August 3, 2014
PBS produced a documentary on the war in Iraq, chronicling its beginnings up to the present, and what a nightmare! There have been hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, several thousand American troops have been lost, we’ve spent over two trillion dollars, and everything we fought for is now unraveling as ISIS rolls in and takes over. It’s been a total waste. Nothing has changed, the world is angry at us, and we’re buried in debt. Even worse, this new ISIS group is bad news. They’re well funded, well armed, and very dangerous. They’re far scarier than Bin Laden ever was.
It’s even worse knowing it was all doomed from the start. There really isn’t any need for me to get into it. Just watch it all for yourself.
Before the war began, all of the generals were telling President Bush, “Why are we doing this? This war is a bad idea.” But the president had filled his administration with neoconservatives like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and they they had been busy devising plans for the middle-east since the 1960s. They found themselves a gullible cowboy who’d listen to them, and so off we went, and once we got involved, there was no easy way out.
It was clear that nobody knew what they were doing. Those appointed to run things had little knowledge of the region, Iraqi culture, or their people. Those who did weren’t listened to, or even worse, they were kicked out. There were constant changes in leadership and a severe lack of intelligence. The Bush administration kept asking, “Why can’t we wrap things up?”, not even realizing what they had started.
As for President Obama, he’s wanted nothing to do with Iraq ever since entering office. He wanted to pull out immediately but had to honor an agreement set in place by the Bush administration just before Bush’s second term ended. Obama’s cabinet broke contact with the fledgling Iraqi government and he gutted a lot of the resources dedicated to managing the war. This left the Iraqi prime minister on his own and he’s frightened. He’s been consolidating power, eliminating political opposition, and restructuring the government. This has led to violence, corruption, and a large portion of the population being disenfranchised. Protests have been breaking out everywhere. It could be argued that Obama’s inattentiveness to everything going on has led to ISIS and their buildup. With these new jihadist radicals running around, it looks like we’re being pulled back in. They’re dangerous but we’re broke. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
August 2, 2014
A question has been on all of our minds — well, maybe just few people’s minds — will Hitchbot be able to hitchhike its way across Canada?
Researchers have built a robot with an ambitious plan. It will attempt to bum rides across Canada, all on its own. If successful, Hitchbot will travel coast to coast, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, all the way to Victoria, British Columbia.
As it bums electricity from your cigarette lighter, it will read you poetry, discuss the news, and share its vast knowledge with you. In fact, it’s pre-loaded with all of Wikipedia.
So far, it’s halfway there. After receiving publicity from local news stations, people have been on the lookout for this robo-hobo. It needs a lift!
I would totally give it a ride. You can follow its progress at www.hitchbot.me.
July 31, 2014
In my more recent posts, I’ve mentioned that after a person’s basic needs are met, we human beings seek out relationships with other people. We long for a place where we belong, where we’re accepted, and where we’re a part of the group. We search for an important role to play, where we depend on others and they depend on us. We want to matter. We desire respect, crave self-esteem, and strive for greater ability at our “thing”, whatever that may be. We desire to be a part of a family, where successes and failures are shared. These are the sorts of things I mean when I say we crave a world beyond ourselves, a state of greater connection with the world. In other words, we want community, but what is that exactly?
A few years ago, I was reading a blog post by a scientist and he was sharing his view that sports are a total waste of time. To think that people would spend hours and hours throwing a ball through a hoop! What a waste! They need to be developing their minds, not kicking a ball around. I don’t think he realizes what they’re really about.
While academics are important, that’s not all there is to the world. I saw a video on Youtube where the comedian Russell Brand introduces us to a youth sports league he sponsors. Take a look at it.
Listen to one of the young boys tell his story. His father left their family, and he lives with his mother and little brother. From a very young age, he felt he needed to be a role model for his little brother, considering his father wasn’t around. He dealt with anger issues and his temper would flare up. A little while after joining the team, all of that went away.
And pay attention to what they liked about playing on their team. You may think that it’s the thrill of dominating the other team, or kicking some amazing goal to win the championship, or impressing cute girls who watch the games. After all, they’re just kids, right? But what is it that they actually like about the team, in their own words? Just listen. They feel they’re a part of a family. They also like the atmosphere where success is encouraged, but nobody is too judgmental. They’re encouraged to be their best, but they’re loved and accepted, regardless. Nobody is turned away. That’s something to think about. I thought the coaches seemed like good people. They’re creating a very positive environment.
Over and over they stress, “we are a family.” They train together three times a week and they’ve been working together for over five years. That’s a lot of time spent together. What do you think that place is for them? The reason I bring it up is because it’s everything I mentioned just a moment ago. Within that team, on that field, kicking that ball around, they have a place where they’re respected. They have a means to develop self-respect for themselves. They’re a part of something larger than themselves. They share a common goal with a group of people. They learn to be a team player. They get to have the experience of sharing successes and failures with their team, their family. Lifelong friendships and bonds form. It’s a wonderful thing.
The other day I was out with my friend Greg, and we were questioning where in the modern world you can find community. Outside of some churches, religious organizations, the military, sports teams, clubs, and a few other small pockets here and there, most places are devoid of this sense of greater connection with people.
Thinking of these kids and their lives, school is a very isolated place. Helping one another on tests or homework is considered cheating. You’re all on your own. There’s not going to be any sense of community in that place outside of friends they may make. But even then, the only real quality time they can spend together is in extra-curricular activities, not so much school itself. And many find these things wasteful, so schools struggle to keep extra-curricular programs funded.
It can be tough being young. So much of your life is controlled and dictated by whatever life choices your parents have made. If your home-life is a mess, you don’t really have any place to escape it unless your school offers programs like these. But when programs like this sports team exist, kids have a positive place to spend their time, even if their home with their biological family is a terrible place to be. Once they get old enough, they can go off to college and leave their messed up homes behind them. It gives them options and a choice. They can still go home if they want to, but there’s all these other things they can do if they want as well. I think it’s much better for these kids to learn to play instruments in a band, or play sports, or participate in a science club, etc., than spend hours in front of their computers and Playstations.
When they graduate they’ll enter the corporate world where most people find themselves expendable, plugged into some machine where they are easily replaced. The mindset isn’t, “you’re a seminal piece and valuable team member”, it’s more, “be thankful you have a job at all.” Success certainly isn’t shared. All the money goes to shareholders who they’ll never meet. I guess they do share failures though. They all get chewed out if things go south. They can expect to be worked thirty-nine hours a week so that their corporate employer doesn’t have to pay benefits. That sort of thing doesn’t make you feel valued. You’re a cost of doing business, and if they can save money by cutting you out of the picture, they’ll do it.
I think one of the hardest things in life is to find these “pockets” of community, where you feel you’re a part of something. And even if you do find them, they don’t last forever. We all desire it, but I wonder how many people find it? Finding it and making it all work out is difficult. It requires people with certain values and commitments such as friendship, loyalty, a dedication to excellence, a shared vision, and other things like that.
July 9, 2014
I came across an article on Arts and Letters Daily which I really enjoyed. Upon reaching sixty years of age, an older gentleman reflected on the ageing process. While I’m just a tad over half his age, he made a statement that I myself relate to when I’m around people much younger than myself.
One of the surprising symptoms of getting to be 60 is that I now can’t tell how old anyone under the age of 40 is; you all look 16. And don’t believe the beauty page gush that you are in fact only as old as you feel. It’s a nonsense, based on the assumption that ageing is primarily a physical process. It isn’t, it’s a maturing one. It’s not a feeling, it’s an experience. You are as old as you can remember.
Ageing is a maturing process. There are certain lessons life simply teaches people as they get older, though some learn a lot more than others. I want to write down what it means to be mature. What sort of processes go on in a person?
The best way to tackle this would be to give a vague overview of the human mind and what motivates a person to do the things they do. Once we accomplish that, it’s not too hard to give a person the direction and general character of maturation.
We human beings all have these inner compulsions, drives, and desires which compel us to do the things we do. There is a sort of hierarchy to these drives, and that’s what I want to first discuss.
There are higher and lower drives, and as each lower drive is satisfied, “higher” drives begin to manifest themselves. Each “higher” drive is more quiet than lower drives beneath it, so unless you satisfy the lower drives, or learn practices that quiet the mind and allow you to experience the higher drives, you simply will not hear them. Also, higher drives are more complicated than the lower drives beneath them, and they also connect you more to the universe outside and beyond yourself. Each higher drive is harder to satisfy and even understand, and if you study people, very few people ever go beyond the first tier or two within this hierarchy of inner drives.
The most primary drive is for food, shelter, and safety. It’s a survival instinct. It’s by far the strongest inner drive within human beings, but once it’s satiated, it quiets down and weaker drives begin to manifest themselves. In the modern world we don’t really think much about these things because very few of us struggle to find food, stay warm, or evade predators. It’s quite an accomplishment for our civilization. But if you were placed on a deserted island, you’d soon find your thoughts consumed with survival and safety. Other “higher” desires and thoughts would be pushed aside.
If you manage to secure food, shelter, and safety, your mind will start to seek out relationships and associations with other people. You will seek out a place where you belong, where you’re accepted, where you’re part of the group. Desires for love and being loved will start to manifest. Along with this there will be worries of whether or not you’re worthy of love. You’ll worry whether you’re able to contribute to this group you belong to (or trying to find), and you’ll want to be as self-reliant as possible. You’ll desire respect, crave self-esteem, and try to find a place where you believe and trust in yourself.
If you’re able to find some group of people to plug yourself into, you’re going to desire a feeling of ability. You’re going to want to be competent and even excellent at the thing you do, whatever that is. You’ll want to be strong, to excel, and maybe even be a leader in your field and area of life.
Very few people ever move beyond this stage. I may have met a few people who have moved past the stages mentioned, but they are rare. That’s not to say each “higher” drive is better. I’m just saying they’re quieter, and also, higher drives are far more capable of satisfying a person.
If you quiet your mind, or you’re able to satisfy the desires to belong, to be loved, to play a part in society, etc., the mind start to undergo various changes.
For one, a new curiosity will develop. It will start asking questions about the universe itself. All sorts of things. What is this universe? What is time? Has the universe always been here or will it one day end? Was there a creator? It’s part of the mind’s quest for greater connection and understanding. You’ll also begin to question everyday experience and just feel how weird and strange it all is. All of this will feel very childlike and interesting. It’s a fun, pleasant experience.
Along with this new curiosity will arise a sense of beauty, symmetry, and thoughts on perfection. There’s an increase in your perception of connections between things and events. A sense of values and ethics becomes very important because you crave beauty and for things to be done “right”.
The more you quiet the mind, the more capable you are of quiet joys, calm serenity, and an enjoyment of small things. That’s because they’re no longer small or simple to you. You see and feel more from everyday experience. And because these things are satisfying you more, you need less from other people. You can also endure greater hardship and isolation because of this satisfaction.
You become more capable of discovering truth. Since you’re more satisfied with existence, you’re less prone to project your wishes onto it. You can see things and people as they really are. Your thinking becomes clearer. Your intuition becomes better. Increasing feelings of connectedness lead to mystical experiences. A greater appreciation for art, poetry, music, wisdom, and science starts to take place. You take more pleasure in things that are complex. Your worldview, personal philosophy, and religion becomes more inclusive, less narrow, and further reaching.
You feel more and more comfortable being you, and irrational fears begin to leave you. You become more open to new experiences, for the novel, for things that are unfamiliar. You’re less afraid to fail.
Those feelings of connection make you think about other people a lot. Empathy is enhanced. You become more friendly and thoughtful. You desire democracy and respect for all human beings. It may go further, even for animals too. You think about children and future generations, and desire to leave a better world behind for them.
You become the opposite of being petty. You have a sort of “bigness”. As they say, you don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s an increased tolerance of people who are different than you, who have different beliefs than you hold. Old prejudices leave you. There’s an increased feeling of brotherhood and a realization and knowledge that you’re all in it together. That’s not to say you don’t stand for things. You just are “bigger”. Black and white thinking is replaced with complex, nuanced thinking.
There’s a sympathy and passion for the rights of minorities and those who are oppressed. You become a better citizen, a better neighbor, a better parent. There is a hopefulness toward the future.
You become more relaxed. More honest. More genuine and straightforward. You’re not fake or putting airs anymore. You express yourself as you are. There are less feelings of shame and you are more welcoming of other people’s love. You’re less prone to self-destructive behavior and instead have strength within you to serve, protect, and help others.
I guess that will serve to give a general idea of higher and lower drives. So how does this relate to maturity? Let’s begin by discussing younger people. For concrete examples, I’ll simply discuss the young women I met at my university who I went out on dates with.
They had no idea who they were, what they stood for, what they were about, or what they wanted to do with themselves. I saw very little indication that there was direction or purpose. They had superficial relationships with all sorts of people, but no true bonds with anyone. They were very fake, hiding their real feelings, putting on a sort of show. “I’m interesting, I’m fun. Look at me.” They were caught up in a lot of self-destructive behaviors, such as their drinking games. I would sit and talk with them for hours and got no sense that they were aware of the those quieter, subtler, higher drives within their mind. They were almost entirely consumed with petty things, such as their phones and other things that don’t really matter. They were completely self-absorbed. As I mentioned, many of them never even thought to ask about the man sitting across from them. They were so preoccupied with random noise within their own mind, they couldn’t even see anything around them.
Those are some of the things you see in immature people. It’s hard to pin down precisely what that means, but in general, they have a very low awareness of this hierarchy within the mind, and they live on the bottom-most rungs. They have a long way to go before actualizing their full human potential.
Don’t think I’m looking down on these women. I’m not. These are difficult problems. It’s difficult to find a place in the world, to feel fulfilled, to find a real purpose for your life. It can be difficult to find people you relate to and to understand yourself. To really believe in something is the hardest, especially when you think about this world and our place in it. All of this is a long process. Since older folks have had more time, they’re normally further along.
In my own life, I know how to bring peace to my mind, and I’ve tasted the joys of the higher drives. There’s nothing like them. But in many ways, I’ve never fully finished with the earlier rung of finding a place I belong, and I get strong feelings of being lonely. It’s sort of like hunger or thirst. If it’s not continually satisfied in some way, it pops its head back up, and if you entertain it and let it continue in your mind, it’ll just consume you. That happens to me. They’re very strong feelings and they’re in us because we humans are weak creatures. Our only strength lies in working together with others. Those feelings are there to impel you to join up with others and work together. I’ve never done that, and because I haven’t, that part of my mind can be very loud and drown out everything else.
I remember reading about mystics long ago who tasted the joys of these higher drives, and as they’d sit to meditate, they’d have this moment of serenity, but soon afterwards they’d have strong recurrent desires and thoughts surface which they could never shake off. Their minds would just wander and they’d find themselves daydreaming about squeezing a young woman’s breast, and other sexual fantasies. It’s not like you can ever shut off any of the lower drives. If you don’t eat, your brain will be screaming at you, “Eat something!” It’s painful for anyone to be rejected by society or live in isolation. We’re social animals.
I know who I am, but honestly, I’m not really in an environment where I could really thrive. I belong elsewhere, but I get conflicts because I’d miss my family, who I love. One of the biggest factors leading to neurosis is when you have different deeply seated inner drives conflicting with one another, and there’s nothing you can do to satisfy them both. You choose one at the expense of the other, but the other never goes away.
In me, I have all kinds of skills. I’m competent in many different areas. I have drives saying, “Use those skills and do things for the world.” But that conflicts with other parts of me which doesn’t want to leave my family behind. I’d miss them so much. Every time I research where all the projects I’d want to be involved in are located, I’d have to go off to Tennessee, or California, or someplace else. But the longer I’ve stayed here where I am, the more life seems to be prodding me saying, “It’s time to go.”
Realistically, I know myself too well. I’d love my work and probably the people I work with on the project. That’s fine and good. A home life is going to be my problem. If I work a research job, I’ll probably be alone a lot. Then I’d come home and be alone even more. I have a vivid imagination and can see it. I pull up, it’s dark, I come inside, flip on the lights then move around in total silence, hearing each footstep and the hum of the refrigerator. Eck. Then I think, “What now? I’ve been reading, studying and working all day. Now what? Read more?” Then I sit down somewhere. I don’t know what I’d think about. Maybe work. Would I que up Netflix and watch documentaries or some television series? Play video games?
That’s not a good picture. It lacks any connection to community or a love life. I like beautiful things, not diversions. I really need to get married or something. She doesn’t have to be like me at all. There just has to be a genuine interest, love, and respect for one another. There has to also be a real connection. Someone you can really talk to, discuss things and understand one another. The rest would work itself out. If I had that, I think I could relocate somewhere else in the world and be alright. Maybe I could without it. Hard to say. I really don’t know. I’ve sought that out, but as I’ve mentioned, so far it hasn’t worked out. But most people will tell you that dating is a trying experience.
I have some sense of purpose. I want to work with a team of scientists on some important technology or area of research which moves our technology and understanding forward in some interesting way. My interests are really wide, and there are a lot of different things I’d love to work on. I’d best like to do that with computer modeling and theoretical mathematics, but just to be involved in something I really believe in is what matters. I still have some formal schooling left though, so I have to attend to that first. I’m nearing the end of that tunnel though.
Before ending this, I should say that this maturity and growth process never ends. As I said, all the higher drives only get more complicated to satisfy and understand. Most people find a lover. That can be quite an accomplishment. But then you move on to finding some meaningful purpose within society, finding a place within a large social structure. Think of all the ways people can work together and be together. That’s really messy. But, then you move on to understanding the universe and your place in it with all other life-forms. The tree of life. You understand that, and then think of the entirety of space and time, the evolution of the cosmos, and all that’s out there.
You’re never done. It never ends. There’s always more and that’s a good thing.
July 7, 2014
Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve found myself thinking that it’d be a good thing to let people into my life more, so, you’ve probably seen me writing about relationships with people a lot. In a small way, I’ve sort of stepped out to connect, talk, and just get to know the people I’ve been meeting. For a long time, I showed no interest in getting to know anybody, so maybe it’s a small improvement. Some are students I’ve met at the university, others are women I’ve met by various means. I’d like to share a little about the loneliness I experience, and my attempts to overcome it and have more of a social life.
It’s extremely difficult for me. Surprisingly, I make friends easily. I’m on good terms with pretty much everyone I meet. Nobody dislikes me. If I’d rate where I think I stand in their eyes, most would either be neutral toward me, or slightly positive. That’s not really my problem. The thing is, I don’t connect and relate to the people I meet. None of it ever feels right. When I reach out, that feeling of “this isn’t it” becomes even more apparent than it used to, and I can see why I sort of burrowed into my own world years ago. I sort of just gave up on relating or enjoying other people’s company. I’ll try to paint a picture of the sort of loneliness I experience.
I’ll go to get my haircut and there will be all these men in the barber shop. Sometimes they’ll all get to talking politics and I won’t agree with anything they’re saying. They’ll discuss their right to pack guns everywhere they go, how the poor and immigrants are responsible for the U.S.’s current fiscal mess, their disdain for universal healthcare, and those sorts of things. The worst part of it is, their “opinions” are just regurgitated talking points from political pundits and television news.
I’ll visit with my family and they’ll tell me, “Jason, you need to get out more. Come to our church picnic.” After a lot of hesitation, I decided to go to one. So I made it to the park, pulled up to their pavillion, and right as I got there, a man came up to me and said, “Can I ask you a few things?” “Sure.” Then he pulls me aside and asked me if I believed in the devil. I said, “No. I don’t think the devil exists.” Then he looked at me with pity, “You know, the greatest lie ever told was that the devil doesn’t exist. He’s out there and he’s deceiving you.” That’s the basic gist of how I was treated and the general tone of the conversation with people there. It’s not, “Hey Jason, it’s so good to see you! How you been?” I’m just the heathen, backslidden child who has lost God, and they all just look at me with pity. Not much of a good time.
It’s painful for me to endure that. A lot of the church members were people I grew up with. I can remember being with all of them when they were younger, playing football and basketball together. We played video games together. We were all family then. My entire childhood revolved around those people and that church, considering I was the pastor’s son. Now it’s like I have this mark on my head, almost like a contagious disease. Many of them are so steeped in religion that they fail to realize that I’m the exact same person I was then, and that the same love I had for all of them as a child is still there. I have so many memories. I can remember crashing the arcade, rollerblading, paintballing together, and everything else. Considering the memories and good times we had all shared together, it’s painful to think that now, just because my beliefs are a little different than they were, it’s all gone. I’m just sort of cut-off and forgotten.
At the end of my late teens, the whole social world I had been a part of as a teenager, with the church and all that, all that came to an end. I couldn’t believe in any of it anymore, so I stopped going. Then I graduated high school and all my friends moved off. So what did I do? Like most lonely people, I was totally absorbed in my work, and it wasn’t work I was particularly enjoying.
I was hoping to become very wealthy so I could pursue things I was much more interested in, but I saw that in order to achieve the success I was after, it would consume my entire life. My whole life would be business meetings discussing software projects, and I’d have a lot of long hours, alone, writing all the code for these large projects. And for years, that’s exactly what I did. Twelve hours a day, sitting in front of a glowing screen, writing all kinds of code for different companies.
I was making good money and I could have easily gone on like that. But one day I was sitting there in front of this glowing screen, and I started thinking about my goals at the time. I had them all written down in this notebook, and it was all so lonely and empty. My biggest dream was to buy a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere, next to a lake, and own all the land for as far as I could see. I didn’t want anyone around me. I wanted total isolation and no contact with anyone.
Then I got to thinking to myself, “When did I become this way?” Even if I achieved that kind of goal, what kind of life was that? I just went for long walks by myself thinking, “What am I even doing?”
After that realization, I just sort of quit it all, cold turkey. I very quickly cut off all my relations to that world, and I took what money I had saved up and spent years reading books. I went back to the roots of what I was interested in as a teenager. Philosophy, science, history, and all sorts of things. I wasn’t going to wait until I was old and tired before I pursued the things I’d always wanted to do.
And while I learned a great deal, this new life wasn’t really a very social either. Most of it was once again, me alone in a room, but instead of staring at a glowing screen, I was staring at these books. I read a lot of books. All I did was think. Think think think. Study this. Read this. Think about this. Long walks, thinking, thinking, thinking.
Then I thought, “I should do this sort of thing for a living. I should research the nature of space and time. Physics would probably be best. I’ll be around other smart people, we’ll talk, discuss ideas, and it won’t be so lonely.” So, I enrolled to attend a university.
I had a very romanticized view of the university. There were going to be these groups of students, sitting in open grassy knolls, discussing politics, science, and philosophy. I was going to meet these other intelligent minds and we were all going to go for long walks and discuss our ideas, help each other grow, and become lifelong friends. There would be intelligent women, and we’d also go for walks, and we’d discuss our lives, our interests, and our research. We’d recommend books to one another, fall in love, and have all kinds of sex. We’d save up money and travel together. She’d hop on the back of my motorcycle and we’d go visit beautiful places. And on and on. I had some beautiful plans.
Reality quickly set in though. I don’t want to be spiteful or mean, but I became disillusioned very quickly. I was surrounded by immature kids, ten years younger than me, and none of them wanted to be there. Most of them just wanted to play Xbox and Playstation and barely put any work into their studies. As for the women, they were immature, boring, and even worse, had no life in them at all.
I figured I’d make the most of it, so I went on some dates. On one date, we were sitting there talking, for hours. Five or six hours – a rather long time to sit and talk with someone. And we talked, a lot. Within that time, I got to know all kinds of things about her. I learned all about her career aspirations, things she’s into, food, music, and everything else. And you want to know something else? She never asked a single thing about me. It was totally one-sided.
University aged women I’ve met tend to talk about drinking games, movies, random things that happen which they find amusing, funny Youtube videos, Facebook, and their phone. They love their phones.
I was sitting with this attractive woman as she talked about her phone for an hour and a half. Suffice to say, it’s difficult to feign interest for that long. She had one phone that she had left in a taxi cab. Another phone she dropped in her toilet while fixing her hair. Her father bought her first phone but wasn’t going to buy her another one, so she had to get a job. So she saved her money and bought her new iPhone and wasn’t going to make that same mistake again. She got an insurance policy on it. Then she informed me about each and every policy available, in detail. Blah blah blah. Every ten minutes or so, she’d get a text from someone and she’d say, “Oh, one sec.” Then you’d see her working her thumbs, mashing on this little screen. We were interrupted probably ten times within that hour and a half.
I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to experience any of the things I had wanted. Very few of the students had enough interest in their studies to even do their homework, much less spend their free time further discussing it.
In fact, I sometimes tutored girls who would ask me to help them. Never guys, but I’d tutor cute girls I can remember tutoring one girl in the library. She was so pretty. I was sitting right next to her and she’d look up from the paper, asking me if she did it right, and for a brief moment we’d be making eye contact. She was probably 20? 21? The physics was so easy to me, but I was easily distracted. I tend to space out, and as these girls would work problems, I’d just glance over at them and think, “My gosh. So beautiful.” Then they’d start talking. “I hated Calculus. I can’t stand it. I can never remember any of it.” Then I’d gently smile, “That’s ok. I’ll help you through it.” Then we were doing a physics problem involving work and the conservation of energy. She was so frustrated. “I hate all of this.” Strange thing is, I was having a great time. It’s a bit painful hearing someone say how much they hate the things you’re most passionate about.
I had always imagined sitting with a beautiful woman like that, she’s new to physics, and I spend an hour or two talking about how I became interested in the nature of truth, what can be known, the nature of space, time, and reality, and how interesting it’s all became, especially the further I’ve explored the topic. In reality, I sit beside the beautiful woman, she hates math and physics, has no interest in it whatsoever, and as she tells me how much she hates it, it feels like a strange time to tell her about how passionate I am about it, how I got interested in it all, and what it all means to me. It’s a very lonely experience.
I’ve had that experience happen in my life too many times to mention. I can remember in high school, I was a jock on the basketball team, and I was with this beautiful woman in the hallway. She asked me what I was going to do once I got out of school and I told her I was interested in computer programming. I thought computers were neat and would like to learn even more about them. She gave me this what-in-the-world look I’ll never forget and said, “Why would you want to do that?” I was too embarrassed to even reply.
Another woman I met at the university treated me strangely. She would randomly throw numbers at me and ask me to add them, multiply them, divide them, and so on, all in my head. I would and she’d just laugh and laugh. I didn’t know if she was just being playful at first, but she was actually mocking me. She told me I was a machine and then laughed. You know, she was the liberal, artistic type. She danced, and sung, and was in touch with her emotions, unlike us mechanical, droll physicists. I’d never felt angry toward anyone on campus before, but her, I was rather furious. I was going to say some mean things back to her, but I kept my cool and said nothing.
I realized that the sort of magic I was wanting, the group of friends which discussed important ideas, the fun, all of that, it was never going to happen. Like many things, it was all a fantasy in my mind.
The only good part of the university experience for me has been meeting and talking with the professors, who are great people, smart, knowledgeable, and very thoughtful. My experience with them has been that they’re very busy and not really in the mood to spend hours discussing difficult things with students. They’ll help you with your homework, and if you ask deep questions beyond homework problems, they’re glad to contribute, but you can’t just come into their office and say, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this or that. What do you think?” They’ll avoid you.
I’m starting to hit that age where I no longer care. I feel myself getting older. Time is passing and there are things that truly interest me. I wonder why the stars shine, what the world is made of, how the mind works, what space and time are, the economy, how to build a better world, social and political issues, and a whole slew of other things. I have things I want to do and things I want to understand.
The sorts of people I’ve been describing are not really worth my time. I’m not going to try to get the pretty girl to appreciate physics. The artistic dancer can keep her narrow world-view and tell herself that her dancing and art is the only thing in life worth having, not unlike a religious fundamentalist. The religious folks can shun me if they want to. People can say I’m a machine. They can run me down for thinking it’s possible to infuse intelligence into our machines and build beautiful technology like Google and smart-phones. Whatever, I really don’t care anymore.
It’s coming a point to where if my relationship with you doesn’t bring me closer to the universe, if it doesn’t draw out curiosity, wonder, and awe for this existence, if it doesn’t help me grow, develop, or become a better person, I need to be spending my time elsewhere.
When I was recently employed to work in this lab to do research, I had this picture of meeting with this group of fellow scientists, all of us focused on solving important problems, sharing ideas, hanging out, and working together. I found myself in a place I’ve been before. I look around me and I’m alone in this basement, tediously calibrating equipment, mixing chemicals, and writing computer programs to analyze and take data. I was down there, listening to the hum of vacuum pumps and thought, “I’ve been here before. I know this place.” I stepped outside into the July heat, leaned against the physics building, and stared off at the clouds. “It’s not here either. I wonder if it even exists?”
I’m probably a very lonely person. Whether I’d know what it’s like not to be lonely, I don’t know.