Monday, January 21, 2013


My son announced, after one entire semester of college, that he’s a psych major. Specifically, he’s majoring in that narrow area of psychology that’s known in academic circles as “making your father look stupid.” (Me: “You know how everyone’s so afraid of terrorism since 9/11?” Him: “You mean the availability heuristic? Duh!”)

When I was in college, I majored in hard, important stuff. Physics. At least for the first semester. I wound up getting my degree in Theater Arts, but that’s a long story. (See below.)

It turns out, much to my surprise, that the theater majors had better parties than the physics majors. Sure the physics folks would get together in someone’s office and laugh their heads off about the Kaluza-Klein Theory or some equally hysterical conjecture. (Of course, this was before Witten discovered that chiral fermions defied quantum gravity theory. Who’s laughing now?)

Theater majors, on the other hand, would get naked and do stuff. At least, that’s what I heard. To a naive young college student, this held a certain appeal. I also heard that many of the men in theater were gay. To me, this just promised to reduce the competition and improve the odds.


In high school, I became genuinely interested in physics. I thought it would be cool to understand the whole universe and everything in it. It turned out, though, that before you got to learn the secrets of the universe, you had to push carts around on low-friction air tracks, and to understand some equations belonging to a guy named Maxwell.

Meanwhile, I also took some Computer Science classes. Computers were still a novelty, and seemed potentially fun. In high school, all of the computer buffs I knew (who were, naturally, the most popular kids in the school) wanted nothing more than to accomplish the grand goal of hackery: to crash the system. Now, of course, we would do anything to keep the computer from crashing, usually to no avail. Anyway, the Computer Science labs were more fun than the physics ones, so I switched majors.

All this time, I was also taking acting classes, and actually landed a part in one of the big productions. I was literally a spear carrier, but it was a start. (In high school, I had a lead in the musical, and reveled in my new found celebrity as fellow cast members carried me offstage and dropped me head first into the orchestra pit. I was given to understand it was an accident.)

So given this split focus between the “hard” sciences and theater, I looked for a field that would combine both. Yes, I too was a psych major briefly. Cognitive psychology actually also incorporated several other interests, including vision, particularly 3D vision, and linguistics. I may have been a Linguistics major for a while also. I don’t remember. Linguistics was actually a lot like Computer Science, but with the mouth as the output device.

I also briefly contemplated becoming a speech pathologist. This decision was based on two unassailable arguments: 1) speech is kind of like theater, and 2) speech pathologists get paid.

In the end, the choice between Physics and Theater Arts came down to a choice between the Nobel Prize and a Tony/Emmy/Oscar award. Which do you think has better after parties?

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