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Is this adult life?

At Aaron Swartz's memorial service, the Kenyon College commencement speech This Is Water was read, because DFW was one of Aaron's favorite thinkers. When I shared This Is Water at that time online with a high school student who sounded very much like the default DFW described in his speech, describing herself as unique at school among a sea of mindless drones, an older woman was aghast that I would share this work. Her position was that young people should not hear such a message, as they should consider themselves above and better than all those (presumably) average people around them.

Should young people hear a message like DFW's, or does it discourage them from believing they can do better than this?


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    May 19 2013: I think the message like that of DFW, the true essence of it (the video and the speech) is what the young ones should hear more than the idea that they are too young to handle the essence of it.
    When I graduated as an engineer, I had to take what is called a grand viva voce. I was jubilant, confident, eager young man rearing to go and here was five of the famed professors who would grind me for an hour asking questions, doubting my answers, often frowning upon my enthusiasm. I was appalled by the very process of it. Why would they do that to me?
    It's only much later I knew why. They wanted to tell me from within the system that what I learnt at the classes was nothing compared to what had been intended to. Real learning happens in life outside of colleges.
    Just like DFW said : Just simple awareness will do.
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      May 19 2013: In the US the "grand viva voce" is called "orals." It is a standard requirement for the PhD in almost any field. I think of it more as a demonstration of the depth and rigor of questioning of assumptions and ideas that the candidate should expect in professional exchanges in scholarly life.
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        May 19 2013: It is a standard practice here for almost any professional degree. I remember with fondness that there were many with more damaged ego than I had :) One guy when asked about the ingredients of concrete mentioned everything but forgot water ! Funniest thing of it all is that we were given the chance of choosing our subjects of strength (So Mr. Mukhopadhyay what is your area of strength?) and get grounded in the process. I chose advanced surveying and theory of structure and almost repented :)
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          May 19 2013: Here you typically choose your fields also and submit a reading list, but it is understood that your panel is not confined to the readings you put forward and that you need to be ready to answer speculative questions to show you know how to think at the boundaries of your fields.
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        May 19 2013: Oh the professors are same everywhere I guess ! Because something like what you describe happen during the 'interrogation' (a student's term for the viva voce). If one chooses theory of structure, one may not be asked about equilibrium of a space frame in a given force field, but say how collar bones and a part of spine of a human body act to hold the weight of the head.
        Nice to know that the basic thinking process is examined everywhere not merely the theories.
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      May 24 2013: Yes. It's like a Thesis paper: When you turn it in, it comes back with a lot of red and notes about drop this change this, move this, etc.

      So you follow the notes advice.

      You turn it in again. It comes back, red ink everywhere, notes, etc telling you the same thing as before..

      So you follow the notes advice.

      You turn it in again. It is accepted.

      You feel pretty good till you read the paper and discover it is very similar to the first paper you turned in.


      It is not enough to think. One must be able to jump through the hoops.

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