I recently read a great and brutally honest post by an emerging marine biologist which you can read here. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are actually real people involved in academia when you read the immense amount of writing lacking personal pronouns coming out of these institutions. Looking through my own posts, I see how often I unconsciously attempt to extract myself from the gooey mess of writing in hopes to give the illusion that my absence somehow helps to solidify and render more convincing whatever argument I am trying to make. This is probably more due to habit than anything, but the authority of the written word is surprisingly easy to be swept away by. And looking at academia, it seems like a deep chasm separates those who just ‘interpret’ the world with their ‘gooey’ interpretations (this would be all those artsy folk in the humanities) and those more prickly among us for whom reality doesn’t need interpretation: interpretation needs a dose of reality.
The social sciences hover around this interesting limbo between the two seeming opposites of science and art, and I think I chose this area because that’s where I feel most comfortable, somewhere in the grey area. Trying to understand how people learn languages has led me down a path I never would imagine to be on just a year ago, and I refrain from trying to be certain of where I’ll be a year from now. But meeting all of the interesting characters that wander around the old, ugly halls of the building I most often find myself in, I wonder how I got myself into all this. I mean, I thoroughly enjoy it, I’m always learning something new, more facts to file away into my brain, but what is it for? This reminds me of a passage from M. C. Richards weirdly fascinating little book from the 60’s called ‘Centering.’ A unique little amalgamation of pottery, poetry and philosophy:
“You don’t need to tell me what education is. Everybody knows that education goes on all the time everywhere all through our lives,and that it is the process of waking up to life. Jean Henri Fabre said something just about like that, I think. He said that to be educated was not to be taught, but to wake up. It takes a heap of resolve to keep from going to sleep in the middle of the show. It’s not that we want to sleep our lives away. It’s that it requires certain kinds of energy, certain capacities for taking the world into our consciousness, certain real powers of body and soul to be a match for reality.
In trying to understand something so pervasive as learning a language, it’s funny how I slowly got sucked into the weird little world I now find myself doing research in, but it’s fascinating and great and important, I think, and I wonder why….
When I read Kevin’s post, it was strikingly personal, but through writing about his own personal struggles with life and science, it carried across a kind of universal application to all of us as human beings. Anyways, it was interesting for me to read and be provoked to think again about why I am doing what I am doing, and how my own goals are deeply rooted in my past experiences. And how reading about others’ experiences can give me deeper insight into my own. It’s not about acquiring more knowledge, or seeing how high up in the ranks I can get in some fraction of the academic pie, but about constantly waking up to how much I enjoy being in and exploring this little planet.
“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”
At the end of his book, “The Age of Wonder,” which retells the story of several individuals trying to find their place in a world seemingly divided between two worlds, Richard Holmes brings to clarity the position that I feel myself to be taking. That’s what I think this post is about for me, attempting to bridge a gap that I feel in my life, a search to relate the research I do to who I am as someone ridiculously intrigued by languages. I don’t think I’ll make it through the gauntlet of academia otherwise…
“The old, rigid debates and boundaries – science versus religion, science versus the arts, science versus traditional ethics – are no longer enough. We should be impatient with them. We need a wider, more generous , more imaginative perspective. Above all, perhaps, we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe. And that is how this book might possibly end.”
– Richard Holmes, “The Age of Wonder”
And that is how this post might possibly end….