too much to resist right now. Words generally take the color of the first letter – although if I picture a word for more than a moment, the individual letter colors appear like a pattern. I’ve always been good at spelling – this might be why. Two digit numbers are two distinct colors usually, but higher digit numbers take saturated overtones of the first numeral, and progressively desaturate in their respective colors as I follow the numerals to the right. For example, 342 is mostly green, but if I picture it for more than a second, it becomes green -> pinkish/skin tone, and then green -> desaturated pinkish/skin tone -> desaturated blue. Make sense? Didn’t think so.

I’m interested to read more about this and see what else I experience that isn’t normal. Leave a comment if you experience this too!

Educated and Obsolete

7 05 2009

Our current education system is a waste.

I’m not just talking about the concept of highschool in America – four years of mostly wasted knowledge – or the fact that most people’s careers have little to do with their college majors.

In our world of databases and Google, we can access almost any information we need in a matter of seconds; as of March 2007 there were over 25.21 billion web pages. So why are students all across America right now cramming information in their heads that will probably be forgotten within hours after the test, when they could retrieve it with a few keystrokes as soon was it was applicable?

Granted, for some majors, concepts need to be present in the conscious mind. A graphic design major needs to know about grids while they are designing, and a history major shouldn’t have to refer to Google to tell you who Caesar was.

However, educators need to become aware of the fact that in the past two decades – even the past five years – our access to information has drastically increased, and most of our coursework is obsolete. Most things technology majors learn in the first two years of school are obsolete by the third year. If you argue that the obscene amounts of effort put into remembering these details sharpens the mind, I’d beg you to consider whether this is the most efficient way to strengthen our brains.

What we need is a general movement by professors in relevant (most) fields of study to teach how to retrieve information efficiently, and to teach the principles behind the field of study – rather than the thousands of intricate details that almost certainly won’t be recalled when needed. In the past, rote memorization may have been necessary. Now, it’s culturally irrelevant. It’s efficiency: don’t waste precious years of a student’s life on things that aren’t productive.