2009.

Dimensions, Part 2.

Another year has passed, and a set of new perspectives, new people, new experiences, fresh in my mind, has yet again radically altered the course of my life – the reality of the fourth and fifth dimensions coming to fruition. And certainly, yes, just as this year has been marked by untimely passing of celebrities, so have my high school years been laid to rest. From a sheltered environment I have entered a new, unknown world, where the hurdles of exams and the difficulty of making friends present real, concrete challenges.

But perhaps this won’t be the flowery feel good year-in-review post. Perhaps instead I should expound upon one distinct moment when the fifth dimension became real and undeniable. I was reading Pastor Ed’s blog, looking for some intellectual stimulation, when I stumbled upon this post. Exerpt:

Exactly 10 years ago, William Lee died in a drowning accident on July 4th. I still remember getting a page that William drowned. “What do you mean he drowned? This must be a mistake. I just saw him two days ago leaving from the San Leandro parking lot with the rest of his group to Mount Shasta. How could this be?” That day started with a nice breakfast with a group of guys at my house and now my life was falling apart before my eyes.

William was Pastor Ed’s brother, and was only 25.

I could tell of other stories, ones I hear from tightly-knit forums on the web, or of a young UCLA student collapsing in the middle of a concert, or of one famous pop musician, or of that Cincinnati Bengals football player, or of a prominent advocate for Oxy-clean, in his prime, who just… never woke up after going to bed one night. Two things arose from my learning of these events: one, my researching about conditions such as Long QT Syndrome which explain how some people just die, interesting to read about… and second, my realization of something that Pastor Ed talks about all the time (undoubtedly due to his brother’s early passing): death will happen. That frightens me a little. As I said in my prior dimensions post, the future, the branching tree of uncertainty, hangs above us all. With every year, the road of our life takes a slightly different turn. More than anything else, however, I think this year has demonstrated that the road of our lives may any day reach its terminal point.

On a partly tangential note, as my floormate Nina says all the time, “I don’t know what to do with my life!” And honestly, I don’t even know myself that well. I don’t know how to interact with people in the correct way, and heck after my first semester my GPA isn’t even as sharp as it could be. Do things really fall apart? Perhaps I am a pessimist at heart, but I would certainly hope not. The rule of the 5th dimension, in both favorable and unfavorable directions, holds its ground. With that knowledge, I am driven to steer myself in the favorable direction: 2010 will be a year I hope to optimize with productivity, growth, accomplishment, bonding, and most importantly, finding myself. As stated above, life is ticking. No time to waste. With unfavorable turns I have to cope.

And certainly, in 2009, there were many bad turns! From the late nights working on chem labs, to the 6-hr long debugging sessions on CS projects, to that ridiculous pinyin homework assignment, to those failures of midterms due to silly errors or forgetting calculators or swine flus, to that one time where my alarm didn’t wake me up in time for my lab, my college semester was one of tribulations. But I have learned so much from them. This AIM convo snip sums it up well:

(1:15:21 AM) “mingmei”: but i did pass… [the driver license test]
(1:15:25 AM) “mingmei”: so i guess it worked
(1:15:26 AM) “mingmei”: fear works
(1:15:34 AM) jtwxmann: hmm
(1:15:40 AM) jtwxmann: maybe i’ll apply that for my upcoming test
(1:15:45 AM) “mingmei”: HAHAH
(1:15:48 AM) “mingmei”: yea…
(1:15:48 AM) jtwxmann: “if i can handle berkeley finals”
(1:15:51 AM) “mingmei”: HAHHA

….then I can handle anything thrown at me. Maybe, maybe, God never gives us challenges too hard to overcome. At least, if we put the effort into it. Instead of the looming threat of the 5th dimension that hovered over 2009, may 2010 be a year where the hope and promise of that statement prevails.

So what did I learn from 2009? The 5th dimension looms, optimize because the 5th dimension looms, and tribulations strengthen and educate.

Happy New Year’s to all.

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The Saddest Day of the Semester

Is today.

No, it wasn’t when I failed my Chem 4 test, or my Math 53 midterm.

It was today.

The clapping, the cheerful goodbyes, they mark the end of my first semester at college. In some ways it is surreal, because I have just finished my first semester. In other ways it is sad, because all those people whom I befriended in class, whom I could see on a regular basis, whom I struggled with through molecular orbitals and oral presentations, whom were really my first non-church/old-HS friends, are no longer going to be in my class. (All the more likely as Telebears is screwed up.) And as many know I’m not the one who asks to randomly hang out with people.

I am happy to be done with classes, but sometimes I think, what if I had gotten to know my profs and GSI’s better?  -Shrugs- (This reminds me of my reflection essay I wrote for WHAP last year.) Oh well… one never regrets it until one no longer has it.

What I remember most from professors/GSI’s:

Prof. Head-Gordon (Chem 4a): “Cartoon”, decimal point that looked like a multiply symbol

Dr. Dhillon (Chem 4a): “I hope the Stockroom doesn’t find out about this” – after being unable to blow out the candles on her bday cake, picking out said candles and putting them on the countertop in the front of the lecture hall, and seeing a burning countertop a few minutes later

Prof. Saykally (Chem 4a): For the two days he taught, certainly “Cowboy chemistry”

Prof. Frenkel (Math 53): “Single-Variable Calculus” (note that this is a multi-variable calc class)

Dario (Math 53): “Gadget”, “All the other GSI’s are crazy”

Prof. Harvey (CS 61a): “Potstickers”

Tom (Chem 4a): Diagram of hydroxide shark devouring hydronium tuna during the acid-base titration

Liu Lao Shi (Chinese 1AX): The fact that her kids don’t study Chinese lololol

Michael (CS 61a): Nothing. I didn’t really go to CS discussion/lab after the middle of the semester. He did help me with a grading error once, though.

(Note: I drafted this on Friday. So “today” refers to last Friday. Just for the record.)

Reason.

Wow, long time no post. Been a bit busy. (For those 2 ppl who read my blog.)

——————–

Every Friday/Saturday night, at around 1-2 AM, our floor lights up. Three groups of people, each doing their own thing, clash at this critical juncture: those who are sleeping, those who are in their rooms twiddling thumbs, and those who come back from the frats. The third group makes the second group laugh, and the first group angry. And when daylight comes the next day, only the first two groups remember anything about it.

Of course I’m talking about the drunken heaps of people that stumble into our floor after a night of beer pong or whatever. Many of them have blacked out; in other words, the next morning, they don’t remember a thing. Which makes me wonder: what would happen if we were to lose our memory, if we had to live day by day, minute by minute, not knowing what just happened an hour ago… just stuck eternally in a moment in time, without knowledge of the past nor expectation of the future? What substance, what incredible joy derived from experience, would we have lost from life?

What an incredibly chilling vision.

I think I’ve made a nice case for our pre-frontal lobe and our hippocampus. They are truly our most valuable packs of cells in our body. Without them, life would have no meaning. Everything other cell would toil and work for nothing. Life would no longer be lived. But not only that, they allow us to reason. Think about a baby, or maybe a black-widow spider. Think about how they react to situations. The baby cries, the black widow bites. They don’t know why they do it, it’s just programmed into them. Coming out of the mother’s womb, the baby hasn’t learned that crying will get him what he wants, that comes later. The spider doesn’t remember that biting will save its life. In the beginning, nothing has been learned, nothing has been remembered, and no knowledge exists. Only what has been programmed in exists. (No, we’re not a blank slate either, so don’t go Locke on me.)

And so therein lies the distinction between instinct and reason. The former is a reaction to what has been programmed, whereas the latter is a reaction to what has been learned and remembered.  All living creatures have the former; what separates us from everything else, what makes us special, is the latter. For some odd reason, we weren’t just programmed with instinct, but we were gifted with reason.

This is an important distinction to make. Instinct is something we do for self-preservation. From the Christian notion of sinful nature to the Darwinian view of Survival of the Fittest, every major world view/theory comes back to this concept, because as animals, we have this inside of us. On the other hand, reason is something we do that incorporates a larger picture, a type of knowledge that we humans have gathered and remembered, to create what we believe is an informed view of reality. Being human is having that capability to reason.

(Note that the keyword is “what we believe”… I believe there are three stages of reason, from ignorance to knowledge to wisdom, that affect our reasoning in different ways. That’s for a later post.)

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m a big proponent of reason. Instinct is thinking small; reasoning is thinking big. Of course, there are instances when our reason is skewed and our instinct is appropriate, such as when we have a split second to make a decision and thus cannot spend time compiling a picture. But I think, as these creatures gifted with memory, it’s important for us to take our reasoning ability seriously, and use it well. There is a reason why we scoff at those who act upon every slight impulse. Remember the drunk example in the beginning of this (now seeing as it is) dissertation? In fact, going back to that, it’s not only memory that enables us to live life. Reason makes it so much richer.

Why is this important? Because of what hinders reason: emotion. The stronger the emotion, the bigger the hindrance. And what more could be stronger than our most innate, programmed emotion? Yes, I’m talking about love. No, no no, scratch that. Love is an improper word. Love is not even an emotion, it’s a dedication. So what’s that word….?

Lust. Oh yeah, that’s it.

Yeah, that feeling of “ZOMG WHATTA CUTE GIRL”, don’t you realize in retrospect how elementary that attachment is? To be completely enveloped by a feeling of helplessness, for your mind to be completely taken… control… of…. by one person? Anybody with a slight inkling of reason knows that there are more than 3 billion females on this planet and a world much bigger than one single person.

(Another side note: I’m not talking about last night, to you know who; I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time.)

Granted, I’m not an emotionless person. Love may not be an emotion, but it does involve it, so it requires an unreasonable amount of time and effort to maintain. Yet it and the emotion of joy enrich life as much as the ability to reason. I guess in some ways, both reason and emotion are derived from memories. “Remember that one time we laughed so hard that you snorted and I farted?  Haha!” But the problem arises when emotion completely overwhelms reason. That is something to be cautious of, because without reason, the human part of us melts away, and we are left with nothing but that self-serving instinct at the core of our animalistic programming.

So there, this is why I responded with “reason” during the Thanks card we wrote after TC. Let’s be gracious of our reason, and let’s be careful to not let ourselves destroy it in critical times. It’s not too late to be in Thanksgiving for what we have been gifted with, which, according to Pastor Ed, means being in remembrance of it!