Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword: If something cannot be settled by experiments, it is not worthy of debate.
— Mike Alder
You’d think I made that up, and you’d be wrong.
Just last night, a friend of mine blurted, “I think I’ve found out what’s wrong with Skylar! He has Witzelsucht!” A moment later, my phone buzzed with an incoming message that read,
Witzelsucht is a set of rare neurological symptoms characterized by a tendency to make puns, or tell inappropriate jokes or pointless stories in socially inappropriate situations. Patients do not understand that their behavior is abnormal, therefore, are non-responsive to others’ reactions. This disorder is most commonly seen in patients with frontal lobe damage, particularly right frontal lobe tumors or trauma.
There is a cornucopia of ways to describe me, and I really did’t think Witzelsucht was one of them. For starters, I had serious doubt about the very existence of this “disease,” which led me to Witzelsuchut’s Wikipedia page. There, at the top of the screen, it says “this article needs more medical references for verification.” I also couldn’t recall any incidents in my life involving brain damages, although this is somewhat an untenable argument because, apparently, if I have had a serious brain injury, I could have forgotten everything about it. I may have to call my parents to confirm that.
I knew my friend was just making jokes, but I am the kind of person who always has to reply with, if not witty, funny quick comebacks. I racked my brain trying to find something that would fit this unprecedented situation, and oddly enough, Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword was the first thing that came into my mind (even Wikipedia says Witzelsucht needs further corroboration, I doubt people can do experiments on it). Nonetheless, I didn’t think my friend would get the reference, so I replied with, “Oh no, is there a cure for this?”
Like I said, there are many ways to describe me, and whimsical could be one of them. Last Thursday night, while all my classmates were reading for Friday’s media law class, I was curling up in my chair watching Did Past Really Happen, an episode of Vsauce – a popular science youtube channel – in which I learned about Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword. Did I deem media law class unimportant? No, but I felt an irresistible urge to dabble in science, somewhere out of nowhere. The video took me to another video, one that was about time dilation. I was so drawn into the subject that I spent the rest of the night working out the math behind how and why time is dilated.
Time passed surprisingly fast (did it dilate?), and I was nowhere near the suburb of result when the hour hand on my watch pointed at two. I have never done anything which I knew nothing about with such passion! I am good at English (I guess), but when I started learning English I hated it; my major is communication studies, however, I can’t remember when was the last time I read something and lost track of time.
I went to bed that night with my head full of complex equations and memories of my high school physics class, where my teacher never mentioned anything interesting about physics. That was the period of my life when I had to choose between science and liberal arts not because of personal interest, but which one was easier for me. In my case, it was liberal arts. I lulled myself into believing I liked liberal arts, despite the fact I had a collection of science magazines and books stacking on my bookshelf. I then justified my choice by acknowledging without a good grade, I would not be able to go to a good college.
Crazy rocket science played the role of lullaby and I fell asleep quickly.
Friday after law class I went to work at the Writing Center. After finishing with my clients, I picked up where I left off the previous night about time dilation mathematics, and miraculously, I worked out the equation. I knew to physicists, what I managed to understand was barely the tip of the science iceberg, but I couldn’t contain myself from the euphoria of realizing that time, a fundamental element by which we perceive our world, is actually relative to different observers and their velocities.
The last time I was this excited was when I learned the sun will not be exploded in five years, but 1,000 years.
I was six when my dad bought me a set of rudimentary science books, they were categorized into astronomy, animal science, geology and culture. As I was skimming through astronomy for its colorful illustrations, a particular one caught my attention and warranted a close reading – it was the explosion of our sun. The text below explained that our sun is powered by fusion of hydrogen; its fuel will deplete in five to seven billion years and then the sun will turn into a red giant devouring everything in the solar system. I was just six, and I knew neither fusion nor the word “billion;” all I extrapolated from the text was there is a huge fireball – burning, presumably, coal – in the sky that will explode in five to seven years. I even brought the book to class to show my friends that we were on borrowed time. My friends, who were playing tic-tac-toe on a plain of sand, thought I went crazy while I was hysterically passing the grievous news like a banshee to anyone who cared enough to pay attention. I came home that night feeling hopeless, understandable for a child of six. It was when my dad later explained the word “billion” that I felt relieved.
“A billion is more than a thousand.”
It was a good explanation. As a kid, I thought 1,000 was the maximum of everything, that 1,000 was the largest number there was. I then continued to immerse myself into a weird world of spaceships, the international space station, the moon, the universe, and what holds them together – gravity.
But high school happened: I was forced to make a choice between science and liberal arts. I gave up physics because nothing in textbooks nor teacher’s mouth could entice me the way that explosion illustration did. The most interesting question in class involved a ramp and a piece of wood, “how much friction does the ramp exert on the wood?” I don’t know. How much is an apple on Mars? Nothing about general relativity was mentioned, nothing about space-time, nothing about dark matter, nothing about anti-matter. I am not suggesting these arcane matters should be taught thoroughly to children of 16, but at least they should somehow be mentioned in a way that encourages us to explore furthermore into the realm of science. In high school, everything was quantified into an index of probability of going to good colleges. Teachers weren’t responsible for inspiring students, their one and only mission was to train them into exam machines.
I am of many things, and being realistic is one of them. I chose liberal arts because it was easier for me, thanks to which I was able to go to a good college. Four years of that have laid a solid foundation for me to study in the U.S., which is the reason why I am even writing about this. But that is not to say I wouldn’t somehow become a great scientist had I chosen science over liberal arts.
If I could go back in time and choose again, I would still choose liberal arts. If I could go back in time to another parallel universe where high schools are made for students to explore their interests and discover their potentials, I would choose science. But then again, no experiments can be performed on past events, so according to Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword, I shouldn’t bother debating whether I would be better off had I chosen science in high school.
For now, I believe I have made the perfect choice for myself, or have I?