Dave Barry on College.

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Mon, 22 Jul 96 19:02:49 PDT

Many of you young persons out there are seriously thinking about
going to college. (That is, of course, a lie. The only things you
young persons think seriously about are loud music and sex. Trust
me: these are closely related to college.)

College is basically a bunch of rooms where you sit for roughly two
thousand hours and try to memorize things. The two thousand hours
are spread out over four years; you spend the rest of the time
sleeping and trying to get dates.

Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

* Things you will need to know in later life (two hours):

These include how to make collect telephone calls and get beer and
crepe-paper stains out of your pajamas.

* Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours):

These are the things you learn in classes whose names end in -ology,
-osophy, -istry, -ics, and so on. The idea is, you memorize these
things, then write them down in little exam books, then forget them.
If you fail to forget them, you become a professor and have to stay
in college for the rest of your life.

It's very difficult to forget everything. For example, when I was in
college, I had to memorize -- don't ask me why -- the names of three
metaphysical poets other than John Donne. I have managed to forget
one of them, but I still remember that the other two were named
Vaughan and Crashaw. Sometimes, when I'm trying to remember
something important like whether my wife told me to get tuna packed
in oil or tuna packed in water, Vaughan and Crashaw just pop up in my
mind, right there in the supermarket. It's a terrible waste of brain

After you've been in college for a year or so, you're supposed to
choose a major, which is the subject you intend to memorize and
forget the most things about. Here is a very important piece of
advice: Be sure to choose a major that does not involve Known Facts
and Right Answers.

This means you must *not* major in mathematics, physics, biology, or
chemistry, because these subjects involve actual facts. If, for
example, you major in mathematics, you're going to wander into class
one day and the professor will say: "Define the cosine integer of the
quadrant of a rhomboid binary axis, and extrapolate your result to
five significant vertices." If you don't come up with *exactly* the
answer the professor has in mind, you fail. The same is true of
chemistry: if you write in your exam book that carbon and hydrogen
combine to form oak, your professor will flunk you. He wants you to
come up with the same answer he and all the other chemists have
agreed on. Scientists are extremely snotty about this.

So you should major in subjects like English, philosophy, psychology,
and sociology -- subjects in which nobody really understands what
anybody else is talking about, and which involve virtually no actual
facts. I attended classes in all these subjects, so I'll give you a
quick overview of each:

ENGLISH: This involves writing papers about long books you have read
little snippets of just before class. Here is a tip on how to get
good grades on your English papers: Never say anything about a book
that anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose
you are studying Moby-Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say
that Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book
refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So
in *your* paper, *you* say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of
Ireland. Your professor, who is sick to death of reading papers and
never liked Moby-Dick anyway, will think you are enormously creative.
If you can regularly come up with lunatic interpretations of simple
stories, you should major in English.

PHILOSOPHY: Basically, this involves sitting in a room and deciding
there is no such thing as reality and then going to lunch. You should
major in philosophy if you plan to take a lot of drugs.

PSYCHOLOGY: This involves talking about rats and dreams.
Psychologists are *obsessed* with rats and dreams. I once spent an
entire semester training a rat to punch little buttons in a certain
sequence, then training my roommate to do the same thing. The rat
learned much faster. My roommate is now a doctor. If you like rats
or dreams, and above all, if you dream about rats, you should major
in psychology.

SOCIOLOGY: For sheer lack of intelligibility, sociology is far and
away the number one subject. I sat through hundreds of hours of
sociology courses, and read gobs of sociology writing, and I never
once heard or read a coherent statement. This is because
sociologists want to be considered scientists, so they spend most of
their time translating simple, obvious observations into
scientific-sounding code. If you plan to major in sociology, you'll
have to learn to do the same thing. For example, suppose you have
observed that children cry when they fall down. You should write:
"Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies
of prematurated isolates indicates that a causal relationship exists
between groundward tropism and lachrimatory, or 'crying,' behavior
forms." If you can keep this up for fifty or sixty pages, you will
get a large government grant.