(A)typical University Experience

One could say that everyone has an idea about what it is like to study at university. Even though there exists no universal set of parameters, which could potentially capture this experience unambiguously, some of the characteristics occur more frequently than others. If someone were able to find the shape of the distribution of these parameters, they would be able to create a model of an average university experience. The question would then be, what is the corresponding value of such a model?

Subsequently, it is possible to turn this question around; if someone were to present you with a single case of their university experience, what would be the intrinsic value of this statement without any context? From a purely statistical point of few, we would reach a conclusion that it is of no value at all, which makes perfect sense; how would you go about studying correlation of a single point? With what would you compare this single data point, if you had nothing else at your disposal.  

Although it might seem completely random from the frequentist point of view, the knowledge of one such occurrence can be more telling due to the fact that we humans do not act arbitrarily. Furthermore, we can create a hypothesis based on our own experiences which can be utilised in our attempt to compare the experiences of others with those of our own and by extension to assess the extraordinariness of these events.

For instance, what is the chance of me telling a friend of mine, whom I have not seen for a week, that I had pasta for lunch? On the one hand, it is highly likely I indeed had pasta for lunch. On the other hand, why would I choose to bother someone I care for with something so mundane it is not worth the words?

We can thus generalise our findings; the chance of something ordinary happening to us is by definition high, nevertheless, that of later sharing it is substantially lower. If, however, something extraordinary or improbable were to occur, we would tend more strongly towards sharing that particular information.

Despite our effort so far, our analysis is that of an approximation of the first order, which can be illustrated by the following example events:

Event A: Last week, I played underwater hockey.

Event B: Last week, I played underwater rugby.

Both of these examples look ridiculous at first glance, perhaps even absurd. At this very moment, one would take their time to ask themselves, if such nonorthodox sport disciplines do indeed exist in the first place. The question of my participation in these events would only be of secondary importance. 

Now I shall unveil a small piece of much needed background, that I do indeed play underwater hockey on a regular basis. Knowing this connection, you should immediately be in the position to proclaim Event A to be real. Without offering further clues, you would likely come to the conclusion that Event B is about as likely to have happened as Event A. You would do so simply by assuming that if I am willing to regularly play underwater hockey then I could be able to do the same with underwater rugby.

Unfortunately, you have fallen victim to another one of my traps. Even though underwater rugby is a real sport, I did not play it last week, nor any other week before that for the sake of the argument. Your expectations have not been met. To finish this rollercoaster ride of misleading dead ends, I must mention I had not played underwater rugby in the first 1163 weeks of my life until I actually did so this very week.

Using this simple example, I wanted to demonstrate the power that a single piece of information may or may not wield on the basis of our sufficiency (or lack) of pre-existing experience, and how difficult it can be to present one’s own experiences within a limited context provided.

Finally, to take a breather, I must say how grateful I am to have the opportunity to play these sports within my university’s student union. They are both quite unique in their respective regards, not just because it is hard to imagine a game which is played by people wearing a diving mask, snorkel, swimming fins, and in the case of underwater hockey with an extra glove and a small stick. The challenging aspect of these sports is the player’s inability to breath continuously while playing, for all the action happens under the surface. Thus, one does not only battle against their opponents but also against themselves whilst trying to be part of the play for as long as possible on a single breath. Playing at the bottom of the pool itself, players often find themselves touching the one of their own as well.

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