"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hailing the Summer

Greetings, fair Reader!

The summer adventures have begun.

 After a brief, happy sojourn home, I find myself back at school for exciting chemistry research adventures. I have finally more or less settled back into my room, with a new roommate and a new set of challenges to conquer. Exciting!

My research adventures started yesterday, and it rapidly became evident that I definitely have my work cut out for me in the next ten weeks...
I have already gotten a tiny bit deeper into Unix, discovered and explored Emacs, and am expected to gain working knowledge of Fortran by the end of the week, since that is the programming language I shall be working in. So in the last two days I have gone through about 160 pages of Fortran.... only 200ish to go! Woo!
Oh, and let's not forget the 100+ pages of reading that I copied for myself today....
It seems quite daunting, but I am rather excited, to be honest. A lot of work means a lot of learning... and I feel like the amount of learning I will be doing will be slightly ridiculous. In a good way.

But I do love that my nerdiness is increasing significantly. I think I may have to start gaming. Or go crazy and convert to Linux. Somehow or another I need to affirm my transition into this particular realm of nerdom.
In my mind, female computer sciencey nerds have a nice edge of badassery, and while skipping through my Fortran book, I like to think to myself- yeah... yeah, I could do that. I could be a cool nerd-girl. I could totally do that!
...But then I realize that my carefully penned notes, general tidiness and prim&proper-ness do seem to disqualify me from playing the role of badass nerd girl.
But hey, that doesn't have to stop me from feeling super cool about coding, does it?

I don't know why I am so enchanted by coding. Maybe because I have been woefully ignorant of how it all works. Computers and programming seem to be shrouded in some sort of magical veil. In some way, computers seem to grasp at the magic of life- quite literally.
Computers stand at the border between physical reality and the wonderful world of abstraction. They translate between the "real" world and the world of ideas. They partake in the mystery of Meaning.
Magic, I say!

I have set about reading I Am a Strange Loop, by Douglas Hofstadter. He is, quite simply, fantastic. The knowledge that he is at Indiana University seriously tempts me to delve into Cognitive Science and ambitiously strive to end up in his lab, because it could only be absolutely awesome. But I digress.
The book builds upon ideas Hofstadter introduced in Godel, Escher, Bach (GEB), but focuses on the concept of I, or the self. Consciousness. That slippery thing!

To my extreme delight, I Am a Strange Loop has succeeded in weaving together essential philosophical questions with cognitive science, basic neuroscience, logic/mathematics, and computer science. (It's amazing how he manages to meld together so many topics and questions I delight in!)
He plays with questions like: What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be me?  What does it mean to know? What is consciousness? How might consciousness arise? How can something have meaning?

I think that, through GEB, Hofstadter really got me to appreciate the idea that structure is the key to meaning. Structure... ah, how magical!
I do not think I am yet ready to write out my thoughts on the subject... my thoughts are still hazy and unorganized, but the picture is slowly starting to come together. I just have unstructured words to throw at you.
Words like logic, and structure, and thinking, and meaning, and language, and binary, and beauty.
Wonderful, magical words!

But I should stop my incoherent rambling on Hofstadter's books for the time being.

The days seem to be virtually endless. There is an amazing fifteen-and-a-half hours between sunrise and sunset!
By 7am it is bright and sunny, and the world beckons me to be out of bed.
Thankfully, I obliged the world today. I went for a walk-jog in the arb, and it was a wonderful, wonderful decision. The morning light was gold-like and happy, the plant-life was gorgeous, and a little creek which I found along my path convinced me that I was part of an enchanted world. It was absolutely lovely.

I am not sure what exactly I want to achieve during these bright summer days, but I know that I want to partake in a curious mixture of gentle loveliness and nerd-girl awesomeness. I want to go for daily walk-runs, I want to improve my flexibility, I want to attempt a plunge into the world of music by making an acquaintance with the piano.... I think mostly I want to realize that I really do have a certain degree of control over my life. It is the sort of truth that lurks dangerously in the background. Dangerously, because it is so obvious it seems to evade belief.

I have spent a lot of time feeling small and incapable and boring... and done nothing about it.
But, ha! That is not how the game is played, World! Nice try, but I've finally caught on to your trickery.
The game is played by soaking in programming languages. By having the courage to try to learn piano. By having the discipline to wake up in the morning and greet a beautiful day. The game is played by realizing that you want to do something worthwhile... and then taking a step in that direction.
It's so terrifying, but so wonderful and liberating!

I may get lost in the arb, or fail miserably at piano, or cook the worst meals ever produced on the face of the earth, or feel utterly lost in the world of chemistry. The chances are pretty high that all of these things will happen within the next few weeks. But I have a suspicion that with a bit of time and a lot of work, it's going to be okay.

Maybe there's still hope for badassery. Hmm. Can I be both lovely and badass?
Well... I do love a good paradox.

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