(Illustration by Douglas Burton Jones)
Intelligent decline
How a UChicago student (d)evolves into a being almost purely of thought.
How does a UChicago student’s brain evolve over the course of a quarter? The Magazine has blown through its neuroimaging budget early (again!), so in these pages at least, the answer will have to wait for another fiscal year. But there’s nothing to stop us from playing armchair anthropologist and documenting 11 fascinating weeks of outward change. First week, subject is a highly social creature, offering greeting displays (“smiling”), participating in tribal celebrations, and maintaining a kempt appearance during initial batteries of three-page papers and problem sets. This “casual friday” period begins to blend into a “weekend yard work” appearance around third week as socializing diminishes. Subject proposes the 7 p.m. Friday show at Doc—to squeeze in a few more hours of studying afterward—and is rarely seen without primitive learning tools (“books”). By fifth week the first physical changes are apparent: stride shortens (most likely because locomotion only necessary for short distances between midterms, discussion sections, and the library) and use of hands now limited to tasks that aid learning and cognition. Posture changes noticeably around eighth week to accommodate weight of interlibrary loan books; subject squints in daylight as eyes have adapted to long hours in A-level stacks. Coming out of reading period, subject has become a being almost purely of thought. All possible learning and knowledge has been transferred from backpack, books, and Internet to newly enlarged cranium, the weight of which now pulls upper body down. The quarter ends before the final descent into loincloth and Becker-Posner slippers. As repeated observations have evidenced, most of these adaptations prove to be transitory. A trip to the laundry (or incinerator and mall) refreshes the wardrobe, a week of partial hibernation straightens the posture, and consuming multiple seasons of Breaking Bad and any show with the words “America’s,” “Top,” or “Duck” in its title can reduce head swelling.