Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some random thoughts

A couple of passages in two books struck a chord in me. The first passage is from Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers:

An overabundance of information can be stressful as well. One of the places I dreaded most in graduate school was the "new journal desk" in the library, where all the science journals received the previous week were displayed, thousands of pages of them. Everyone would circle around it, teetering on the edge of panic attacks. All that available information seemed to taunt us with how out of control we felt - stupid, left behind, out of touch, and overwhelmed.

I got this feeling many times. In school, the library was this wonderful place which had splendid story books that gave you hours of pleasure. Then you go to college and the library will be filled with journals and books bearing intimidating titles. Serious People will be poring over these books with great concentration. Was I intimidated much? You bet! I will also try reading these books but will not be able to get past the first couple of pages.

There will be whole books on topics that you had thought had been adequately covered in one paragraph in the textbook that you had been using. There will be a rack with the ominous sign 'New Arrivals' where new books with strange titles will keep arriving and disappearing every week. I will wonder who read these books and survived. (There are people who do incredible things. I saw a list of The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English and the first word itself I did not know, among many other words. It is disheartening, I tell you.)

The other passage is about the Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation:

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was renowned for keeping a calm exterior, but internally: "I am almost ashamed to confess it. Years run apace, but nothing done! I wish I had been more concentrated, directed and disciplined." At the time of this lament he was twenty, and it was but one year since the sea journey where he'd peered into the catch-22 from E=mc2, which, along with other work, would ultimately lead to the understanding of black holes.

When I read books on evolution and astronomy, I often think how the authors know so much. At the end of the book there will be a plethora of books and articles listed as recommended reading. I will wonder when they got time to read them and more importantly, assimilate them. As Mortimer J. Adler said, " In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you." And they also have to spend time on a day job. Did that guy called Isaac Asimov really exist? He wrote so many books on so many diverse subjects that I wonder when he slept. And I start thinking like Chandrasekhar: 'I should not have wasted so much time.' As Kushwant Singh says:

Over the years I have discovered what enormous energy silence creates, energy that socializing and useless chit chat depletes. You have got to train yourself to be alone. You have to discipline yourself to follow a slavish routine.

A major difference is that Chandrasekhar had the thought at 20, I had the thought at 40. What is it that Jimmy Connors said about experience? " The trouble with experience is that by the time you have it you are too old to take advantage of it."

1 comment:

  1. So true.....am totally intimidated by the info you have!!!!!And by your indomitable spirit...