Jeremy Côté


Taking Out The Pencil

I’ve already mentioned this before, but there are more and more high-quality shows and sites on science and mathematics out there. Whether it’s popular science like what you’d find on Nautilus, or mathematics channels like 3Blue1Brown, there’s a lot of potential to learn science and mathematics in a way that is both informative and beautiful.

(I say beautiful because I am a person who absolutely detests reading text or watching video with low production value. That’s why I try to make my site as pleasing as possible to read, and is also why I tend to read most of my feeds on my chosen RSS app. I like looking at content in a pleasing way.)

With that being said, I’ve noticed a disappointing trend in the way I read and watch new content in science and mathematics. Instead of taking out a piece of paper when some kind of equation or relationship is being explored, I’ll tend to take what the person is explaining at face value and continue watching. I do this primarily because it’s much easier to just listen and not work through the conclusions myself. In essence, I tend to be lazy.

However, I’m not completely blind to this. I know that it’s not the best way to learn new topics. In my experience, the best way to retain new information I learn is to actually work with it. It’s not enough to passively absorb it. The real learning occurs when you work out the relationships for yourself on a piece of paper, sometimes struggling to get the answer, but learning all the while.

Science can be great to consume as just a qualitative affair. That’s what you’ll get from reading popular books on science. Usually, a bit of history is mixed in with the author waxing poetic about science. These stories are usually some of my favourite, but they can also be misleading, because they only show you the surface of the science. Therefore, one might mistakenly think they understand a particular bit of science, when really they only understand the outcome or result, as opposed to how it actually works.

I want to try and push back on that a bit. Now, I do my best to not be a passive consumer of science, but someone who is engaged as the author goes about explaining. When I watch a video on mathematics and I see that it is moving too fast for me, I stop the video and work out what I’m missing. I don’t simply move on and tell myself that I’ll figure it out. I’m sure I could do that and be able to follow much of the rest of the video, but the consequence is that I’m not actually working with the idea.

Next time I encounter something I’m not entirely comfortable with, I’m pausing and actually attempting to work it out, because I know that this is how I’ll learn.