From NPR: Put Your Laptops Away

Jame Doubek at NPR aptly begins the title of his article with ‘Attention, Students,’ since that is what his subject primarily concerns. Why are some students more easily able to recall lecture material than others? It is tempting to think this might have something to do with anal-retention; that students who fastidiously take notes like scribes for the lecturer are also the ones who retain the most. Of course, our modern day scribes are on laptops. Turns out, the intuition does not give the most bang for ones tuition. Doubek cites two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, whose findings we should bear in mind to avoid becoming MacBook Airheads:

Laptops are common in lecture halls worldwide. Students hear a lecture at the Johann Wolfang Goethe-University on Oct. 13, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Laptops are common in lecture halls worldwide. Students hear a lecture at the Johann Wolfang Goethe-University on Oct. 13, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

For their first study, they took university students (the standard guinea pig of psychology) and showed them TED talks about various topics. Afterward, they found that the students who used laptops typed significantly more words than those who took notes by hand. When testing how well the students remembered information, the researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well. But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”

The same thing happened in the second study, even when they specifically told students using laptops to try to avoid writing things down verbatim. “Even when we told people they shouldn’t be taking these verbatim notes, they were not able to overcome that instinct,” Mueller says. The more words the students copied verbatim, the worse they performed on recall tests.

Even when laptop users were asked to selectively process and record information, the participants writing in longhand were still able to perform better. Which is the stronger, the pen, or the Word? For certain purposes, clearly, it is the pen.

Read his full post at npr

For all those reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets!

Today at the office, prof. Sassan Tabatabai handed students this sonnet by Billy Collins. We encourage you to read it!


From History: 6 Reasons the Dark Ages weren’t so Dark

It is wrongly supposed that the Dark Ages were a period of stunted growth for the arts and sciences, until civilization received another growth spurt starting the Renaissance, and came fully within the limelight during the Enlightenment. That some of our candidates’ candidly brusque remarks are often derogated as medieval is evidence that we may be holding a view about history not much less medieval. Parochial might serve better (since it was the church parishes who dominated at the time). In the west, history has not been so keen to recognize the virtues and advances made by Islamic civilization, as it has the rather slow progress (in some aspects) of Europe. Yet this still misses a larger point, which Sarah Pruitt at History valuably illuminates. Reason number one:

The idea of the Dark Ages came from later scholars who were heavily biased toward ancient Rome.


In the years following 476 A.D., various Germanic peoples conquered the former Roman Empire in the West (including Europe and North Africa), shoving aside ancient Roman traditions in favor of their own. The negative view of the so-called Dark Ages became popular largely because most of the written records of the time (including St. Jerome and St. Patrick in the fifth century, Gregory of Tours in the sixth and Bede in the eighth) had a strong Rome-centric bias.

While its true that such innovations as Roman concrete were lost, and the literacy rate was not as high in the Early Middle Ages as in ancient Rome, the idea of the so-called Dark Ages came from Renaissance scholars like Petrarch, who viewed ancient Greece and Rome as the pinnacle of human achievement. Accordingly, they dismissed the era that followed as a dark and chaotic time in which no great leaders emerged, no scientific accomplishments were made and no great art was produced.

In fact, as Pruitt mentions, the Dark Ages was a phrase coined by one of its greatest troubadours, Petrach. It was he and the other philhellenes at the time that held the limelight away from the achievements that we now regard as no less marvelous than those of antiquity. Just because human beings tend to have mid-life crises does not mean that civilizations must also, and Pruitt provides us with five more reasons for believing so.

Read her full post History

Weekly Round-Up, Halloweekend Edition, 10-28-16

Welcome to the second installment of the Core Weekly Round-Up!

  • There’s a reason for Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize for Literature; the singer-songwriter and poet has “surpassed Whitman as the American Poet,” according to Bloomberg View writer Cass R. Sunstein. They’ve both certainly caused a bit of controversy.
  • The William Blake Gallery in San Francisco, the world’s largest gallery devoted to Blake, opened Friday, October 14. It explores the poet’s distinctive and perhaps unsettling artistic style and includes his Illustrations to Dante’s Inferno and Songs of Innocence: “Holy Thursday.”

The Minotaur from Dante's Inferno, Canto XII,1228

Blake’s depiction of The Minotaur from Dante’s Inferno, Canto XII,1228

  • The Dante Festival takes place this Saturday, October 29, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The program will feature crafts, music and dancing, readings, talks, and more. Free with museum admission.
  • Speaking of Dante, President Obama referenced the famous Italian poet in his toast at the Italian State Dinner: “Some days our presidential campaign can seem like Dante’s Inferno.”

President Obama raises his glass at the state dinner for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

President Obama raises his glass at the state dinner for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

  • Dressing up as your favorite heroine from Greek tragedy, or just looking to impress Prof. Samons? Janet Stephens, historical hairdresser, has devoted her Youtube channel to Greek, Roman, and medieval hair-styling tutorials. Triremes not included.

And that’s a wrap! See you next week, and have a spooky Halloweekend. (Psst–don’t forget that the annual Pumpkin Carving Party takes place this afternoon, October 28, from 3pm to 5pm at the Core House (141 Carlton St.). We hope to see you there!)

From The Guardian: The Dream of Enlightenment

It’s too easily supposed, after having heard their names used so often in sources not their own, that the enlightenment thinkers, and philosophers generally, have bequeathed to us all they have to say. That philosophy is a done deal, whose original enterprise is now more seriously undertaken by the natural sciences, or theology- kidding about last, and the first, actually. Or at least this is what Anthony Gottlieb (Got Liebniz?) would like to persuade us of inThe Dream of Enlightenment,reviewed by Jonathan Re at The Guardian:

He is on a mission to show that the great dead philosophers have been misunderstood and that they deserve to be taken seriously. It is because they still have something to say to us, he says, that we can easily get these philosophers wrong. In 2000 he publishedThe Dream of Reason, a brilliant retelling of the story of ancient Greek philosophy which brought out the lasting relevance of Plato’s idea that truth, happiness and virtue are inseparable, while vindicating Aristotle as a serious thinker about nature, art and society.The Dream of Reason is now joined by this much-anticipated sequel, which picks up the story with Descartes and carries it forward to the beginnings of the French Revolution.

"David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher, has become the role-model of choice for philosophers in the 21st century." Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Image for The Guardian.

“David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher, has become the role-model of choice for philosophers in the 21st century.” Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Image for The Guardian.

If rationality was the theme of the earlier volume, the present one focuses on novelty: in the 17th century, as Gottlieb puts it with characteristic panache, philosophy started to be dominated by the new idea that all old ideas are suspect. Descartes is famous for trying to make a fresh start with his slogan I think therefore I am, but no one is sure what he meant, and according to Gottlieb he has been widely misunderstood. Gottlieb takes issue with Prince Charles and Pope John Paul II, among others, for presenting Descartes as a subjectivist, who got modernity off to a bad start by trying to make the I the foundation of everything.

In other words, philosophy has progressed since Narcissus made I the foundation of everything. Nietzsche of course stared into an abyss and discovered a monster (Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, apothegm 146), circumventing that problem, but incurring others. We think too crudely about Descartes. He was not an ascetic rationalist. Plato’s beautifully imagined figure of the mortal soul in Phaedrus, in which a charioteer, driving his winged horses through the whole heavens, did not arrive at the seventeenth century as some rickety cart from which a Descartes would peddle his philosophy. To do so, Gottlieb argues, would be naively accepting what others are peddling, some of them sophists. Socrates is certainly the more relevant for that.

Read his full post at The Guardian

From History: 10 Literary Classics That Have Been Banned

It seems like a rite of passage for any book aspiring to achieve classic status that it must endurea period of resistance fromthe culture in which it first appears, and from which it is conceived. Midwifing is the author’s own genius, which itself resists a clean conception and, finding flaws, exposing the eccentricities of the present, is detested for doing so. Ironically, it turns out that being on the wrong side of cultureoften means that many of the classics have turned up on the right side of history, by not becoming it. Christopher Klein at History has made his own contribution in reminding us of the classics that were banned at one point. One examples comes from James Joyce. The publication of his story,Ulysess, has a history that itself is worthy of being called an Odyssey:

(FILES) This file picture taken 15 May 2

An early edition of Ulysses. (Credit: FRAN CAFFREY/AFP/Getty Images). Image for History.

James Joyces radical, stream-of-consciousness story of Leopold Blooms daylong journey across Dublin stoked a fiery reactionliterallyon both sides of the Atlantic Ocean after its 1922 publication. According to author Kevin Birminghams The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyces Ulysses, government authorities in the United States and England not only banned what is now considered a modernist masterpiece, they also confiscated and burned more than 1,000 copies. Until a federal judge ruled in 1933 that Ulysses was not obscene, Americans were forced to track down smuggled copies of Joyces novel in order to read it.

Mark Twain also made the cut, who said history does not repeat itself but rhymes. Well, there is certainly a truth in that. First,Canterbury, then Huckleberry. And ‘rhymes’ itself contains ‘Rye’, whose catcher is also on the list. But does ‘Rye’ rhyme with ‘Grey’–if so, there is still hope, unless culture makes a comeback, and history remains in the dustbin, in final rhymewithFinn.

Read his full post atHistory

Friday Weekly Round-Up, 10-21-16

Presenting the inaugural weekly round-up of links! In this newest addition to the Core blog, we gather the latest in Core-related news, events, and insights from around the Internet.

  • Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016. Prof. Christopher Ricks, Dylan expert as well as Core professor, must be thrilled.
  • Satan in a jumpsuit: Winsome Brown’s performance “Hit the Body Alarm” combines Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” with two original monologues.

Image by Theo Cote for the New York Times

Image by Theo Cote for the New York Times


  • Norm MacDonald, comedian, ex-SNL cast member, and now author of memoir entitled “Based on a True Story,” professes his love of Chekhov. “I like the endings where nothing happens.” Don’t we all?
  • Sady Doyle cites Mary Wollstonecraft as a woman “we love to hate, mock, and fear” in her book Trainwreck.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie/National Portrait Gallery, London, via DeAgostini/Getty Images (detail)

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie/National Portrait Gallery, London, via DeAgostini/Getty Images (detail)


  • The First Horizons of Juno, an art show at MASS Gallery in Austin, TX, closes October 22. Juno references not the Roman goddess of Aeneid fame, but a subject that may interest our Natural Science students–NASA’s Juno Mission. The exhibition explores a future in which a alien people explore “their beginnings … clues to their origin and … things made by their ancestors.” Time for a road trip?
  • Closer to home, the MFA’s exhibition Ruined: When Cities Fall ends this Sunday, October 23. Focusing on “scenes of ruin and devastation,” 40 images of the fallen cities of Rome, Palmyra, and even Boston after the great fire are on view.

Francis Frith, The Ramesseum of El-Kurneh, ThebesFirst View (Fallen Colossus of Rameses), 1857. Photograph, albumen print. Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund.

Francis Frith, The Ramesseum of El-Kurneh, ThebesFirst View (Fallen Colossus of Rameses), 1857. Photograph, albumen print. Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund.


That’s it for our first installment of the Core Weekly Round-Up! Email us interesting Core-related articles, news, or other odds-and-ends at

From the Times Literary Supplement: Dylan’s voice, music, and words

A visionary trinity. ProfesSir Christopher Ricks is one of the most energetic octogenarians we have on the literary scene. Age has clearly not impaired his hearing, which has been and remains so keenly attune to the sounds and subtleties of (among others) Milton and Tennyson, that it has served as an aid for our own. Dylan’s Visions of Sin, one of his more recent hearing aids, has helped the tone deaf to attend not only to Dylan’s allusions, but also to the music in the words that themselves play as Dylan plays and pays tribute to his tambourine men. In turn, the poet has himself earned tribute, recently being awarded the nobel prize for literature. Was this supposed to be among those sins that expositor had argued the poet as envisioning?:”Literature? But he’s a folk-singer!”

Some reminders, since one of Dylan’s powers is that of a great reminder.

First, that every artist, insofar as he or she is great as well as original, has had the task of creating the taste by which

Niels Meilvang/EPA, Image for The Times Literary Supplement

Niels Meilvang/EPA, Image for The Times Literary Supplement

the art is to be enjoyed (Wordsworth’s conviction). Second, that the art of song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more important: the voice, or the music, or the words? (Which is more important in water, the oxygen or the hydrogen?) And that therefore there is a danger, even while we are very grateful this time to the Nobel Committee, if we simply allocate Dylan’s art of song to literature or Literature, of our privileging the words, as though song were not a triangle and often an equilateral triangle.

(In water, I would much prefer oxygen to hydrogen.) We must not so obtusely consider Dylan’s art by neglecting the triangle, often equilateral–acute observation. Not triangulating between those dumb of Dylan’s literary virtues (in his visions of sin) and others in praise of them, but between those in the latter group, minding us that Dylan’s genius comes in his being able to so valuably combine three mediums into a high art that reaches us all.

When Dylan sings condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting, he compounds it all, with voice and music joining with words within a different drift and drive. And his drive?

Why are you doing what you’re doing?
[Pause] Because I don’t know anything else to do. Im good at it.
How would you describe it?
Im an artist. I try to create art.

More than try. The Nobel citation speaks of Dylan as having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. More, even, than that.

It is the same reason why Auden hailed Professor Ricks as the “critic every poet dreams of finding,” that critics like Samuel Johnson and Christopher Ricks are so good at reminding. More, even, than that.

Read his full post at The Times Literary Supplement

Autumn in Full Color

Fall colors outside the Castle, October 2016.  Photo by Kassandra Round.

A fall scene outside the Castle, October 2016. Photo by Kassandra Round.

At The End, A Beginning: A playlist to accompany the books of Genesis and Exodus

In case you need any help resonating with the gravitas of these texts…..

1. Bob Marley’s “Exodus”

Marley’s lyrics like “We’re the generation…trod through great tribulation” in this classic reggae hit lend millennial readers of the Hebrew Bible some additional encouragement in a time of much political upheaval in the United States.


2. Berliner Philharmoniker-Go Down, Moses-arr. Tippet


One of the world’s most famous classical performance groups perfectly capture the pain and rapture of Moses’ trials throughout the book of Exodus and of the spirit in which the hymn was originally conceived, as an American spiritual that originated as a hymn sung amongst slaves in the American south, both before and after the abolition of slavery.


3. Soundtrack Suite to the Ten Commandments

The acclaimed score to the classic 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film interpretation of the Book of Exodus.


4. Leonard Cohen- You Want It Darker

The hit Canadian singer released this track on his 2016 album by the same title, grappling with religion, age, sex, and “one’s demons”…


5. De La Soul- Exodus

Off of the acclaimed hip-hop group’s 2016 album “And the Anonymous Nobody….”, this track makes the playlist with its lyrical rhymes and the aching sentiment that “It’s the years that we own and we’ve earned them/ see the bridges we built now are burned down…”.


6. Jeff Buckley- Hallelujah

Jeff Buckley’s heart-wrenching 1994 ballad is a play not on the force and gravitas of the books of Genesis and Exodus, but on the hidden vulnerabilities and raw pain that can be accessed through religious comparison.



7. Matisyahu- Jerusalem (Out Of Darkness Comes Light)

Mathew Paul Miller, better known by his Hebrew and stage name, Matisyahu (meaning gift from God), is a Jewish-American hip-hop artist, best known for blending themes from his Orthodox Reconstructionist Jewish background with reggae and hip-hop music.

  1. Hazel O’Connor-Eighth Day

Off the punk icon’s 1980 record entitled “Breaking Glass”, Hazel O’Connor offers a decidedly more punk interpretation of the Creation, in what she calls “an alternative Book of Genesis”.

  1. Bob Dylan- Every Grain of Sand

This quiet ballad by Dylan came in 1981, just after he was born again into Christianity, and references the Book of Genesis. Music critic Tim Riley of National Public Radio calls it “aprayer that inhabits the same intuitive zone as “Blowin’ in the Wind” – you’d swear it was a hymn passed down through the ages.”