Profound things my professors said this week

April 10, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

With the start of a brand new quarter came brand new classes, and thus, brand new professors. During Week 1, with the sun shining and the “spring quarter mood” at full intensity, I was once again reminded of how blessed I am to be here at Stanford. And one of the greatest aspects of being at an institution like Stanford is the opportunity to learn under world-class professors. So, without further ado, here are some of the many thoughtful things each of my professors said this week.

“The fact that I can pull a computer out of my pocket and ask how far it is between two cities anywhere in the world is amazing.” — Chris Gregg, professor of computer science

This quote served as a reminder that we often take technology for granted nowadays. As a demonstration of what computer science is capable of, Professor Gregg took his iPhone out of his pocket and asked Siri the distance between two cities, to which Siri responded almost immediately with the correct answer. With the abundance of advanced technology in the world today, this is nothing special at first glance. I mean, I can ask a device named “Alexa” to turn on the lamps in my dorm room, and there are self-driving cars all over Mountain View.

However, taking computer science classes has allowed me to appreciate technology even more. The amount of thought and effort that must have gone into programming technology as complicated as Siri is unbelievable and incredibly admirable. Professor Gregg highlighted the impressive nature of things that we take for granted, as well as encouraged us, saying that learning computer science can be used to make such impressive things into reality.

“People are natural causality detectors.” — Jamil Zaki, professor of psychology

In PSYCH 1, we have been learning about the scientific method and how to analyze data to draw conclusions. One of the main points we have learned is the well-known idea that “correlation does not equal causation.” For example, the number of shark attacks that occur and the amount of ice cream people consume have a positive correlation. However, that does not mean that shark attacks cause people to eat ice cream, nor does it mean people eating ice cream causes shark attacks. The correlation can be accounted for by the fact that both occur more often during the summer time.

A psychologist’s job, therefore, is not finished once a correlation has been discovered. They must draw conclusions from it, often to try to answer the question “Why?” This got me thinking. One of the most common things a toddler says is “Why?” At Stanford, students are encouraged to nurture their intellectual vitality, which often consists of trying to answer the big question of “Why?” in various aspects of life. However, Professor Zaki’s quote made me realize that this desire to find the cause — the answer to the question “Why?” — is not simply a trait that people with a certain curiosity, a certain intellectual vitality possess. It is inherent in all people. In fact, it is part of what makes us human.

“In modernism, the real truth is in the moment.” — Alice Staveley, professor of English

Modernists revolutionized writing in the twentieth century. This week in class, I learned that one of these modernist writers, Virginia Woolf, criticized “materialistic writing” for being structured — for having a set beginning, middle and end. Modernist writing, instead, aims to portray real life, the truth, by getting rid of all conventions or rules of writing that “sells.” It does not necessarily have the stereotypical plot, per say — the girl doesn’t always get the guy, and the hero doesn’t always save the day. Professor Staveley highlighted the emphasis of the moment in modernist writing. She exemplified how in modernism, each moment is magnified and explored thoroughly before moving on to the next thought, the next sentence.

This, I think, is an idea that I can apply to my day to day life, not only to my analysis of modernist works. Just as the modernist works ponder and take time on a single moment, I hope to ponder and take time on single moments of my days here at Stanford, while everything tends to be hurried and aimed at getting onto the next “plot point” of our lives. I believe that some of my best memories, some of the greatest truths, will be discovered in such precious moments.


Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’

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