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Where to start on the path of enlightenment?(and other help)

  1. Aug 28, 2012 #1
    (It was hard to think of a title) This isn't really a question about a direct career path, so I hope it's the most correct place to put it. It's more of a poll of opinion about the school system, my life, and how I begin learning what I want to learn. So it's a career question in some sense...I guess. If you have the time, I could really use some advice. Anyway, I'll just jump right in. (1st paragraph is somewhat of a rant, 2nd is the question, 3rd is me personally.)

    I'm deeply upset. I've actually become extremely depressed over the last year or so. Basically, like a lot of people, I can't stand the rigidity of the modern school system. I'm enthralled by many of the beautiful topics, ideas, and concepts covered in schools, but schools take them and twist them into something dreadful. Taking something as breathtaking as geometry, and turning it into work, w/o an explanation of the subject, its history, etc., is an inexcusable injustice. Their only concern is that the student can complete standard problems presented on tests, and put up with metric tons of pointless practice. It makes me sick. This is repeated in every course: history, foreign languages, English, sciences, etc. Their "work is the only thing that matters" policy is so imbued in me at this point, that I can't even casually read a book w/o scrutinizing how I'm doing it. I have trouble thinking of new, simpler ways of completing complex math problems, where I used to be much more proficient. I hate them for stifling my creativity. My only hope now is that b/c I am aware of this, I'll develop my own take (more so anyway) on maths, philosophy, physics, etc. as I explore them independently. In some sense, I feel like Einstein with my passion for knowledge and detest of schools. But nowadays, one can't just quit school and nonetheless have a successful career. Which wouldn't matter to me, except that I know at one point I'll need equipment, and labs, and a research fund to advance my knowledge, I want first-hand experience. I also don't want to have to work a menial job to support myself; I want my life's passion to be my "job". Now that my rant is over, let me actually ask my question.

    I'm interested in becoming a physicist/mathematician. I'm taking all required courses necessary to understand these fields, and will be attending college next year, but I want more of an understanding so that I may do my own independent studies. I just feel a bit lost, I'm not sure what to do but go to my library and read all I can about both subjects. So , I suppose my question is, does anyone have any advice on specific books to read or things I should do to become more capable of pursuing a fundamental understanding of the universe? Also, if someone could recommend any books to inspire such curious fervor, that would be helpful. I get discouraged quite easily and often need something reassuring to keep me going.

    Now, my more personal reason for writing this post at 2:30 a.m. Like I said, I'm rather depressed. I find daily life so endlessly dreary, and physics/math is something that can take me out of it. I can explore the universe in my mind and keep my sense of despair at bay. When I'm doing anything else, I can't help but shake a feeling that my life is meaningless. I need an understanding of the universe to give me perspective and a hope that there is something more. Over the years, I've been trying to find something to give me some purpose, I've naturally always drifted towards philosophy, but all that does is keep me running in circles. I want a formal, logical reason for everything. Like many, that is my goal, though there are certainly men far more capable of achieving this than I. Adding to my issues is a deep anxiety problem. My anxiety, I'm sure, is more genetic than anything, just somewhat influenced by outside events. No matter where I am, what I'm doing, I feel anxious; frightened, somewhat of a hypochondriac. Benzo's are out of the question. I've heard of their clouding effect, and that would be disastrous for me. If anyone has advice on this, it’d be much appreciated. Anyway, there is a short synopsis of where I'm at right now. I hope I've made it clear that I'm quite confused and lost, and a bit scared at this point. If you've actually taken the time to read this, thank you. It means a lot.
     
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  3. Aug 28, 2012 #2
    (It was hard to think of a title) This isn't really a question about a direct career path, so I hope it's the most correct place to put it. It's more of a poll of opinion about the school system, my life, and how I begin learning what I want to learn. So it's a career question in some sense...I guess. If you have the time, I could really use some advice. Anyway, I'll just jump right in. (1st paragraph is somewhat of a rant, 2nd is the question, 3rd is me personally.)

    I'm deeply upset. I've actually become extremely depressed over the last year or so. Basically, like a lot of people, I can't stand the rigidity of the modern school system. I'm enthralled by many of the beautiful topics, ideas, and concepts covered in schools, but schools take them and twist them into something dreadful. Taking something as breathtaking as geometry, and turning it into work, w/o an explanation of the subject, its history, etc., is an inexcusable injustice. Their only concern is that the student can complete standard problems presented on tests, and put up with metric tons of pointless practice. It makes me sick. This is repeated in every course: history, foreign languages, English, sciences, etc. Their "work is the only thing that matters" policy is so imbued in me at this point, that I can't even casually read a book w/o scrutinizing how I'm doing it. I have trouble thinking of new, simpler ways of completing complex math problems, where I used to be much more proficient. I hate them for stifling my creativity. My only hope now is that b/c I am aware of this, I'll develop my own take (more so anyway) on maths, philosophy, physics, etc. as I explore them independently. In some sense, I feel like Einstein with my passion for knowledge and detest of schools. But nowadays, one can't just quit school and nonetheless have a successful career. Which wouldn't matter to me, except that I know at one point I'll need equipment, and labs, and a research fund to advance my knowledge, I want first-hand experience. I also don't want to have to work a menial job to support myself; I want my life's passion to be my "job". Now that my rant is over, let me actually ask my question.

    I'm interested in becoming a physicist/mathematician. I'm taking all required courses necessary to understand these fields, and will be attending college next year, but I want more of an understanding so that I may do my own independent studies. I just feel a bit lost, I'm not sure what to do but go to my library and read all I can about both subjects. So , I suppose my question is, does anyone have any advice on specific books to read or things I should do to become more capable of pursuing a fundamental understanding of the universe? Also, if someone could recommend any books to inspire such curious fervor, that would be helpful. I get discouraged quite easily and often need something reassuring to keep me going.

    Now, my more personal reason for writing this post at 2:30 a.m. Like I said, I'm rather depressed. I find daily life so endlessly dreary, and physics/math is something that can take me out of it. I can explore the universe in my mind and keep my sense of despair at bay. When I'm doing anything else, I can't help but shake a feeling that my life is meaningless. I need an understanding of the universe to give me perspective and a hope that there is something more. Over the years, I've been trying to find something to give me some purpose, I've naturally always drifted towards philosophy, but all that does is keep me running in circles. I want a formal, logical reason for everything. Like many, that is my goal, though there are certainly men far more capable of achieving this than I. Adding to my issues is a deep anxiety problem. My anxiety, I'm sure, is more genetic than anything, just somewhat influenced by outside events. No matter where I am, what I'm doing, I feel anxious; frightened, somewhat of a hypochondriac. Benzo's are out of the question. I've heard of their clouding effect, and that would be disastrous for me. If anyone has advice on this, it’d be much appreciated. Anyway, there is a short synopsis of where I'm at right now. I hope I've made it clear that I'm quite confused and lost, and a bit scared at this point. If you've actually taken the time to read this, thank you. It means a lot.
     
  4. Aug 28, 2012 #3
    I don't think it's pointless. It's like jogging or lifting weights. It might seem pointless, but there is usually a point to it even if you don't seem like you are getting anything done.

    One thing that I wonder about this story about Einstein is it is true.

    Also "passion=putting up with a lot of pain to get what you want." If you aren't willing to do what seems like pointless exercises to get knowledge, then you don't have passion. Getting knowledge is *painful* and the deeper you get into things the more painful things are.

    I just want to warn you in advance that you are probably going to have a huge amount of
    difficulty unless you grit your teeth and learn the material. Much of physics and math involves learning a precise language and a precise method of thinking, and doing that involves a lot of work. The first classes that you will get involve calculating "simple" things like springs and balls and learning how to do the basics. A lot of that involves just repeating the same calculation until it's second nature.

    It's painful and difficult. I think it's worthwhile, but it's important to go in knowing how difficult it's going to be.

    Another warning. Once you get deep into it, I do not know if physics won't make your situation worse.

    I'm not sure that physics won't make things worse. The more you know, the more confused you will be.

    The one thing I would suggest is not to make any permanent decisions now. Part of the purpose of college is to figure out what you like and what you dislike. Take a few physics courses. If you love them then great. If you hate them, then just find something else to do.
     
  5. Aug 28, 2012 #4

    chiro

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    Hey bmcphysics and welcome to the forums.

    To add to twofish's really good advice (I suggest you really read a few times what he said), one avenue if you can not get a job that you like is to work for a bit and then do it on your own: in other words work for yourself.

    But I think you might be surprised that when you work for yourself you end up working more for everyone else that yourself.

    When you work for yourself you will probably working for a lot less than minimum wage without any benefits and you'll be putting your time, your money, and possibly your health on the line depending on how bad it gets before you suffer a breakdown.

    If you really want to work for yourself and not employ anyone, one suggestion would be to become a consultant in some area. There are many kinds of consultants that do all kinds of things like doing counsel or advisory work, project work with some speciality (software development like program manager, specialist programmer, etc or engineering with relevant examples), or other kinds of cycle-based work (I'm thinking of something like say a regulated audit, or some other specialist role of this kind).

    But before you can do this you will need to build a name for yourself and that will involve you working for someone else and really showing people that you can bend over backwards and deliver by racking up a list of projects and experience.

    The project managers have a formal way of getting their "stripes" with the Six-Sigma "belts" where they move up to the black belt by managing projects of various kinds.

    This kind of thing is contract work so you will have to worry about getting the work yourself which is the price for total freedom.

    One other thing about knowing or finding out some absolute truth: it's really really hard to find proper truth and you should never trust anyone that claims to have it and only really ever consider people who are genuinely looking for it (paraphrasing a quote by Jordan Maxwell).

    Everything is relative to something else and the world works mostly under uncertainty because of two main things: the causes are decentralized, and so are the effects.

    We do not have all the data all the time and even if we have a lot of the data, we don't have the methods to process it to get anything truly significant out of it (in the manner you are talking about): so we make assumptions, and filter a lot of stuff out by approximating and projecting it down to something managable.

    The best thing that you can do is to relate one possibility with another no matter how absurd that possibility is: if it is a genuine possibility then it must be considered and then the mindset becomes probabilistic as opposed to something with true certainty.

    One final thought to leave you with: if you really want to understand the universe then take notice of it: it exists all around all the time for free and the amount of ideas and stimuli waiting for you already exists right now.

    It exists when the tennis ball hits the ground or when the baseball smashes through the window, and when the bees get the nectar, and when the boyfriend and girlfriend get into an argument. It exists every single moment of every single day and it's available to you with-out question in its entirety.

    Science is basically a structured way of knowledge discovery that is built on this very decentralization: it not only allows people some structured ways to carry out experiments, report their findings and come to conclusions, but even more importantly it allows anyone to do the same thing independently in a decentralized manner.

    You have more than any scientist of the past could have dreamed for with massive libraries, the internet, and the availability of content digitally on a mass scale in addition to the entire world around you waiting for you to just take notice: I suggest you use it if you want to understand more about the world.
     
  6. Aug 28, 2012 #5
    I side with the OP on this one. It is mindless, pointless drudgery. The US public school system is horrendously bad (I'm guessing the OP is from the US).

    On a purely personal note, I would rate my interaction with the public school system as only a few steps shy of outright abuse. The only thing I learned from it was a deeply ingrained hatred of classrooms and lecture-style learning. This hatred did me a great disservice; it contributed greatly to my failure my first time through college, and was the primary reason why it took me 10 years to finish my B.S. In grad. school, I found it less stressful to skip class and study the material on my own than to sit through the lecture, even for courses I enjoyed. Despite it being nearly 20 years since I last set foot in my high school, I find that I'm still not fully over my resentment of the experience; hence, in large part, this rant.

    Now, I fully grant that the plural of anecdote is not data; there are people for whom the system works well. I have nothing against them. That said, from the sounds of his post the OP is not one of them.

    My advice to the OP, based on what I found worked best for me: get out. Take time off. If you can find a way to finish up high school by taking courses at a local community college, do so. If not, consider getting a GED.

    Secondly, whatever route you decide to take for finishing high school, don't go to straight to college. If you are truly as burnt out on schooling as your post makes you seem - if you are as burnt out as I was at that age - then the worst thing you can do to yourself is to try to tough it out. Take some time off, find your motivation, and once you find yourself actually wanting to go back to school, do so. This will help your GPA, too: my first time through college, I earned a 1.7; my second time through (after taking three years off) I earned a 3.97. It's much better for your future career to take a year or two off now than it is to flunk out like I did and wind up spending 10 years for what should have taken 4.
     
  7. Aug 28, 2012 #6

    chiro

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    Thing is though you have to "earn your stripes" so to speak.

    It doesn't matter what you do: even if it's something that doesn't need university or college but some kind of apprenticeship, vocational training, or whether you just start from the bottom working your way up without any real qualification: you need to earn your stripes in the likes of others.

    The last thing that people want to have is someone that will flake out at the last minute and it's a hard thing to find the right people that are good and will stay at something for long extended periods of time even if it's "boring".

    You don't have to go to university by any means, but you need to stick at something and show you can carry something through to fruition even when it "sucks".

    It took me a while unfortunately to learn that and I wish I was told a lot earlier.
     
  8. Aug 28, 2012 #7
    Oh, I don't disagree with you there, chiro. In fact, a large part of what completing a college degree signals to your future employers is that you have earned your stripes.

    But that's not the point of my post, and not the reason I'm giving the OP the advice I am. My point is that high school, at least as it is currently formulated in US public schools, is not a very good place to earn your stripes. For some people, myself included, it is an unmitigated disaster. There is nothing wrong with finding a way to earn your stripes at a place more suited to your personality and capabilities.

    I'm not advocating that the OP take the easy way out; actually, in terms of work load, what I'm advocating is probably a more difficult path. But the OP should not subject himself to something that causes him prolonged emotional distress in exchange for very little gain; the long term harm caused by burning out far outweighs any other consideration.
     
  9. Aug 28, 2012 #8

    chiro

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    Yeah I agree high school is an absolute waste of time: it's basically baby-sitting for adolescents.

    Unfortunately the high school system is setup to take the ability of critical thinking away from the student since the student spends most of their time relying on someone to tell them everything to think, and if they get good marks, then they are considered "smart" and "not a loser".

    I agree that it's an absolutely pathetic joke myself (I even did a short practicum seeing this for myself).

    I do agree whole-heartedly with the above post with the burnout as well.

    Hopefully, the OP can pursue something that he enjoys and finds like minded people that will also contribute to this enjoyment as well in the long run no matter what that actually is.
     
  10. Aug 28, 2012 #9

    Ryan_m_b

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    Just to be clear when you say "turn into work" what exactly do you mean? It isn't clear to me.

    I'm sorry to hear about your depression, my advice would be to seek some counselling. There's no need to jump straight to pharmaceuticals.
     
  11. Aug 28, 2012 #10
    One has to be careful with generalizations. I went to a US public high school, and it turned out well. I had extremely talented well-meaning teachers that were quite active at encouraging my interest in science, and everything went more or less pretty well until I got into graduate school and got my Ph.D. I don't know if I'm lucky or unlucky.

    Agree here. That's why I'm warning him about falling in love with physics or mathematics. Depending on how things go, you may find yourself in a situation where you have teachers that kill physics for you, but some other topic works better.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  12. Aug 28, 2012 #11
    I know. That's why I said what I did in my first post; while I do not think the system works particularly well, there are some people who succeed in it (or despite it). But the converse is also true; there are some people for whom the system fails utterly - I was one such.

    I don't know to what extent the OP was engaging in hyperbole while he was venting his frustrations with the system. It's quite possible (perhaps even likely) that he's doing well in his studies and the sentiment he expressed was just a case of typical pent up teenage emotion. I chose to take him at face value, due to my own personal experience with the system, and so gave him the advice I would have liked to have been given myself. It's up to him to evaluate whether his experience is more closely related to yours or mine.
     
  13. Aug 28, 2012 #12
    One reason that I think he lives in a different era was that I lived in a period of time when the "system seemed to be working." I went to high school during the Reagan era, and the economy was growing so I was content with being "brainwashed" since there seem to be some sort of point in it (i.e. sit up straight, shut up, and there will be fun cash prizes for you in the end). And the stuff they were brainwashing me with was pretty cool (i.e. science!!!! physics!!!! 19th century English poetry!!!!)

    Something that teenagers now seem to be growing up in an era where the "system doesn't seem to be working." If you are pretty sure that in the end, there will be jobs and prizes for you, then it makes sense to "go with the system" but that's not the situation we are in right now.
     
  14. Aug 28, 2012 #13
    One thing that I've found is that this attitude can leave you dangerously vulnerable.

    Something that you'll find with many Ph.D.'s is that because they work on something that they truly care about, people can keep them working at it even if means undergoing some pretty nasty abuse. I think one reason that my life turned out pretty well was that at one point I was able to say to myself, "astrophysics is cool, but I've going to support a family."

    I've found it better to not get too emotionally attached with your work, that way if people start abusing you or if someone else offers better conditions, then you can just walk away. The fact that you are able and willing to walk away means that people are going to treat you better.
     
  15. Aug 28, 2012 #14

    cobalt124

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    From personal experience, my advice to you would be, before anything else, to seek counselling, as if you are depressed and anxious, this will cloud your judgement, and skew your perspective on things, as well as have a negative effect on your abilities.
     
  16. Aug 28, 2012 #15
    Maybe browsing around on wikipedia may help. For instance, what's the story behind π (pi)?

    Start here and if you try all the interesting links, eventually you find everything and more there is to know about it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  17. Aug 28, 2012 #16
    I sympathise. If we had to make do with only what we are taught in schools these days life wouldn't be worth living. I had to spend half my time de-programming my kids when they were younger.

    I expect I detest our education system more than you. I'm in the UK so it may not apply in your case, but here it is the State that decides what people should learn, when and how, and naturally education is dumbed down to what we need to do to earn enough money to increase GDP and pay taxes. That's it. Nothing else. Teachers have no choice in the matter.

    I also sympathise with your desire for 'formal logical reasons for everything'. I have always been the same. Unfortunately mathematics and physics will only partly help with this. Metaphysics would be my recommendation, but not metaphysics as it is taught in academia. Most of that is muddled nonsense.

    If you find life endlessly dreary then I would suggest meditation. But not here.

    As for books that might give you a better understanding of the universe, the choice is vast. You say you are drawn to philosophy, as you must be for such an understanding. The thing to watch here is not spend all your time reading people who do not understand it themselves. Usually philosophy courses in western universities focus only on such authors. You'll end up going round and round in the same circles that they do. So maybe you might like to try Francis Bradley's 'Appearance and Reality', G.S Brown's 'Laws of Form', almost anything metaphysical by C.S Peirce or even Radhakrishnan's 'Philosophy of the Upanishads'. This may at least make a change from the tedious vocational schoolwork and suggest that there may be more to this dreary life than it can appear. But be aware this is an idiosyncratic book-list.
     
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