All these dense distraction/so beautifully complex
February 11, 2012 2:37 PM   Subscribe

What micro-subject should I tackle next?

As a former history grad student who does not use his degree, I have, for the last few years, found myself drawn into a random subject and going about learning as much as I can about it, like I would in school. So far I have taken on evolution, New Testament textual criticism, Mormonism, the Beatles, the "history of the book" in America, and the mapping of the human genome. I am looking for a new challenge.

Here are some things I am interested in, but am definitely open to new suggestions, hoping something will strike my fancy:
Most any philosophical subject, science stuff (I favor topics in biology), what I call "social movers" i.e., things that throughout history have caused geographical shifts of populations - hence my infatuation with early Mormonism and early Christianity, maybe something Technical as Randall Munroe suggested here and I really dig Cartography.

Here are some things that I have tried to get interested in and failed: Architecture, Music Theory, a few different attempts at various aspects of finance/economics, American Politics.

Thanks a ton for any suggestions.
posted by holdkris99 to Education (15 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say the history of Canada might be interesting? (I certainly found it to be so) - especially viewed in comparison to the history of the US: similar initial influences but different outcomes in so many ways.

I really got into the core idea of Pollan's The Botany of Desire that plants adapt to what humans want in order to perpetuate themselves - plants using humans instead of the other way around! - but never followed up on that much further; it was a fascinating angle to contemplate though.
posted by flex at 2:51 PM on February 11, 2012

How about cocktail making, the history and reasons behind the popularity of various base spirits and mixing styles is pretty interesting. As an example the emergence of the railroad in the US led to a sudden availability of fresh oranges and orange juice from Florida, and so screwdrivers and similar citrus based cocktails took off.
You could learn about local spirits and why they arose in those places.

You can even get into a lot of detail about the chemistry of drinks, why some things go well with others. Biology, like the history of the Laraha bitter orange (From which we get triple sec and other Curacao liqueurs) as a location specific mutation.
I'm quite interested in the notion of finding great complexity in something seemingly so simple.
I also love the idea of micro-subjects.

(Any spelling or grammar errorsI blame squarely on the Saffron Gin Gibson I have just finished btw)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:54 PM on February 11, 2012

Something in neuroscience -- you can start with Oliver Sachs or V.S. Ramachandran's popular books, and use them as a springboard for more technical study if you're interested.

Something in linguistics. This is a lot easier to jump into than other technical subjects... you can pretty much pick up some introductory textbooks and start working through them. You'll also start noticing really cool things in the languages you hear around you everyday.

These are not micro-subjects, of course, but it's easy to find a subtopic in either of them that interests you.
posted by redlines at 3:12 PM on February 11, 2012

How about the history of the space program(s)? I've been meaning to learn more about that ever since reading Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, which offers just a tantalizing glimpse into the subject.

You've done evolution, but how deeply did you delve into the evolutionary origins of human behavior? Start with something by Matt Ridley.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:25 PM on February 11, 2012

You could research the Great Migration, the history of legislature surround Chinese immigration in the US, the Hawaiian plantation system, or the movement of Sephardi Jews in the New World.

Also: VIKINGS. Cecelia Holland's Varanger series is all about Vikings. <3 It's really intensely researched historical fiction.
posted by spunweb at 3:36 PM on February 11, 2012

What about growing organs from a protein "scaffolding" by incubating it with the recipient's own stem cells? Here.

I tend to pick up random interests by watching documentaries. The BBC's Horizon series is very science based as is PBS's Nova (particularly Nova ScienceNow!). The episodes on sleep really caught my interest.
posted by sarae at 3:40 PM on February 11, 2012

You might enjoy Tony Horwitz's "A Voyage Long and Strange" as a jumping-off point for investigations of the new world before the Pilgrims:

"On a chance visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he's mislaid more than a century of American history, from Columbus’s sail in 1492 to Jamestown's founding in 16-oh-something. Did nothing happen in between? Determined to find out, he embarks on a journey of rediscovery, following in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America."
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:47 PM on February 11, 2012

How about picking a single genus or family and learning a lot about it?
posted by atrazine at 3:54 PM on February 11, 2012

Well something I find fascinating is the social/political impacts of disease. I recently read 1493, which partly delves into the impact Malaria and Yellow Fever had on history. It made me wonder about the role other wide spread diseases had in shaping the arc of history as we know it.

Similarly, I heard on a radio show that hookworm infected masses of soldiers during the civil war(which can enter through the feet). I'm not sure if it can be conjectured that this effected the outcome of the war, but is interesting. Also, it led to the formation of the USGS since hookworm can only live in certain soil types.
posted by abirdinthehand at 5:07 PM on February 11, 2012

The Industrial Revolution.
posted by stebulus at 5:14 PM on February 11, 2012

Watch Richard Feynman's 1964 Messenger series lectures:

Incredible lectures. He discusses Physics and Mathematics, Time, and his ideas about beauty and elegance.
posted by davezor at 6:53 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The domestication of the horse.
posted by stebulus at 6:57 PM on February 11, 2012

Something that might be up your alley, based on your previous interests:

Patricia Churchland's Neurophilosophy (1986), about the intersection of philosophy and neurology. Then start digging.

Susan Blackmore's Conversations on Consciousness (2005) has a bunch of short interviews people working in the field, including the Churchlands, Ramachandran, Crick and Koch, and Varela. It might give you some ideas about where to start digging.

If you do this, you'll probably also want to get a cheap used neuroanatomy textbook so you can kind of follow what they're talking about.
posted by nangar at 7:26 PM on February 11, 2012

How about the Black Plague - how it spread, how people reacted, superstitions surrounding it and, perhaps most interesting of all, how society changed as a result of it?
posted by hazyjane at 4:37 AM on February 12, 2012

posted by WalterMitty at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2012

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