Saturday, December 17, 2011

Things to think through over the holidays

So I successfully defended my thesis, finished the revisions, submitted the final draft to the libraries. Yay me! People are totally curious (or sympathetic, because I don't have a job lined up): what are you going to do now?

Um.. learn some life skills that are actually practical to life(!), try to undo some brain damage caused by fitting my square brain into the spiral-shaped academia manhole, as well as hoping to heal the neural pathway stresses from constantly shoving massive amounts of useless information (the info are only useful if I keep working/studying in the same narrow field, which I'm not exactly sure if I'm going to do) into my brain. All these years of education have killed so much creativity, caused so much mental trauma, and took out my capacity to socialize like "normal" people, pay attention to every day life details (my home looks like it got burglarized multiple times, because I just haven't had time or calmness to reorganize everything). Practically every other thing that comes out of my mouth is either related to yoga or my area of research, because my brain does not have space to process stuff that normal people care about, like jokes, small talk, culture, movies, books, arts, technology gadgets, fashion, sports, entertainment, relationships, etc etc).

So, the plan is to watch a lot of cool movies, read a lot of books, learn about a bunch of topics that I have not had time to learn about but I think are of huge importance to know a little about them, and of course, do a lot of yoga. Oh yah, and go on a Vipassana retreat if I get the chance - clear the brain, hope some of the neural pathways will heal or at least take a break from being over-stressed. Below are a list of topics I am suddenly interested in blogging about, but then realized I know next to nothing about the issues:

- War against "evil": what the heck is evil? How can people be so sure that they themselves are the "good guys" while the others are the "bad guys"? Why do I feel like whoever tries to launch a war against evil are the most evil people themselves. Perhaps my definition of evil (hurting and killing innocent people) is off with other people's definition of evil (Those who try to hurt me or my kind of people are considered as evil; their life circumstances and childhood/cultural history does not matter at all, at least not to me).

- Religion: I'm not talking about those who were raised to follow a certain religion. I am talking about adults who voluntarily choose to follow or study a religion. What kind of people are drawn to Christianity? What kind of people are drawn to Buddhism? When I try to read the Bible, I don't know if it's the way it's written or what, the ideas are just words; they don't really speak to me. When I read Buddhism ideas, specifically Buddhism explained by some westerners (and not the Chinese version of the same material, strange eh?), the teachings seem to verbalize ideas I already strongly believe in. My cousin is the opposite. A girl I know was introduced to Christianity in her 30s, the teachings totally spoke to her. She now reads a passage of the Bible every night before bed and always find it insightful, comforting, inspirational, and/or educational. This came up while chatting with a friend. A preliminary response is that this girl is the type of person who feels unloved, who suddenly felt a need to know the purpose of life, who thinks it's important to obey authority, and to please other people. So believing in an all-loving God who has a set of rules for her to follow for the rest of her life which will lead her to heaven fits her personality/original set of personal beliefs. For me, I used to obey parents, teachers, and adults/authorities until their logic didn't make sense, until I realized nobody knows exactly what they are doing and the ones who know the least love to give strong orders/suggestions the most. I have also suppressed intuitions and tried so hard to be analytical all my life, thinking that I can reason my way through everything. That has worked up to a point and then failed for a significant aspect of my life.  I am very attracted by the Buddhist idea that looking within will help me find the answers I am looking for (I guess authority figures have lost my respect and trust). These ideas are specific to me and this girl though. A broader understanding is needed.

- Economics: our economy is very broken obviously, and politicians keep applying patches + quick fixes that work for a short period of time and then fail again. Gone are the days when you can hold 1 job from school graduation until retirement at 65 years old and then live comfortably on a pension until death. I've had the fortune of hearing honest talks by a good number of medical and (bio)chemical Nobel Laureates, successful professors as well as industry scientists who work in giant pharmaceutical companies. So, supposedly my training would lead me directly to one of these 2 paths - academia or industry. Their presentations as well as my past years of experience in grad school make me not want to jump at the first job opening available anywhere. If you talk to scientists who do research on drugs and vaccines, their intention is to come up with a new drug that will cure or alleviate suffering from diseases (this was my intention too when I decided to study biology as a major). When I talk to the average people or read the media, the public seems to think that the purpose of developing drugs is to make big money (evil big pharma). Some even go as far to say that pharmaceutical companies can actually cure diseases, but they purposely only sell drugs that temporarily suppress symptoms but keep you sick for a long time. I think this misunderstanding exists because people vastly underestimate the complexity of biology and over-estimate the abilities of scientists (these drugs are less than ideal because they are already the best effort that teams of brilliant researchers can come up with, not simply a money-making gimmick). Anyways, I need to teach myself a bit about economy and try to think things through.

- Dualism: again I know very little about this topic, but it's central to yoga I believe, and possibly the source of so many problems in the world.

As you can see, I've got a lot of reading to do. I feel like a bit of self-education will help me navigate through life better, rather than just conforming to current moulds of society: find a husband; have 2.3 kids; take up any job that's stable and pays the bills, who cares if you like the job or not; raise kids to 18 and your responsibility is done when kids make it to college;  constantly compare yourself with your peers regarding your salary amount, the size of your house, the niceness of your car, the maintenance level of your external beauty, the achievements of your kids, etc. Make sure your kids do what you want them to do, or else argue with them until they run away from home. Constantly worry about money. If you have extra cash, spend it on luxury items like yachts and jewellery, and then complain you don't have enough money. Make sure to find issues to worry about if finance isn't your biggest worry.

I don't think I can change the world, but I'd like to gain insight and perhaps modify a few biased beliefs that I was brought up with. I'd like to figure out some stuff that are society norms but are not necessarily the right way to do things. I'd also like to get an idea of how to navigate myself through this imperfect world and not turn into a permanently bitter person.


  1. Congratulations Y! Enjoy your holiday reading.

  2. A long list! After a PhD I recommend a week/month of just 'being'! Well done on completing.

  3. Congratulations on finishing! Enjoy your holidays!

    You bring up many interesting points. I often also have the feeling that I do not know enough about lots of things. I used to think that the solution to this is to read more books/do more research to find out. Which is true, up to a point. But I also remember some wise person (can't remember who exactly) once said that anything that is worth knowing can be explained in language that is comprehensible to your 11-year-old nephew. This might be a bit of a stretch, but I think there's a lot of truth to this. I guess what I'm trying to say is that very often, "experts" like to cloak so-called "expert knowledge" in unnecessarily obtruse jargon, and whatever they are trying to say can probably be understood by careful dialogue and conversation.

    Just my two cents', as always. I hope I'm not hijacking your comment thread.

  4. Thanks all. This was my brain dump, but I realized I still got some more stuff to do before I can get to my readings/holidays. This academia stuff is really interfering with my life :P

    Nobel, I agree with you. It's all about proper communication skills. Hopefully I'll be able to find things quick and easy to read to enrich my knowledge in the topics I listed.

  5. When I get back, if you're still in town, we can see a movie at my favourite movie theatre, I'll lend you all my religious studies books, and we can discuss the topics and concepts I managed to SORT OF understand in grad school, while eating sushi! It can be an ongoing series until you read all the books or we both lose interest. When that happens we'll just do the movie and sushi part.

  6. That sounds like a fantastic plan Elisa!!!