Friday, November 30, 2007

Old Patterns

There's a habit I have which I've been noticing more recently. It's all based around the various grand debates I have with myself. In each of these in which I've reached some kind of conclusion I find that there is a phrase that's iconic of the piece of wisdom that I've gained from it, and I tend to repeat these phrases to myself whenever that wisdom gains salience.

The mantra that's been on my lips far too often recently is "Old Patterns." Ever since my return to academia I've noticed myself falling back into many of the same holes I fell into when I first arrived here, I've fallen into the same old patterns that have been plaguing my entire life. Exodus was beneficial, that's beyond denial, but it wasn't the magic cure I was hoping for.

Ahh, Irony. We meet again. Hoping for some deus ex machina change is the perfect example of melancholy familiarity expressed by "Old Patterns."

I've already started fighting these things, it's time to begin fighting the rest of them.

There's three four key data points to look at. The four quarters I've spent at UW. I'll skip the details of the evaluation with you but the message is clear, I did dramatically better Fall 05 then at any other time. This raises an obvious question.


The answer I would give if you'd asked me this earlier would have been "Because those were easier classes." That is, to a certain extent, true, but it's also to a much larger extent Bullshit. I did better in those classes because I went to them and actually listened. Because I felt like I was learning something, because they interested me. It would be arrogant of me to think that I have one iconic flaw, because nobody is above having more then one flaw, but one of my most crippling flaws is my reliance on my own interest. Things that interest me, and more so things that fascinate me (fascinate/fascinating is another iconic mantra I've found myself using) are things that I always excel at. I just barely read the books in my English class first quarter, but I got a 4.0 because the ideas expressed in those books fascinate me. The concept of short term time is still deeply intriguing, and it hasn't really mattered in over a year. Why am I only performing as a mediocre student in my science and math classes? Because I don't feel motivated by them. I'm not really learning anything, and if I take them for another quarter I'll be making the same stupid mistake I made my first year. This is costing far too much to keep doing this. There's a key thing I have to not only admit but embrace.

I am not, as a person, a real scientist. I'm much more of a science enthusiast, or a conceptual scientist. What I want from the field of science doesn't exist.

So what then? What is it that I'm really after.

It's important to understand before we go any further that at a point the question of what do I want to be and who am I before the same thing. Eventually you have to accept the core of your self, do not take this to mean that I've abandoned the idea of self improvement, it simply means that aspirations for the self become inherently tied to ones vision of ones highest form of self. The avatar of ones potential. I've found it helpful throughout my life to bring this expression down to a single word, both to purify it's expression, and to stop it from being burdened by the trapping of language. In my case the word that I think best expresses the self that I seek to be is "Visionary." There are numerous reasons for this, but I'd have to go into a discussion of what the iconic self really is, how I was once again beaten to the punch by ancient philosophers who chose to call it by their own made up term (Dharma) etc. etc.

So, keeping in mind the idea that in picking my path I'm not thinking of myself as a blank canvas onto which I could paint a new identity, rather I'm like Michelangelo who sought to bring the statue out of the stone. This is true both because I'm trying to bring out inner potential and because I am a large blunt object.

With that in mind lets look at self for a minute. When is he at his best? When he's motivated. What motivates him? As far as I can tell there are three key things that motivate me. Impulse, Interest and Conscience. The first one is a wash, impulse is innately beyond mastery. Don't reject it, but don't be stupid enough to think you can tame it. This leaves two in the realm of things that count. What interests self? All kinds of things. Philosophy, people, and a number of things that can be summarized as escapism being the foremost among them. Self likes to analyze things, does it automatically, and in my opinion has gotten fairly good at it. How does conscience motivate self? In short, healer and protector. Conscience motivates him to help and to defend, in many ways this is what he draws the most satisfaction from, but opportunities to express it are few outside of his escapist fantasies.

Do you know what this leads me back to? It's been on the list all along. It's always on the list, and it's always written off for some dumb reason. The reason I gave last time was that I didn't want to go for a doctorate. This was, of course, before I ended up setting my course on a biochemistry doctorate. I really don't have any more excuses, and to be honest I'm mildly ashamed of myself for ruling it out so often. I should have remembered that the character who keeps showing up in the background is always the one who becomes significant during endgame.

I'm fascinated by the constructions of the mind. More so then anything else. Once again I find myself evaluating my life and wanting to bludgeon my past self for saying things like "my interest in philosophy is going to have to be a hobby." What the hell past me? The thing that you've been doing all your life just a hobby? It's not entirelly his fault though. He just didn't see that pursuing this interest didn't have to mean getting a philosophy degree. We still agree those are useless. He also didn't have the breakthrough represented in the phrase "constructions of the mind." That fascination is actually also why I'm good at programming. It's just your mind building a vast machine out of systems of information. Programming would actually be a good choice, but it's only halfway on the mark.

I have to help people. It's a compulsion, and I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually kills me, but it's something I simply can not deny. I considered medicine for a long time because of this, but there are several problems with being a doctor. First of all it consumes your life. I have far too many other interests to be a full time physician. Secondly it requires you become emotionally distant from the people you're helping. I don't want to do that, and I'm not sure I could. There are other careers that involve helping people though, and I've been play amateur at one of them for a long time now.

I'm changing my intended major to Psychology. I switched around the classes that I'm registered for yesterday, and I think that little story summarizes the whole situation perfectly.

The classes I was signed up for before were Chem 152, Math 125, and COMP 111. I really didn't want another quarter of chem, but I put it down as something I had to do. I was in a state of absolute dread over math, but once again, it's required. My English composition class actually looked fairly interesting. I liked the sound of that class and thought it would provide me a bit of refuge from the other two. The other two classes were my major. I went through the list of classes I was going to have to take to get a biochem degree, and for almost every one I found myself thinking that I didn't really care, but it was required.

That won't work. I can see that now, I really should've seen that a long time ago, but science always looks like a great field until I'm actually doing science. I know I'll do a lot better in my newly chosen classes because they're classes that I'm really interested in. They're classes that I would have gladly taken as electives if they weren't relevant to my major. It's true that by choosing this field I'm committing myself to graduate school, but that's okay. I was planning on doing that anyway.

I know, this was something I was supposed to have worked out during Project Exodus, but that simply didn't happen. Exodus taught me a lot, I think I'm a better person for having done it, but it completely failed as far as it's stated primary objective goes. I think that may have been predestined though. Thinking about this problem abstractly from outside of the academic environment was a mistake. It's easy to tell yourself you can get through certain classes until you're in those classes, and I completely forgot to factor in the kind of grades one gets while slogging through classes they don't enjoy.

That actually reminds me of something. In paragraph 5 I said that I did a lot better in my fall 05 classes then in the rest. That's true with one key exception. PSYCH 101. It's the only decent grade I got those last two quarters.

My grades are actually a great indicator, my grades and my mindset. I can feel a lot of low level background depression holding me back, and it's pretty much exactly how I felt when I was dragging myself to class back in 06. I think I actually could force myself through all of the prerequisite classes for a biochem major, but by the time I'd dragged myself that far I wouldn't have the GPA to get in.

I ran out of artistic spark for this post long ago, it was actually primarily composed two days ago, so I can't give it a good conclusion. That's only partially because of my lack of inspiration though, a great deal of that stems from this subjects lack of a conclusion. This is a transition, this is me fighting my sense of predestination towards science long after I claimed to have beaten it. It may also just be me giving a grand rant and trying to find new direction in my life when the root problem is laziness or depression, or some combination thereof. The key thing is that this isn't me lying and avoiding the subject so that I can continue on being lazy and depressed. I dodged a lot of responsibility by being an escapist and not talking about key things. I can't do that any more. I have to accept my problems, and my shortcomings, and the difficulties inherent to my situation which I've brought upon myself, and the I have to fight them, because I'm sick of falling into old patterns.


Blogger Caitie Lustig said...

Hey Max, I don't think I've ever commented here before, but I thought I'd mention that you might want to look into technical communication as well. It's an interesting way to do science-y things without actually doing science. (At least I think it's interesting but it is somewhat dependent on the prof that you have.) I'd recommend taking a few TC classes regardless of whether you stick with psychology or not because it is immensely helpful in learning how to right scientific papers (which is a big bonus for going to grad school) and resumes and whatnot.

Anyway good luck with school :)

3:11 PM  
Blogger Willsons of Maryland and Ancestors said...

Dear Max: Your Blog shows the splendid vocabulary and word choice of a fine mind!

I do think you're trying to be too comfortable in school - taking mostly courses you really like.
Self discipline is called for, to arrive at what you really want to be.
I didn't like many of the courses I took at Hopkins or Temple, but I love what those degrees fitted me to work at after school. I feel I aided my fellow men a bit by bringing new inventions to their use. The trick was to work hard for about 8 years, swallow the academic discipline and reap the reward of being sought after for advice in my chosen field. The 8 years seems a modest investment now, after 45 years as a chemical engineer-lawyer. Love, -Papa

9:02 AM  

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