An Epiphany About How I Was Being Dumb
* Below is an email I wrote to my dad on May 10th, 2018. I woke up with an idea in my head, scrambled for my computer, and started typing away.
"Dear Dad, (I didn't actually write this in the original)
A couple days ago I stumbled upon an insight I've known intellectually for about two years, but have only finally integrated with my personal experience to formulate a subjective understanding.
I haven't been doing well in my Earthquakes class. In fact, I've been doing quite poorly because I simply haven't cared to pay it the least bit of attention. I am following a value hierarchy, one in which guitar, learning about physical fitness, and Spanish have taken a front seat over my B3 Geology class, and two days ago I walked into class believing I didn't care about Earthquakes in the slightest. Our quizzes were passed back, and my stomach dropped when I saw I got a 6/20 on the quiz and the matching homework. That is a cumulative 12/40 hit I just took to my grade. Naturally, I was a little dumbfounded. I felt like I was slapped in the face, and for the next hour I thought about why people do the things the do and the purpose of college rather than attempting to understand the material I clearly didn't have a grasp over.
So, I left my Earthquakes class pointing fingers. I once read in a psychology paper that humans tend to point externally when bad things happen and point internally when good things happen. This is exactly what I was doing. I blamed the class for being stupid. I blamed the universe for cursing me with a brain incapable of understanding the wizardry of math. I blamed the Cal Poly GE system for forcing me to take a class in a subject that was irrelevant to my major.
Still, I realized I should probably go talk to the professor during his office hours as there was an unshakable part of me that could sense something fundamentally wrong with my reasoning.
I climbed the four flights of stairs to the top of our Science building and barged into Dr. J's office, and started explaining in a philosophical manner why I haven't been doing well in the class. I explained how I didn't particularly enjoy geology and that subject matters steeped in math have always felt like repeatedly smashing my head against a wall.
Luckily, Dr. J is a fan of philosophy and deep thinking, and instead of telling me to shut up and start studying, he proceeded to engage with me on a discourse about the school system and how much of it is antiquated and wasteful. He told me about when he was in elementary school, he often wouldn't go. His parents would send him off, and he would hop on his bike and ride off to the local creek or candy shop. As an 8 year old, he had the intelligence not only to see the uselessness of his situation, but then the courage to change it. Dr. J then went on to explain how he admired my attempt to make my own choices, prioritize my values, and think for myself. He also went on to make it clear it wasn't math or the universe cursing me with an inability to understand science, it was my mental block against engaging with the material. He taught me the entire content of the quiz I failed in 5-10 minutes. It made perfect sense.
This is where the insight comes in (well maybe there are two). First, I realized the bane of humanity is an inability to properly detach ourselves and examine a situation not from our ego's perspective, but from a contemplative and truth seeking one. Second, math and philosophy are not as different as people think. The world is simply a collection of patterns and loops, and once you have a visceral understanding of this idea, the world opens up. Humans don't maximize so much of their potential because they believe "I'm bad at math" or "playing lead guitar isn't my thing" (Does that last one sound familiar?). The brain is incredibly powerful, and yes we all have our natural dispositions as Plato loves to argue, but this doesn't take away from the fact that so much more is possible than the majority of the population realizes. The greatest thinkers and many of the most successful people understand this. Elon Musk is a great example. Many people like to call him a moron and an idealist, and in many cases they have valid points, but Musk sees something they don't. He understands the difference between being a lackey cook who toils away in his home town, and being the award winning chef that sets up shop in Paris.
Circling back to how this connects to me, I texted Oli (my cousin) about all these weird thoughts my brain suddenly started firing off, and he said he connected with a great number of them. Oli I consider to be a genius, and to have the same thoughts as him is something that excites me. I could write on and on and on because there are a million ideas going through my head, but I've realized math is really fucking cool because it is present in music and philosophy and earthquakes and people and pretty much fucking everything. It is all just different ways of understanding the world. And it is all fine and dandy for someone to claim they "understand" that, but a whole different ball game to UNDERSTAND it.
Regardless of any purported intelligence or insights I believe to have, I sense the sign of someone who is truly intelligent is one that is able to adapt his way of thinking to new information and to ignore the fear that comes with being wrong. Humans are wrong all the time, and I am certainly no exception. Looking back at my childhood, I see all the stupid things I believed and said due to my limited experience of the world. That's why it was so funny to adults when I would ask "Why would you drink beer when you could just drink soda?" It's hilarious because I clearly hadn't conceptualized or experienced the pleasurable state of intoxication. Adults are children just with more experiences under their belt. Now, whether or not the adult has chosen to integrate those experiences into greater knowledge and understanding is their choice. This is why Einstein always stressed maintaining a levity about life and fostering the inner child. Einstein understood that simply having more experiences doesn't make someone right. Having more experiences, integrating them into our greater understanding of the world, and then matching these integrated experiences with what we see in the now is what intelligence truly seems to be to me.
I have a midterm on Earthquakes and an essay I'm helping my friend write I have to get done before noon, but I was reading Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves To Death" and this idea popped into my head. As I've learned from music, when you have a muse you have to act on it immediately.
Your Exasperated Son,
Well, there it is. That is the email describing how my life has changed over these past four or so days. Take from it what you will.
*Sidenote: I tweaked a number of things from the original email to clarify some of my points.