Thursday, April 12, 2007

Process

Acquiring knowledge is a difficult process. I understand that feeling. Even up till now after studying 4 years of official physics, together with some outside reading, I know virtually nothing, and that is really frustrating sometimes.

While teaching you guys physics, I too am learning physics, but unlike you I have a teacher that I can only turn to through e-mails, and can get to see only when I'm free, and currently, I'm not very free. He told me rather bluntly last meeting that what I was struggling to understand was the very basics of quantum mechanics, and even though I know he didn't mean it as a "you suck" kind of statement, it still hurt rather deeply.

I'm incredibly grateful for someone like him to take the time off to teach a complete beginner like me, but sometimes it really is awful sitting down next to him, watching him write things that you only have the slightest clue of, and not knowing whether to pretend to know, or admit that you know absolutely nothing. I know that feeling all too well.

I know what it feels like to flip through a textbook, or to see things that hardly make any sense. It's a sinking feeling, a feeling of being like a drop in an ocean, of being absolutely stupid and ignorant. Of being defeated, and tired.

And it's absolutely true too. We are too stupid to comprehend physics. We are too ignorant of the things that go on. Most things are too complicated for our small minds.

And guess what, I'm really glad you've realised. If you don't realise that you know absolutely nothing, then that is truly foolish behaviour. No single person is smart enough to be familiar with the entirety of anything.

Many people turn away from anything remotely to do with knowledge once they get to my age. Every single thing is eclipsed by the practical nature of the world: a need to be financially secure or wealthy, a need for social status and prestige, a need for power even. You don't remember what you liked in school, you don't remember what inspired you, you only see what lies ahead. No one has time to ponder the stars. Or music.

But just for one moment I hope you can see how much bigger than the self physics is. Not only physics, but any discipline you can name: mathematics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, literature, music, art etc., each discipline gigantic in itself. They are an attempt to describe something much bigger than yourself. Something that will still be here forever when you die and cease to exist. Something that trillions of people after you will come across again, and hopefully with each person that encounters it, it will become more complete.

So don't turn away because you can't understand. Turn towards it because it is truly greater than you, and the things that you take away from it will help you see the world around you in an entirely new light. Look beyond yourself, and hate the ignorance that you have. Cure it. We all know absolutely nothing, so it is not surprising that everything looks so difficult. But fight the ignorance. Think till you feel like you can't think anymore, question till you get all the answers, look for the answers till you just can't bear to search any more, and when you've finally understood, it's an amazing feeling. You'll feel like you know a dark secret that has been told only to you, and you'll realise how incredible the world around you is.

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