Rembrance of notes past

Doodling focuses our attention on what we’re hearing and helps us remember it later. (Doodles by Laura Demanski, AMʼ94)

Rembrance of notes past

In dusty pages, pristine memories can live.

By happy coincidence, this issue contains reproductions from the course notebooks of two UChicagoans. Original Source (page 12) offers a page from Nobel Prize–winning astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s notes for a quantum mechanics class he took as a student at Cambridge University. And Lite of the Mind features notes that Benjamin Lorch, AB’93, AM’04, took in a class with the College’s legendary Herman Sinaiko, AB’47, PhD’61 (See “Doodlecore”).

Like many others who went to school for a very long time, I love notebooks. Throughout my 20-plus years as a student—from kindergarten to high school to college to graduate studies—there was no more welcome accompaniment to each new fall. They might be Mead or Clairefontaine; I wasn’t too particular, just craved those blank lines full of promise, all neatly spiral-bound, simultaneously tactile and symbolic.

Once acquired and brought to class, those notebooks offered the different pleasure of filling them up—dutifully with ideas, facts, dates, equations, and fancifully with doodles. In work meetings and during phone calls, I still fill my margins with elaborate geometric designs. To onlookers, I know, the practice can appear inattentive. In my experience it’s anything but, and experts, including philosopher of psychology Jesse Prinz, PhD’97, agree, saying that doodling focuses our attention on what we’re hearing and helps us remember it later.

That was the case for Lorch, who sketched Sinaiko during a lecture on Aristotle’s Poetics in October 1989. In a Q&A  Lorch talks about the class; clearly the lecture stuck with him, helped by doodling and affection.

Meanwhile, if the cover page of Chandrasekhar’s notes on quantum mechanics is any indication, he was all business during his classes. Yet the note he added almost two decades later, in the same careful, almost austere hand, betrays how his wife Lalitha had been on his mind as well.

Laptops may be more efficient, but long live handwritten notes with their madeleine-like powers to take us back in time, to knowledge and experience alike.

Copy that

Just before deadline, the Magazine welcomed Sam Edsill to the staff as copy editor. He takes over the copyediting, fact-checking, and proofreading duties of Rhonda L. Smith, who became managing editor earlier this year. Sam comes to UChicago from the American Hospital Association and the New York political news company City & State. At press time, we were already benefiting from his sharp eye, and are very happy to be working with him.