The Account of a Lifetime

December 30, 2007

Two-thousand-and-seven

Filed under: A day in the life of... — xisor @ 6:56 pm

So, how was it?

Generally, like I’ve said before. It’s a very good year. I’m ending the year on a far more sucessful note than I did last year. I’m still not performing very well academically, and indeed the forthcoming year, two-thousand-and-eight can’t be as hopeful as this was. I’m in a better place, there’s alot more that can go wrong this year. Last year things couldn’t get worse except from the obvious (disease, death of people close to you, economic decline etc).

This last week has been fun. I’ve seen folks I hadn’t seen in months, spent time with family, conversed a lot with people and generally had alot of good thoughts on my mind. Speaking to my niece today and on hearing that her house wasn’t terrible joy-filled today, I thought to myself

“Damnit! I’m the only one in this house. Negative vibes be damned, I’m controlling this house and it’ll do what I feel!”

A small bit of mental tomfoolery later and bellowing out a great guffaw I transformed the lonely house of 34 Albany Park into one of laughter and joy. Instantaneously, this decrepit place became one filled with hilarity, happiness and cheer. But then, that’s really only an extension of my mind. The house itself wasn’t cheerier, but like all such pseudo-reason and delusion, it’s fun!

A cheering thought, if nothing else.

I downloaded a lot of self-help leaflets from my universities’ student support page. not because I feel I am in need of them now, but because I’m very confident that this ‘happy mood’ that’s stuck with me for the last six months really can’t last. I don’t expect it to. Part of me doesn’t want it to. It couldn’t  survive terribly well out there…beyond ‘the bubble’ that is St Andrews. There’s too much life, too much extravagance and extremity in the real world for this sort of thing to survive unblemished. Sure, there might’ve been happier and more exciting moments out there, but that’s for the future.

For now, I’m content to enjoy this…tranquility. Even studying and the horrible fact of me not doing sufficient revision isn’t enough to dampen the spirits…yet.

But, returning to the point: It’s been a good year. One of the happiest I’ve had. I’ve come so far, mentally, that I’m extraordinarily pleased with myself. I’m also quite in control, but also scared. Not in a bad way, but wary…cautious, tentative. It’s like standing on the threshold of your house. You’ve got safety, peace, control behind you, but the future…it’s outside. It’s somewhere you’ve not been. Sure, it exists, it’ll be happening whether you’re there or not…but it’s different. It’s odd. It’s surprising.

 I’m confident it’ll be just fine, but I really can’t expect the happiness of ‘my home’ out there. And that applies roughly to the last six months. It’s been brilliant. Great. I’ve done so much, come so far, seen so many things. But it can’t, won’t and shouldn’t last. That’s not adventure, that’s not living. Happiness is all well and good, but there’s an adventure lying beyond this, and I’m keen to explore it. The happiness has been brilliant, fantastic, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But that’s not the end of it. It shouldn’t be the end of it.

It’s the adventure, the call to move on in life. To explore and progress. I’m really looking forward to it.

So, what does two-thousand-and-eight hold?

First up, of course, are exams. Four exams: Fundamentals of Pure Mathematics, Special Relativity and Fields, Physics of Atoms and Complex Analysis, to be precise. After those I’ve a three week break. After that I’ve the eighth semester. And it should hold wonders like Fractal Geometry, Geometry and Topology, Computational Physics and Quantum Mechanics 3. It might even hold General Relativity, but I don’t want to jump too far ahead.

 In any case, the next semester should be fun. But then…the summer. I need a job. I’d hope to get academic placements, but again I fear I’ve left it far too late. Then fifth year, my final year. Two-thousand-and-eight, the year of the beginning of the end? In a manner of speaking, it totally and completely is.

I’ve really no idea what to expect of 2008. It can’t be as bad as ’06. It surely can’t be as good as ’07…so what of it? What lies beyond?

Well, this incarnation of me, this instantiation of who I am here at the end of ’07 certainly won’t know. But I might remember thinking about it, one day!

In other news

Something has been dragging me towards pursuing a personal philosophy. Since the loss of religion in August there, I’ve been flying free…playing it by ear morally. My philosophy and morality rests on what I developed as a rational thinking Roman Catholic for the last twenty-one years. But with the steady inception of sceptical and critical thinking into the day-to-day metaphysical ‘me’, it’s difficult to hold onto that. It is difficult to want to hold onto it. But I do feel, deep down, that there’s something I should aspire to. I want to codify my ideas of right and wrong so that I don’t have to figure everything out from first principles every time I consider a problem (or worse, not bother from first principles, and instead simply arrive at an answer that might or might not be a useful, productive or even correct one!).

No, principally, I’m initially drawn towards stoicism. I’d dearly like to pursue study of it, even if only to explore my own morality. In discussion with many people lately, it’s become a very clear point in my thinking: emotions aren’t a terribly brilliant basis for making decisions. But I’ve asked before: If not emotions, what is?

Well, I read something today…

Emotion manifests thought, thought manifests actions, and our actions manifest our reality.

From: http://skepchick.org/skepticsguide/viewtopic.php?t=7334

It’s a simple thing, right enough. It might not even be accurate, but it’s a handy way of picturing things. What I feel, what I chemically/neurologically feel is the essence of who I am at any given point. Things happen that I might not expect, be able to control or even be aware of. But then we come to thought, actions and reality. Perhaps there’s a bit of feedback. So long as we can give a meaningful gap between ’emotions’ and ‘actions’, then I feel that we can do something…’good’ with it.

Simply being as aware of things as we can (i.e. trying a lot), is likely the best any of us can manage. But to justify that to myself after the fact, I ought to have been trying in the present, yes?

I think I’m beginning to achieve that. At present, I’m still failing miserably, but looking back it strikes me that a change is there. As I continue, hopefully through ’08, ’09 and beyond, I’ll become that bit better a logical thinker. Less angry, less emotional in conversation and argument and debate and discussion. Hopefully, when the time calls for emotional I’ll be well prepared for that too (damn, I’ve had 21-years of that, I’m sure I can manage!), but time will tell…I hope.

 Now, as I’ve been looking into a lot of ‘thinking’ things recently, it also occurred to me that I ought to watch my language a bit more. Wishing folks Merry Christmas nowadays feels a bit…hypocritical of me. Not because any non-Christian saying it would be wrong, but since I’ve consciously made the change from one t’other I ought to be a bit careful. Merry Christmas has been replaced by and large with ‘happy holidays’ or ‘have a fun time’ or something like that. Of course, if people are celebrating Christmas themselves, I’ll wish them a Merry Christmas, but that’s not the point.

Also, for ‘Happy New Year’, I don’t disagree, I just feel it’s a bit bland. I’m very tempted to wish people long life and prosperity. Certainly, the idea of saying “Have a prosperous new year” carries a large appeal for me. I may well adopt this. I’ve only got the next day or two to test it out…and I think I will.

So, unless I blog later or tomorrow, it remains for me to hope that you’ve had/are having a good holiday season and bid that you also have a merry hogmanay and a prosperous new year!

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December 23, 2007

A moral cesspit

Filed under: A day in the life of...,Reflections — xisor @ 1:21 pm

Recently I’d been thinking about morality and suchlike. Just things of the form “Is it right to do this?”, “Why do we do what we do?” and when thinking of a bad decision “What made this a bad choice?”.

I was speaking to a member of my academic family this weekend, and they mentioned something I found very intriguing. First I quoted my second favourite quotation of all time to them: “Humans, Narns, Centauri…we all do what we do for the same reason: because it seems like a good idea at the time.” They replied with “But what about the times we do something even when we know that it is a bad idea?”

Well, that got me thinking. How often do I do things that I’m pretty sure are bad ideas? My standard outlook on this is that doing things you know/feel/suspect to be bad are essentially reprehensible actions. But really, are they?

Of late I’ve been quite convinced that ‘doing things because I want to’ is generally a bad motivation for doing something, but yet it remains an overriding factor in any decisions I make. Is this perhaps hypocritical? My answer to this is a firm yes. It is exceedingly hypocritical, but it is something that can be worked upon. Something that has to be worked upon, in my estimation.

I also encountered the story of a friend of mine who went out with a person just to annoy that persons’ sibling. I found this quite outrageous, and I don’t think I’d be alone in that. It’s not a nice thing to do, it’s not…wholesome. Once upon a time I’d have called it a quite vile sin (well, I’d have been disapproving in the extreme, I’d not have called it a sin, even when I was religious I rarely, if ever, thought in terms of sins). I understand why someone’d be tempted to do it, but when thinking about things rationally, I can’t quite imagine a situation in which I would be motivated to do something of that madness!

 But then, I really do not understand affairs of the heart. I’m ridiculously fallible on that front, and probably should be tagged with some sort of ‘walking disaster zone’ thing around my neck. But even then, for all my ineptitude, I don’t do things that are as suspect as going out with one person to annoy another person. I really do endeavour to find a solution to these sorts of thoughts, and I hope I will one day, but it seems a long way off.

I’ve felt this way towards people (vis. that they make horrendously reprehensible decisions) for a very long time, but only in recent months/years have I realised quite how to the full extent it also applies to myself. I really was an arrogant idiot. I hope in this way I can navigate the details of interpersonal morality with a bit more tact, resilience, diplomacy and compassion in the future.

But largely, this is a ‘day in the life of…’ post. This sort of thinking has only been dominant in me noggin’ since early Saturday morning. I spent the evening of Friday with my sole remaining housemate and my academic niece, and it was a really good night. Quiet, in a manner, as we only went to the New Inn, Beanscene, Aikmans and the union. Quiet, personal, a lot of good hearty chat. Not just idle chatter, but interesting stuff. I like nights like that. It always slows down the next couple of days, I find, allowing a more thoughtful weekend. Large nights with lots of people and hilarious hijinx are always fun too, but I find the inevitable weariness the next day does take quite a toll, usually leading to the following days being wasted or squandered.

Though I’ve done no studying yet this weekend, I do consider it to have been a well spent one. Lots of time to think, to relax, to gather my thoughts. I think I’m ready for a bit of studying now, and breakfast (lunch!).

On a final note, I’ve been quite pleasantly following a thread on the Sinner regarding Creationism and Evolution. It began with a remark about a creationist in the JH biology class up at uni here, but quickly escalated into a whole series of interesting discussions. I’m quite surprised really as to how well the sinners have held it together too, as it all too often breaks down into a torpid and tepid mess of name-calling and fruitless discussion!

I hope to head home either this evening, or tomorrow afternoon. I still need to do a spot of Christmas shopping, but that can be resolved soon, I hope! It should be a fun week.

December 21, 2007

The Seventh Semester

Filed under: Reflections — xisor @ 6:37 pm

Well, I suppose that’d be that. 

I should introduce myself somewhat: I am Frank O’Hanlon, a student and a physicist , twenty-one years old and a resident of both Cowdenbeath and St Andrews, Scotland. This blog, I suppose, will be the account of a lifetime. And here you join me at the end of seventh semester.

Just today, I finished my seventh semester at the University of St Andrews. I think it was a good one. Time will tell, of course, and if it doesn’t, then at very least the exams will. Which makes me think back…

This last year, 2006-2007 has been an…odd year. Back in ’06, since the beginning of September, my life had been falling apart. My relationship was going to the dogs. A complete lack of communication, frustration with each other, stress. It all mounted up. The end of the relationship was terrible, but fortunately not as bad as it could have been. The reflection of this on the rest of my life was tremendous. My work suffered immensely, and academically I haven’t been the same since. It took its toll…my results suffered, I was only just competent enough to secure my way on the Master of Physics (Theoretical Physics) program after being dropped from the Mathematics component of the course.

 But, now that that was done, the relationship was over, I could begin trying to heal myself. To heal the damage I’d done to others. By the end of the relationship I feel it was really a coin-toss between me becoming an absolutely insufferable arsehole to one-and-all, extremely selfish and very acidic in conversation or the alternative of…well, anything but that. Truly, I hoped the dissolution of the relationship, no matter how distraught I was by its end, would allow me the ability to get better.

I think it worked. That Christmas was…fun. I spent it with friends back home in Dunfermline (well, Dunfermline isn’t my home, but I’ve spent enough time there!). Similarly for New Year. It was nice to spend time at home with my dad and sister, and generally I feel I’d recuperated well.

The exams were…in a word…hellish. So let us skip by them.

The next semester was intense. As I denoted it on my Bebo blog, it was “Further than I’ve ever gone before”. It started off being over one hundred credits, but as I dropped two modules I settled down to a healthy eighty-five credits (significantly more than the that sixty we’re supposed to do). It was a fun semester, and I began to repair some of the damage I’d done to myself academically, but also realised just how bad the damage was.

The exams afterwards were similarly tragic, but they at least showed significant improvement too. And so, with the end of the semester, it was time to bid adeiu to the medics I’d known for three years and look forward to the future. That summer I hoped to do a lot of work and make a lot of money, and I sort of did. Except the job was mind-numbingly boring. Good physical work, stacking boxes and things, but it was really quite dire. I lost religion during that job, but that’s another blog entry entirely!

After a couple of long-afternoons at work contemplating what to do with myself, I eventually resolved my life-long dream into an actual concrete plan. I’d decided: I was going to Albania!

Yes, so, plotting to finish work a month early, and go on holiday to Magalluf with a couple of friends for a few days, I’d decided that after doing that, I would continue on around Europe to my dream destination of the last four-or-five years of my life. I was set, I was going to Albania.

The trip itself ended up lasting just under a month, the longest time I’d ever been out of Scotland for in one go. So, I started in Manchester unexpectedly ending up amongst the gays and lesbians of the Pride event. Then on to Magalluf with Dave and Tass. Then, after bidding them goodbye one sunny Monday morning in August, I set off, alone. First to Palma, then to Barcelona. From Barcelona a few days later to Nice, and after a couple of days in Nice on to Rome and the Vatican. I spent only an afternoon in the capital before heading to the port of Bari to get my ferry to Albania. And boy, I had the time of my life. Well, to summarise, the first day carries the title of “the best day ever”in my life so far, again…that’s another blog entry! I spent just under a week in Albania before setting off on a journey to Poland to meet my friends from University who were due to be holidaying there. So, voyaging via Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and (unexpectedly) the Czech Republic…I finally arrived in Poland. I spent around five days there, before setting off for Berlin. But that didn’t work out as planned. The next morning I was in Frankfurt and the immediate following afternoon I was in Paris. Quite unexpected, but a lot of fun. The day after? Belgium, Brugge specifically. A place I’d been once before in the summer of 2001. Quite nostalgic, really. But I survived all the way to the ferry, and from there I returned to Scotland. Scotland, for the Seventh Semester.

The Seventh Semester

So it began. I had a night out in Dunfermline the Friday before it began. I was driven to St Andrews that Saturday afternoon and I arrived at Albany Park, my new home, in good time. That freshers week was immense, second only to the freshers week of my first year. Enjoyed good company at many parties that week, and over the course of it, I managed to secure myself a personal record I don’t expect ever to beat: Ten nights out in a row. Through a curiously odd evening’s events, I managed to miss my advising that week, but then catch up on it and find out that, as I’d hoped but expected to be denied, I was allowed to take thirty credits of maths courses! A dream come true! Well…

So, the semester was set to begin. For the first time in my university career I was doing exactly the recommended amount of courses (usually I’d been doing more…). I lived in a house filled with good friends, I was enjoying my courses. Life was good.

And curiously, it stayed good. All through the semester. I lived happily ever after, for a little time at least. I made foolish mistakes, elementary goofs and plenty of school-boy errors, but all in all: it was good. I found my courses interesting and extremely difficult. I had plenty of time to spend with my friends, and plenty of time to spend making new friends. And I think, all in all, it worked out very well. It is sad to know that, come the end of the year, I expect a lot of my friends will leave. It is the problem with having a ten-semester lifespan at university due to your course…not everyone else does. The medics were only here for six, most others for only eight. Of those friends that I made at the start university, only a handful, perhaps six or seven at best, will remain here next year. But that is good, they’re excellent people, and I’ll cherish them.

But what have I learned?

I’ve learned a lot. It’s hard to codify, but if I were to sum up this seventh semester, I’d say that there’s a lot more to life than living it. Taking time to appreciate it is key. I think I’m duty bound now to try to give something back to my friends and classmates (and lecturers and tutors and generally everyone). I’ve no idea what it could be, but in the short term I think not being the arrogant arsehole I was might be a good start.

A Summary?

Well, it’s difficult to think of a better way to sum it up rather’n saying it was damn good fun. I hope I’ll be able to do well in my exams, but that’s really up in the air just now. Time will tell!

In the meantime, I hope to end the semester well with a wee night out with my final housemate (who leaves tomorrow, leaving me alone in the house) and some of the friends that remain behind. Then I’ve got until Monday to start summarising coursework, relearning partial fractions, buying Christmas presents etc.

So, that’s you introduced to the life I lead. I expect no-one’ll have read this far yet. Certainly not until I start writing something useful about anything, but until then, this’ll do as a decent little journal for my own use. By the time someone else is reading this I trust it’ll have a lot more interesting things! So in that regard, I’ll say “Hello and goodbye from the seventh semester!”

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