ButWhatFor? Four for Friday | No. 044
Most Valuable Result, Short-Sightedness, 8,000 Poems, and Left a Pineapple
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ButWhatFor? Four for Friday
One Quote: Most Valuable Result
One Long: Short-Sightedness Was Rare
One Short: 8,000 Poems in One
One Extra: Students Left a Pineapple
Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.
— Thomas Huxley, in Technical Education (1877)
Thomas Huxley was a biologist and anthropologist in the 19th century who helped popularize Darwin’s early ideas of evolution. A serious scientist in his own right, he was the first to suggest that today’s birds evolved from dinosaurs.
He was also largely self-taught and an ardent advocate of both improved public education and the importance of an individual’s own self-education.
When reading through his writings on education, the above passage hit me like a brick. I had also recently gone through Tim Urban’s writings on why humans procrastinate. Both articles hurt because I can tie most of my significant mistakes back to inaction when action was the right path forward.
Thus, I needed to make some changes. Where I started was trying to change habits – and I am definitely still working on it – and I take a look at key strategies for making positive habit changes in my article “Habits Maketh the Man”
Short-Sightedness Was Rare
For decades, researchers had thought myopia was mostly genetic. It runs in families, and genomic studies have turned up several gene variants which increase the risk of developing the condition. There were early hints, though, that this could not be the whole story. A study of Inuit in Alaska, published in 1969, found that myopia was virtually unknown in those middle-aged or older, but that rates were above 50% in older children and young adults. Such a change is much too fast to be purely genetic, and it had happened just as the study participants had begun to adopt a more settled, Westernised way of life. But the results went against the dogma of the day, says Dr Morgan, and were ignored.
The spike in East Asia, which occurred as places there industrialised, was harder to dismiss. Short-sightedness is stereotypically an affliction of the bookish, and a procession of studies has confirmed a strong, reliable link with education. “The more educated you are, and the higher your grades, and the more you participate in after-school classes and tutorials—the more likely you are [to be myopic]”, says Dr Morgan. And an intriguing study on orthodox Jewish children in Israel, in the 1990s, confirmed the link with long school hours. It showed that boys—who receive intensive religious education in addition to the normal curriculum—were more myopic than their sisters, who do not.
I have terrible eyesight.
It started when I was about 8 - 10 years old - somewhere in there. And at that time, I had no idea that I had a problem. Not being able to see was just normal - I assumed everyone was the same.
Sure, I thought it was odd that there were seats so far back in the classroom - and I had to sit there sometimes. I got pretty good at taking notes based on what I heard as opposed to what I saw.
Or sports. We would go play catch with my dad or tennis with my friends and it was like - dang, I am terrible at these things. The moment you see the ball, it's too late. How the hell did people actually get in front of it fast enough to hit it back?
Sigh... and thus I read a lot of books... and here I am today...
Obviously, I soon found out that I just couldn't see. I got glasses and it probably took me about two years before I wasn't embarrassed to wear them.
What was interesting, though, was how at about the same time, it seemed like almost half of all my classmates couldn't see either... sure, I had it really bad at minus six diopters... but there were a lot of people at one or two or three that started to wear contacts or glasses.
The Economist says that it wasn't just something afflicting this small Midwestern town. Apparently, the trend of humans slowly going blind has been going on for some time - with no real great answer to explain why... though it sounds like scientists are stacking hands on the idea that not enough sunlight hitting your eyes during key development milestones as you grow up is leading to the issue.
It's an interesting article - take a look - minus the paywall here.
8,000 Poems in One
The Jin Dynasty was a short-lived empire in ancient China, briefly uniting a good portion of the lands that make up China today from 266 - 420 AD. Starting in 300 AD or so, however, war raged through the northern part of the country as eight princes fought for influence.
These civil wars created a divided Jin Dynasty with a large, strong southern state and a number of independent states in the north. Seeing weakness, a number of non-Han Chinese tribes rebelled against these divided northern states, which further fragmented the once united kingdom by 317 AD.
The Jin Dynasty was able to survive for another 100 years, but it never regained those northern lands. By 370 AD, the fragmented northern tribes eventually reorganized into what is known as the Former Qin.
It is here that we meet Su Hui, a poet who at age sixteen married a local governor. Unfortunately, he wasn't exactly Prince Charming and ran off with one of his concubines to live away from Su Hui for a few years after an argument between the two women.
Su Hui was in a state of grief and channeled that unhappiness into potentially the most complicated palindrome ever written - an 841-character poem that can be read in nearly 8,000 different ways - which she embroidered on fabric and sent to her estranged husband.
The most popular legend says that her husband felt terrible about his actions, left his new wife / concubine in the desert, and then lived happily ever after with Su Hui. Other stories say that a local government official forced Su Hui to hang herself after learning about the poem from her husband.
I prefer the first legend... but whatever happened - one thing that we do know is at least true - Su Hui was one badass poet.
Students Left a Pineapple at an Art Show
Back in 2017, two students in Aberdeen, Scotland, were at an art show meant to make people "take a second look at their surroundings." For some reason, they also had a pineapple with them. And there was an empty display table lacking any exhibit.
Thus, all the ingredients needed for magic to happen were in one place and the students didn't let the opportunity pass them by - they placed the pineapple down:
As should have been expected for such an impactful addition to an art exhibit, they came back four days later to find this:
That's right, the curators knew great art when they saw it and wanted to make sure such a masterpiece was well protected.
I love art - and I love modern art. I think some people get a little too lenient with that definition of "art" sometimes, though...
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Have a great weekend,
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But What For? Because anything can be interesting