So normally I take a pretty transparent approach to writing articles. Not completely transparent, I certainly use the definite article "I" quite a bit when I'm writing on here, but I try to avoid writing explicitly about myself. If you're interested in something not about me, you're free to hit ye' ole' Back Button on your browser (does anybody do that anymore? Where my backspace people at?!). I'm gonna talk about me.
This is going to be a very strangely worded letter to people that know me. It's hard to explain this as I don't have "fans" to disappoint, but there are people that legitimately expect me to follow through on the mission I began a couple of years ago and will be severely disappointed in what I have to say right now. To those people I have nothing of substance to offer you. I'm sorry, I guess. But in searching for my true calling I was able to cross one more box item off the list of explorations.
Let me be a little less cryptic and speak in plain terms.
A couple of years ago I got it into my head that I could pursue a degree in physics before ultimately moving on to graduate school and earn a PhD in astrophysics. This was a lofty goal that was met with much incredulity by most I shared this with. It's not something people are accustomed to hearing and in retrospect, that's probably one of the reasons I was pursuing it. Combine that with a little intellectual conceit and there I was, on my path to physics class. I breezed through my prerequisites, hammered out some great grades in math classes (an A in Single Variable Calculus), excelled in the chemistry and science classes (all A's) and entered the spooky realm of theorizing about nature. As I write this we just performed our latest lab on centripetal acceleration and I found a certain joy and peace in deriving its equation using two different methods.
Still - what I also found was a deep emptiness in class and a sense of foreboding. I was about to be launched into the complexity surrounding energy, friction, and inertia - three ideas that are actually pretty central to astrophysics in some way or another - and I was not looking forward to any of them. As each quiz came up and each sub-par score came back, I began to spiral further into a black hole of anxiety and self-doubt. As the brilliant author Amy Cuddy puts it, I was developing full-on "impostor syndrome." I'd look at my non-struggling classmates and wonder if I would ever be able to grasp the math as quickly as they did. The concepts themselves were quite easy to hold on to.
And so I began to ask myself why I was there. I reminded myself how much I love the pursuit of the answers to the universe - only to remember that I wasn't necessarily driven by the pursuit so much as the revelation. Each revelation however, was a guided tour through the hallways of discovery. I wasn't pulling these discoveries myself, I was being spoon-fed them. The trouble with physics, you quickly find, is the lack of respect for those that have a large appetite in that manner.
So I began to really examine other disciplines. At first I knew it was just my dealing with a crisis of doubt and did so half-heartedly. I looked into neuroscience, behavioral science, chemistry - anything but physics or any physics-related field. Then I'd go back to the lab and get to work. Then I'd get another reminder that I'm a shitty organizer of information. I would spend hours preparing a lab, studying the so-called "data deductions" and equations, preparing for the quiz you never knew was coming, and suddenly found I had to give up on other intellectual pursuits. My other class, Calculus II, also suffered and I struggled mightily on my first exam. All of this with effectively zero free time, zero stress relief, and a boatload of anxiety. For what? Something I no longer felt connected to.
It was in this mire that I suddenly realized what mattered to me. But I couldn't just jump at it without considering everything. I began to organize my thoughts - what mattered to me - and write them down. I performed yet another "Get Real" exercise and rather than blindly follow what the results spat out, I decided to instead look for common threads. What connected the dots to my memories, goals, people, and things. More importantly, what was I drawn to that I couldn't address? What were the things I wanted to be doing that I could no longer do? What pieces of information attracted my attention?
The answer isn't actually simple (not that it should be). Something that I did begin to follow some few years ago was history. And even after having picked that up it merely helped inform my worldview just a bit more. What was actually happening was my incredible attention to human detail. This actually isn't new. I've long been attracted to the science of human behavior but it's never been particularly finite. That is to say I've frequently been interested in psychology, sociology, leadership, group dynamics, culture, global politics, etc. My interest level wouldn't necessarily wax and wane between each but was always piqued by each whenever the opportunity to read or learn about them was presented. At no point did I think that there was a course of study that would let me study one or all in partial or complete fashion as need arose. Even if there was, I didn't consider my curiosity about the human condition particularly relevant to my studies.
But the pieces continued to move. I began my fascination with people shortly after moving to California (just after high school). I began to study leadership and what virtuous people do to maintain their energy and commitment to helping people. I started listening to atheist speakers and reading their books and became quite ardenly apposed to religious thought (something I have considerably backed away from - more on that later) while trying to understand its origins. I gained an unique interest in micro-expressions and the subtleties of human body language. That actually then transferred into a study of canine body language. Then came history. Then the unthinkable happened. I hated philosophy in high school but found myself watching short videos and listening to speakers discuss things like free will and determinism. I started using "-ism" more in my daily dialogue. The horror!
Something I will also point to, looking at the side-scroll of blogs I've logged so far. In each case I have certainly shown a keen interest in science - but I have also found a way to humanize the elements and in as clear a manner as possible. Nearly everything I write is told from the perspective of someone that cares about other ones.
Okay... you've made it this far. Congratulations, by the way, most people don't have the stomach to read this wall of text. So what next? What can I do with all of this information?
There is a field of study that actually rather explicitly allows a scientist to leap from one discipline to the next in hopes of combining different things in collaboration to produce something unique. This field of study is not that high up on the list of highest salaries in the world. In fact, with few exceptions, it hovers at a somewhat low level. That study is anthropology.
Okay, listen. Stop. No, stop it. Shut up. Let me talk.
My last blog (Tweeting About Guns) was written while I was sitting in the library at Palomar College. I was supposed to be studying for chemistry but the much-maligned (by those in a county of a certain pinkish hue) "Democratic Sit-In" was happening in Washington, DC following the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando. My goal was actually a bit of a social science experiment. I was going to use Twitter and known statistics about the nature of its users (specifically their political leanings) to conduct an informal poll on the nation's true feelings about gun control. The methodology was entirely too unspecific to be used as a proper study but it certainly provided the experimental method practice that every scientist needs. It also allowed me to conduct research on something that I knew mattered and I know the world needs but isn't being provided - cultural understanding.
My decision to pursue anthropology isn't some stab-in-the-dark desperate heave into the end-zone. I have always had an intense attention to the motivations and tendencies of people on an individual basis and as a group. I have also developed a keen sense of personal bias, mostly in myself, as a motivator behind my last objective thoughts and reactions. This has also led me to strongly consider the motivations behind other people's behaviors and I have to tell you it's immensely empowering. The ability to remove yourself from a reactionary state of mind into one of total mindfulness is something I cannot stress my love for with words. It is truly a wonderful thing to carefully consider a topic that is heated and has a seemingly simplified answer (which, spoiler alert, if you have a lot of people claiming one of the same two answers, there's a rather strong chance that neither is correct and the truth is actually nuanced).
Anthropology may as well be called the science of human subtlety. It is an inter-disciplinary, holistic approach to tackling some of society's greatest problems heading into the global state. As borders continue to become less and less obvious and cultural boundaries continue to be broken down and new lines of communication continue to be forged, there is a need for someone (or a group of someones) to bridge the gap between cultures and prepare the world for what it does not know it needs to prepare for.
The potential applications are exponential. Anthropologists work in a wide variety of fields. Directly, they can be academics, forensics experts, archaeologists, or researchers. Indirectly, the field contributes to some of the best design departments in the world - as they have a strong sense of human social patterns - and can apply their knowledge in marketing, sociology, economics, urban planning, ecology, environmental science, and yes, even space. Consider the very recent announcement (just yesterday!!!) of Elon Musk's plan to send humans to Mars. The ship they will build (expertly named "Heart of Gold") will be able to transport up to 100 humans at a time. The ability to pick the right mix of people will be down to numerous experts, but will likely require an anthropologist to determine how any mix will behave and how to mitigate potential problems as the colonies grow and their behavior patterns become more emergent. Imagine being Mars' urban planner?
Okay, I think I've kept you away from cat photos long enough.
If you are disappointed in my decision to drop Physics and move into Anthropology, I can't offer any words that will be useful to you. Ultimately, my decision rests on my need for understanding the human condition, improving the lives of the people around me, and acknowledging that nearly every fiber of my being has been devoted to the understanding of why we behave how we behave and what we can do to communicate better.
I'll end with an interesting aside on something that had me pondering heavily on the possibilities. Sam Harris, on his "Waking Up," talked about how people view death and dying in their last few moments potentially alive. He considers the mentality of someone who "has just taken on the full-time job of staying alive" and what people consider. Invariably, when people are faced with their own mortality, they are forced to consider what they achieved and each time they do, they are immediately regretful of how they spent their time. "I wish I had taken more vacations." Gotten more sleep, traveled more, loved deeper, spent more time with loved ones. This sentiment is echoed yet again by an incredibly powerful TED Talk by an EMT named Matthew O'Reilly (link here - it's a short video but incredibly emotional) who also told of how people feel in their final dying moments when someone has had the courage to tell them they would soon die.
We don't have time to do anything we don't believe 100% in. We want to live happy, fulfilling lives. If you were faced with your own mortality tomorrow - would you wish you had done more or less of something?