Back when I was in graduate school, upon writing my thesis, I became stuck on a section of statistical analyses that I couldn’t get past.
I knew that I needed to have this particular function to appropriately analyze my results but I just didn’t understand how it worked.
It killed me.
I tried different types of analyses to perform the function I needed.
I made my major advisor crazy.
I made myself crazy.
My Thesis Committee waited.
Finally, one day, my major advisor had enough and assigned me to work with a doctoral candidate with a subspecialty in statistical analysis for the health sciences.
Finally a breakthrough was near.
I met Captain StatMan on campus in the bowels of the computer lab to go over my area of concern/complete block. He read my thesis, reviewed the format of my data and quickly ascertained that I indeed needed to use the dreaded function that I didn’t understand.
I explained to him this was all well and good but I needed to understand the function, not just use it.
He asked, or rather stated, “Why.”
I tried to counter that to be true to my thesis, I needed to understand every last piece of it to believe in it and defend it to my committee.
He stated, “Why.”
I rambled on about intellectual integrity, life long learning and something about all the dead crickets in the computer lab basement floor (they were very crunchy when stepped upon and the sheer volume of squished dead crickets made the floors slick but that’s another story for another day) and the tragedy of all the dead crickets.
He remained nonplussed with my reply and queried back, “How did you get here today?” I was fairly certain he was trying to see how quickly he could extricate himself from the crazy girl trying to finish The Thesis Fated Never to Be Completed so I quickly shot back “My car, why.”
“How does the carburetor work on your car?”
Now, he should have known not to ask a girl from South Hurst how a carburetor works (yes, this was before fuel injectors) as I explained in painful detail everything except the Bernoulli Principle and fluid dynamics.
He realized he was going to have to try harder.
“Okaaay…does the carburetor work without you knowing HOW it works?”
“Well, duh of course it does what’s the point anyway, I can see you need to get home and thanks for your help and, oh…I see.”
“I still have to know how the function works to incorporate it into my thesis.”
At this point he said, “Let me show you.” He chicken pecked in my representative data, wrote the code and voilà, after the clatter- whirr- whine- pause- line feed-swish of the dot matrix printer, the results were there in grey, sorta recognizable numbers.
“Too easy.” I said, “It works but I don’t understand how.”
“Not important-just make it work for your thesis and know that it does.”
Long story short, I gave up on my quest shortly thereafter for understanding the “how” of the analysis and trusted that it would indeed work.
Amazingly it did and my Thesis Committee had no interest in the intricacies of the statistical analyses. I graduated and lived happily ever after, or at least, finished my thesis.
Knowing the "how" is great, unless we lose the bigger picture of why we want to know in the first place. It's a lesson I keep re-learning...
Song of the Hive:
Artist: Beth Hart