Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Need for Intellectual Vigor

One of my favorite small online writers is Quintus Curtius (one of a few reasons I frequent Return of Kings, and am willing to overlook some of the negative aspects of that site). I find his articles consistently interesting. Quintus has mentioned numerous times of his experiences overseas, including a very interesting account of his service in Bosnia as a United States Marine. Quintus seems to be at a good phase in his life: he has the experience and enlightenment of a seasoned man and the energy and vigor to put those things into action. He's an example that younger guys like myself would do well to emulate.

One of my favorite quotes from him is that to be a self-actualized man, you must contain a universe within yourself.

This spoke to me. It partially speaks to me because I've always been someone that's pursued intellectual vigor- perhaps too much, even at the expense of a more active social life. I have at times viewed this as a mistake. It no doubt held me back from maximizing college for all it was worth and prevented me from strengthening my social skills.

On the other hand, this habit has made me smarter than most people in the world. Period. And to those people that I do find to be quality and want to connect with, it makes taking deep discussion that builds lasting social bonds a lot easier.

I have a lot of hobbies that one can categorize as being stereotypically nerdy. One of these is debating the outcome of a hypothetical match between fictional characters. We can use the infamous Goku vs Superman debate as an example. A debate is then carried out by knowledge of the characters' outings in their respective mediums, within strict conformity of the rules of logic.

The hobby itself is probably as pointless as it can get other than personal enjoyment, but it is enormously helpful in building your mind to think logically and analyze arguments- a very productive end, especially considering that serious debates on the internet are more often than not, pointless and unproductive because everyone is at each others' throat, a dynamic explored very succinctly by Mark Manson. If you're going to learn and practice logic online, something relatively lighthearted like this is probably the better choice to make.

But then again, logic is always something I've been good at. This hobby also carries with it a certain dedication to analyzing the physics behind each character's demonstrations (called feats)- to make debating easier.

How fast did character X have to go to do this? How powerful was Y's attack in terms of joules?

These can in fact, be quantified via calculations. As the name implies, understanding mathematics and the laws of physics is essential to doing these correctly. At first I thought these things were above me, as I was always abysmal in mathematics. I failed essentially every math test I took in high school, and it is a miracle that I was able to graduate and move on to college.

Nevertheless, I took up the challenge of doing these calculations, and over time, I actually got pretty good at them. Throughout my experiences of doing them I learned a hell of a lot about the laws of physics, and how to use math to solve the problems that arise when trying to quantify things in terms of them. I got smarter. I got better at math and physics, which I always considered to be albatrosses when I was in high school. And, as a person that loves astronomy and cosmology and always did, I began to understand more of how the universe works, and how to decode it through the cosmos' language- mathematics. It strengthened my knowledge of astronomy.

Two years later I consider myself well-versed in math and physics, and that my problems in doing them were mostly a result of my own mindset. This is probably an indictment of our school system as well- for not being able to teach material that is both relevant to a person's life and in ways that someone can enthusiastically relate to and understand, but that is a different topic.

Certainly I do have problems in math, and I'm never going to be an MIT physicist or mathematician, but compared to most people in the world, I have a very good understanding of math and physics, all from doing a hobby that most would probably think is stupid. At this point, as long as I'm not solving very complex algebraic or calculus equations, I'm probably alright. The world looks very different to me now. I'm more knowledgeable, more well-rounded. It also makes for some very interesting discussion with people- a good way to spike things if you will, by laying down some science in a fun and entertaining way.

This is what I believe that Quintus was getting at. To be well-rounded, you must pursue constant intellectual vigor (along with all the other ways to improve your lifestyle). It forces you to think differently as you take on new challenges, and as such, you overcome what you thought were your limitations and can see the world in different ways through the journey. Through it all you become smarter and more interesting- more valuable.

This ties in to my coming article on the importance of hobbies, as your intellectual challenges should also be fun. Intellectual challenges knowledge

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