Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why I chose Physics

My senior year of High School, I took a bunch of classes that sparked the beginning of my intellectual pursuit.  I took AP Physics B in the morning, followed by AP government, then French 4, World Literature, and Calculus.  Every class I took taught me something that I still think about several years later.  Here's the breakdown:

AP Government:  I'll never forget having a government teacher who was a self declared socialist.  I learned more from him about our political system than I ever imagined.  I remember hearing about Marx's theory of political influence, and my goodness, he was right!  Marx was an arrogant, anti-Semitic aristrocrat who hypocritically believed in social egalitarianism, but his understanding and predictions of political control are astoundingly immaculate.  He predicted the rise of corporate oligarchy and the decline of the local, small business and the struggles that the working class would have to endure until they no longer could.

  I am so fortunate to have been born into a middle class, and that I was able to maintain such status.  I remember working at a Big Lot's, where much of my pride and dignity had been stripped.  I got flack from management for refusing to work on the day of a close friend's wedding; we had to attend a seminar on customer service, and the presentation may have well been geared towards 3 year-olds; I had to hear about how horrible unions are from guess who:  corporate office.  Of course corporate is going to brainwash us with this anti-union propaganda.  Worst of all, I had to take orders from people with half of the intelligence of my own students, who are teenagers still learning about the ways of life.  Needless to say, I gladly quit my job working retail for a corporation clearly bent upon subversively manipulating its subjects.

French 4:  I carried a conversation with a family from Belgium a few months ago when I went to San Francisco.  It had been over 6 years since I had to ever talk in French, and there I was, speaking it as if I never stopped.  The memories of learning French never cease to inspire me, as I feel that a well versed individual should fulfill oneself in the speaking of another language.

World Literature:  If there's anything I learned in World Literature, its that our culture is only a tiny speck on the world map.  Many western stories came from other sources that were around long ago.  I also know that whenever we do something in the United States, other countries are observing and critiquing our actions.  This is because our culture seems to be set on the idea that we are this exceptional society that can function in of itself without any regard for international appeal.  I also learned in World Literature that religion is a product of society; not the other way around.  Notice how historically, Christianity has speciated into different life forms, including several different denominations that correlate from the same principle.  We have  the Catholic church, the Protestant Church, the Methodist, Presbyterian...  The history of religion resembles that of a fossil record, showing how religions branch out rather than being independently created.

Calculus:  I enjoyed Calculus.  I didn't use it nearly as much, but it did enhance my knowledge of physics.

Physics:  Here we go.  I hated science in 10th grade.  I didn't believe that I was ever going to go into it, and had no interest in it.  This is because I took biology.  I found the study of organic compounds and cells to be somewhat boring and unappealing.  I was also a lazy kid who just wanted to blame the teacher, but that's another story.  Out of spite for my 10th grade Bio teacher (who is really a good teacher, but again, I was a lazy kid), I decided to enroll into AP chemistry my junior year, and I vowed to get an A in that class.

Not only did I get an A in AP chemistry, but I also earned a 5 on the test:  the highest possible grade on an AP test.  I loved chemistry because I was able to integrate mathematics into what I was learning.  Mathematics has always been a hobby for me; I study sabermetrics (advanced baseball player analysis) on the side as a sort of hobby, and I can't get over how useful it is to quantitatively reason in mathematics.

Senior year, my chem teacher recommended me for AP physics.  Despite my success in chemistry, I was still intimidated because I heard about how hard it is to learn...

My physics teacher in high school was the most odd teacher I ever had.  His name is Mr. Ramsey, and he still teaches physics at Mentor High School.  He has since aged, and is near retirement.  He is a master at web design, yet can only type with 1 finger.  He was absent-minded about every assignment he gave out, never made answer keys, and never solved problems in front of students.  We were so frustrated in that course, but we learned so much because we had to do it ourselves.  Most important, he had a sense of humor.  I owe a great deal of what I know and do as a physics teacher to him, because without him, I would not likely have found the inspiration to not only study physics, but teach it.

 He and I later became good friends when I decided to become a physics teacher several years later, and I came to really appreciate all he had done for me.  Last year, we both worked together in Mentor, OH, to help run the Science Olympiad team.  I found out about how attentive, caring, and aware of student situations he, like any good teacher, had to be during all these times.

I always enjoyed the problem solving aspect of physics.  I liked setting up systems of equations, finding relationships through derivatives, and best of all, being able to picture the situations.

In chemistry, you have to trust your calculations for an answer; 10^21 molecules does not tell you much if you are trying to think if your answer makes sense.  In physics, you can reason that it does not take 100 s to fall 3m, or that a car moving at 34 m/s will not reach 1,000 miles in 880 seconds.  The ability to mathematically problem solve and qualitatively evaluate an answer inspired me to pursue physics.

In college, I realized that much of modern physics is counter-intuitive.  Everything you thought you knew from learning physics in high school is kind of wrong.  It was a major blow to the brain finding that out.  It's not that I teach a dead language; it's just that these equations only work for small speeds and large objects.  Quantum physics creates all kinds of paradoxical conundrums; Einstein's relativity produces the twin paradox, where a brother can become much younger than his twin by traveling in outer space at a speed near that of light.  Another paradox is that an 8 ft pole can fit into a 6 ft barn perfectly straight, if the pole moves close to the speed of light.  In quantum physics, an object can exist in multiple universes at the same time, and that our lives might as well be virtual reality games, where we control the story.

I contemplated changing my major; I couldn't accept these seemingly contradictory realities.  I didn't know what to choose instead, so I kept on with physics.  I learned something that very few people ever try to understand.  People concede that I'm some sort of genius because I studied physics.  Looking back, I am glad that I studied the fundamental science of the physical universe, and I owe a great deal of help to my college mentor, Dr. Terry Lemley at Heidelberg University, and the head of the physics department, Steven Velasquez.  I'm no genius, but I like to think that I'm not light-years away from being one.

My appreciation and passion for physics that I demonstrate on a daily basis is not an act.  I think it is the most amazing subject in the world; explaining the most fundamental of all real world phenomena.  Physicists have, throughout history, always demonstrated a holistic balance of rational and creative muse, never shying away from thinking, problem solving, and discovering just how amazing our world is.  Not much compares to the feeling that one acquires from proving an answer that is consistent with the discoveries of others.

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