I’m starting to realize how ingrained I am at Penn after two years. I honestly don’t even want to go home at all anymore, since after a couple days I’m guaranteed to be bored to tears. There are of course friends and family that I miss on the west coast, but the prospect of mingling with them in Cupertino is just not at all enticing. If they were to come to the east coast or if we were to collectively go somewhere away from home for vacation, then I would be really excited. But there is honestly nothing to do in Cupertino and the truth is that I don’t miss it much anymore.
But even as for the people, I feel that the ones I’ve met at Penn are more important to me. I wonder if it’s just because of the peculiar situation under which we’ve bonded (college away from home is so different from commuting to and from school every day)…it’s not even that I feel “closer” to these people per se, it just seems that they’ve shaped my life more. Their impact on who I am is greater.
Collectively, all the students I’ve met have just become a part of my community and consequently a part of my life here. In college I’ve constructed a whole new life for myself, one disparate from that of Cupertino, and when you grow increasingly aware of your new surroundings, it slowly becomes an integral part of your routine. For example, it was flat out weird having my mom here during the weekend before reading days. As happy as I was to see her, her presence made it feel too much like Cupertino-world was encroaching upon Philadelphia-world. The two being completely distinct entities, their mixing gave me a feeling of unease. After the first day I got used to it and greatly appreciated my mom being around to cook for me and just be a moral support in what was the calm before a very, very big storm (the longest, most difficult finals week I have heretofore known).
But at the same time it makes you realize how permanent the disconnect between you and your old acquaintances are. They simply haven’t been part of one of the most integral moments of your life. College forces people to challenge themselves, question themselves, ultimately change themselves. Concurrently your high school friends are busy doing their own changing half way around the country. How do you even tell each other about how much you both have changed? For these changes are subtle and impossible to measure in precise terminology. I mean, I’m just so much more knowledgable about so many more things now. In the past year I’ve gotten to know more peers and mentors who have all in some way impacted my life. How do you communicate these subtle differences about yourself to someone else who hasn’t at all been a part of your experience?
That’s why I find it so hard to leave Penn. I don’t like leaving my new comfort zone and forcing myself back into a world that doesn’t really suit me anymore. It’s like forcing a shape into a puzzle that doesn’t fit. It’s not that I’m actually “so different”, in fact I don’t even notice how much I’ve grown until I go back home and realize how much I dislike being away from college. It’s only when I leave Penn do I realize how much I’ve become ingrained here, how much my life has changed from what it was before.
I can’t imagine not being at Penn. I can’t imagine not knowing the people I’ve known, and when I say something melodramatic like that I’m definitely talking about the professors (whom I know I talk about over and over again…). Profesors are just such amazing people…they’re possibly the only adults besides family who unselfishly take an interest in your wellbeing. I honestly feel that the professors I’ve met care for their students to succeed, and they truly cultivate curiosity in those with an honest desire to understand. I feel that the professors here sort of “take you under their wing”.
My own dad is extremely smart and successful in everything he does, but he never really cared to share with me any of his knowledge. We lived under the same roof for 18 years but we never really had an honest conservation. Ours was a bland coexistence. I wish he told me about the things he did so that I could at least judge whether or not I was interested in them. I think his interests in life is something I could appreciate, and yet he never did anything to make me look up to him. It’s a pity because I could have admired him very much if he let me.
At Penn I’ve met mentors more kind, more patient, more understanding, and more giving than my own dad. How amazing and deeply humbling has this experience been? If people like Mele, despite their raw intelligence and hard-earned success, are to be so kind, then normal people look really stupid having egos.
Amy Gutmann did manage to say one right thing at the closing lines of the Commencement ceremony this morning, and that was thanking the faculty for the difference they’ve made at Penn and the difference they’ve made in all the students’ lives. Gutmann blabbed a lot in her earlier speech (the one at the beginning of Commencement) about the importance of service and using knowledge to give back to the community, but I didn’t really appreciate that because she made it sound like service had to be some dramatic gesture where one embarks on a mission with the clear intent to better the life of someone else. Well, I don’t think Dr. Mele or Dr. Lubensky or any other kind professor are chanting “service to the community” in their minds when it comes to every decision they make. They are merely scholars devoted to what they do and who want to encourage others to do the same. Their patience and generosity stem from a love of knowledge and a dedication to their art. And also they are just really kind people.
I just don’t like grand gestures. Amy Gutmann’s speech was all about grandeur and the beautiful ideal that is “service to the community”. Honestly, the professors I’ve met meet that ideal and more without giving a conscious shit about it, and that’s how it should be done, because that’s what it means to be genuinely compassionate.
I just find Gutmann superficial and fake. Whatever. Don’t care about her or the 7 figure salary she earns.
Anyway, I totally derailed from the main point by the end of this entry, but now I’m too tired to salvage a suitable ending. Off to bed now…I have to wake up for the 9 am Vagelos meeting tomorrow….too early….
Obama’s one-liners during his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
I originally was indifferent toward going to this dinner because I hadn’t gotten very much sleep this week and wanted to take a nap instead of attending, but it was actually more fun than it was last year! First of all it was a nice room in Houston Hall, and second of all I just thought all the professors were so nice to mingle with us. Well actually there was only one professor seated at our table, but lots of other professors were going around talking to the various students at the various tables, and I thought they were all so nice for doing that. Everyone looked like actually wanted to be here. Haha.
Also Roy and Diana Vagelos are such sweet old people!!!!! Though my friend pointed out that they’re rich, so I guess they have no justifiable reason to be cynical. And both of them have been in the public’s eye enough to be good at doing this mingling type thing, but it sounded like they genuinely cared about our futures. They are spending millions funding this program after all.
The Vagelos couple and Ponzy and Saven (program directors) were all very open to taking pictures with groups of students afterward as well. I can’t believe how nice all these people are, and I’m so glad to be a young person in a position to absorb their wisdom. Actually I was amused to see Saven talking to a bunch of freshmen girls, because he’s kind of socially awkward.
Anyway, Dr. Vagelos remarked at our table how a single professor could really impact your life, and when he said that I thought of Mele. Of all the people I’ve met at Penn, I certainly look up to him the most. First, he’s one of the most accomplished scientists at Penn, but more importantly, he takes every part of his job seriously. Dr. Rappe (the professor initially sitting at our table) said he was surprised that Mele rewrites notes to every lecture despite having taught E&M for 5 consecutive years, as Dr. Rappe himself reuses his own notes (“I’m not ashamed to admit that”, Rappe said). You can definitely tell that Mele’s carefully written every lecture to be rigorous and meaningful, and the way he talks about things differs a lot from how the textbook talks about things, so his lectures are original and crafted from the way he himself understands this material.
His problem sets and exams are also impeccably written, too! He does assign the bulk of the problems from the textbook, but every problem set has a few challenge problems that he carefully chose or wrote himself. I feel like those problems practically define this class, because that’s where you get to struggle some more to really understand something.
But THE BEST PART is how productive it is to discuss homework problems with Mele. Whereas discussing problems with other professors can be kind of a pain due to their lack of ability to effectively explain or pinpoint the root of your confusion, a few exchange of words with Mele can easily disentangle the mess in your brain. Talking with him is just always so much fun! He also has a surprisingly whimsical sense of humor, which you don’t initially expect from someone who is incredibly serious.
The most amazing thing is that Mele doesn’t do all of this for the students per se, he really does it for himself. He’s the kind of rigorous person who takes great responsibility in everything he does, so I don’t think he could forgive himself for half-assing any kind of job. And of course he loves the physics too. I really admire him for that kind of work ethic, and consequently as a student I have absolute faith in everything that he does.
I can’t wait for the end of my college career when graduation comes so that I can shake his hand and thank him for being the best role model any student could be lucky enough to meet at the most impressionable period of his/her life. I’d like to tell him just how much he means to me.
So yeah, today’s dinner just made me so thankful for being at Penn. I am getting a great education, but it would mean so much less without the people I’ve met in it. Generous role models are so important to have, because without them the pursuit of knowledge would be such a lonely endeavor. With them, it feels like a cooperative thing. Knowledge is, after all, something that is meant to be shared. When Mele takes time out of his research to spend half an hour talking about physics with his students, I honestly feel that it’s the common journey of discovery that brings all of us together, no matter our differences in age or race or experience. I remember Freeman Dyson saying that in some diplomatic conference he attended, all the scientists were productively chatting and exchanging knowledge while all the politicians avoided each other suspiciously and got hardly anything done. There really is something to be said of people who spend their lives pursuing answers to questions unrelated to the often superficial struggles of humanity.
From the bottom of my heart I really want to think all the people (not just Mele) who have honestly changed my life and worldview. Penn has become as important as Cupertino is to me, although I may have only been here for two years.
But I’m sad I’ll never get to know Dr. Vagelos beyond just a few exchanges every year for just four years. He’ll probably die soon anyway, though he very spry for his age. I hope he continues on that way!
Another manga from childhood has gotten me thinking about something over the weekend. In “Chobits”, the male protagonist falls in love with his persocom, which are these human-like robots. His persocom is one of two chobits, which are far more advanced than the other persocoms in terms of their ability to have human-like emotions.
The persocom that he falls in love with, Chi, has an elder twin sister (elder since she was created first) called Freya who was programmed by her father to be able to fall in love with someone of her choice. So at first my reaction was, “oh so you were just DESIGNED to know what love means”. But she had a “choice” as to WHO to fall in love with. As in she wasn’t programmed to love any particular person, so she seems to have been created to have free will.
Then the more I think about it, aren’t humans the same? We are somehow genetically adapted to fall in love with other fellow humans. Our brains somehow allow for it, and our DNA in turn codes for the creation of our brains. While our DNA does not at all predict the person we actually become, it is a framework for who we might become. Nature and nurture both have a lot to do with the person we eventually grow into. So our DNA somehow allows us to have intelligence and consciousness, it gives us the ability to love. But it in no way predicts who we will end up marrying. That is a far more difficult question with far more parameters, because genetic code cannot dictate who we meet in life.
If you think about it, at the bare minimum humans are a lot like computer code. I mean, DNA is literally an alternating sequence of four possible base pairs!!! Instead of the 1’s and 0’s we have A’s, G’s, T’s, and C’s. We are, at the very framework, just a bunch of code. But it’s a very special kind of code, because it isn’t rigid. A computer can do only exactly what you tell it to do. It’s future, or “destiny” if you will, is written in its program. A computer is no more than the sum of its code.
But humans are not like that. DNA is far better at predicting physical rather than mental attributes of a person. Doctors studied Einstein’s brain for years and still did not conjure up the reason behind his genius. When it comes to human intelligence and consciousness, science simply doesn’t have a clue.
But if you’re a rationale thinker, and if you had any faith in the scientific process, you’d believe that behind every phenomena is a working process that is theoretically possible for humans to uncover. I.e., the answer is never “magic”. Thus, I think it not unreasonable to believe that human consciousness is the same. At the base there must be a logical sequence of mechanisms that allow for human intelligence, that it isn’t some supernatural quality that imbues humans with consciousness.
That the very existence of human beings relies on a 4-letter code seems to give some sort of validation to that hypothesis. And the brain after all is just a bunch of electrical signals, it’s all chemistry (or physics) in the end!
Theoretically speaking, every natural phenomena ought to be traceable to the fundamental particles. If living things are made of atoms, and atoms behave by the laws of quantum mechanics, than quantum mechanics must have a role in describing how life forms behave. Freeman Dyson’s guess is that perhaps atoms represent a kind of primitive form of free-will, that whatever quantum state an atom “chooses” (because it does pick one, even though we can only describe its behavior probabilistically) might have some bearing on the free will that manifests itself in human behavior. Who knows? It isn’t an unreasonable guess.
But doesn’t it make you wonder where the line crosses from a bunch of predictable, lifeless atoms to a working system of atoms that is suddenly conscious of itself? Consider a tank of oxygen and carbon. Undoubtedly one would not think that it has free will. But take those atoms and sequence them in a certain way (proteins and cells are all just ordered atoms, after all) and suddenly you get a thinking, feeling human being! Where did the change happen? When did consciousness kick in? What made it kick in? It really makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I know that Gell-Mann (guy who predicted the existence of quarks) was incredibly fascinated by this issue. I wish someone had an answer.
But if you believe that the answer to human consciousness is attainable, then you must also believe that human intelligence can one day be engineered. Chobits, in other words, could very well exist! Sure there may be all kinds of complications and probably a lot of bigotry against these engineered humans (since I’m sure that most people are bent on believing that humans are too special to ever be so utterly predictable), but I personally find the thought of artificial intelligence to be extremely exciting.
I haven’t written in so long, partially because I’m so busy that I barely have time to think about things beyond which problem set is due tomorrow or what midterm I have that week. But the past 10 days was spring break and I’ve had a lot of time to think about things again, with some of the things that haunt me being rather old issues.
First of all, now that I’m getting older and I’m nearly halfway through college, I’m starting to really wonder about human relationships. I’ve also been influenced by the manga I’ve been reading over this weekend (what happens when you find yourself face-to-face in front of a giant wall of comic books right when you get off the escalator at Barnes and Nobles that suddenly causes you to become nostalgic about childhood). Actually the series I was reading was super gory (X/1999) but its overarching theme seemed to be that caring for someone is what makes you strong. That without people to protect, the Earth isn’t worth protecting, no matter how beautiful it is.
I never really thought of things that way before. Science reveres nature (it is, after all, the study of nature), and out of reverence for science I always felt that the universe was too magnificent to care about humanity’s petty problems. For our problems are truly so very petty! That’s why I always felt religious dogma lacking in scope. Richard Feynman sums it up nicely:
I always thought that the universe was so much bigger than humanity for all its worth. People fight every day over silly things like money and religion and civil rights, issues that society has conjured up and declared a necessity. Why must we need money to survive? No one decided that. That’s not written in nature’s laws. We made that up as part of these social constructs we’ve deemed necessary for survival. It’s all so artificial in a way. But I don’t mind those things—I certainly don’t plan on becoming Thoreau and locking myself up in the wilderness. But I also don’t proclaim that human beings are “the bomb” or the supreme beings blahblahblah. I think we owe our existence to a certain degree of randomness that comes with natural selection, and that we could very well not exist, or exist as some other form of life.
In x/1999, Kamui, the chosen kid, has the power to decide Earth’s future. He can either become a Dragon of Earth, which seeks to destroy humanity in order to preserve the Earth that will otherwise be consumed by global warming, or a Dragon of Heaven, which seeks to protect humanity and preserve the status quo. Out of love for his two childhood friends, Kamui decides to become a Dragon of Heaven to protect the world they live in, because without them, the Earth is pointless anyway.
I don’t really know how I feel about that. Clearly the artists didn’t take any physics. But as objective as I can be about this, and as much respect as I have toward the natural beauty of the world, if the people I truly love are here, could I bear to destroy it? Who is heartless enough to do that?
I wonder if I would choose to be a Dragon of Earth or a Dragon of Heaven? I guess it depends if there is anyone on Earth that I love strongly enough. Maybe there isn’t a single person I feel so strongly about, but collectively there are people I value and I don’t think anything could justify their deaths. Yes humans are selfish and we pollute everything in order to sustain our own survival. But our connection with other people is what more or less separate us from lower forms of life. The love we feel for each other is stronger than that. I wouldn’t say it makes us “better” than a penguin or giraffe or whatever. I mean those animals are naturally adapted to situations that are far beyond our capacity. We are all situated to different lifestyles and I hate to think of humans as being “superior”. But the truth is that we care deeply for love ones and perhaps that bond is reason enough to justify Earth’s destruction. I honestly don’t know.
But part of me is also sad that our connection with certain people in life can be so strong. I met a lot of people in life and thought that I could care deeply for them if they let me (and I don’t mean romantically), but they’ve already established their friend circles and loved ones that I realize how inconsequential I am to their happiness. When it comes to older people I realize it’s just an inevitable fact of life, that I’m just one of many people they’ve met and will meet in their already established lives. When it comes to people my age I grow fearful that everyone will marry off to someone they love more than anyone else and I’ll be shut off from their lives. I guess if I don’t create my own family I’ll end up feeling pretty lonely. But who knows when or if that’ll happen? I don’t want to feel inconsequential to people just because as humans we’re programmed to value things like marriage and romantic relationships. It’s great for the people involved but what about everyone else?
Hasn’t anyone stopped to think about how unfair it is? That you might know a friend your whole life, but then comes some boy or girl and suddenly everyone else’s needs become secondary to that person’s. It’s utterly irrational, but that what makes humans human, and according to X/1999, that kind of feeling is what makes humanity worth saving. I just don’t know how I feel about that. I guess I might feel differently if I were to mean the world to someone (other than my mom), but I don’t, and the thought of feeling lonely is petrifying.
I don’t want to love someone if it means forgetting others. That’s kind of why I don’t think I want to have children. I’d love to get married to someone, but children comes with a far greater emotional (and literal) price tag. They become EVERYTHING, whether you want them to or not. Especially as the mother, children will probably consume my world. And for most people that’s a beautiful and wonderful thing. But I don’t WANT to have that burden! I don’t want to forget everything else that is beautiful in life, I don’t want to suddenly think that my future depends on my kid’s success, I don’t want to become so blind-sighted. And I’ve met plenty of adults who are. I hate the adults who can only talk about their children. I hate the adults who center their entire lives around their kids, because they’ve relegated the importance of everything else. They’ve forgotten what it means to dream about the natural beauty of the world. They make me feel sad for them, but they won’t see it that way because the gears to their mind have re-calibrated to view a different kind of world. I don’t want my mind to become like that.
Although recently a friend told me that she definitely wants kids, because without kids she doesn’t feel that we have a right to invest in the future. Or perhaps without them, we won’t really care to invest in the future. I think she has a point there….I don’t know, I just don’t know how I feel about kids.
Maybe I’m being melodramatic about all this. But it bothers me! I feel like most people go through life without really paying attention to the people around them. They make new friends wherever they go and forget old ones. They get married and have a family and that becomes their focus. It’s just upsetting that people can’t value each other more beyond their tiny circle of family. So would I be a Dragon of Earth or of Heaven? I can’t answer that yet. And in any case, my answer will probably change as I grow older.
a les mis character guide
LOL! I definitely complained about some of these points.