Friday, June 24, 2011
For some reason, I've always found the idea of having limits to what I can do repugnant. Maybe it's just cultural conditioning, maybe there's something innate in me that despises it, but very few things make me angry as quickly as the implication that I'm not capable of accomplishing some task.
There's a whole litany of things that I can't do, or can't do better than a certain level, of course. I know that, but I also don't know what my limits are, so I test them relentlessly given the slightest chance. Can I understand modern mathematics to the point that I fully understand how to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, given the amount of time I'm willing to invest in studying math? Certainly not. But there's probably a lot of math I can understand, and, not knowing what that limit is, I do things like make an effort to understand perturbation theory and partial differential equations at the graduate level while I'm still an undergrad. I'm not happy about how I did in that class, but I passed, so I suppose that counts for something.
The willingness of challenge seems necessary to me if we're to understand how much we can truly accomplish. I'd like to know that, because I'd like to accomplish as much as I can in the finite amount of time I'll be alive. That seems like a reasonable idea to me. Sometimes I wonder, though, if there's a kind of bravado inherent in the attitude of the challenger. "I can handle anything," he says. Well, sometimes you can't. Denying that is to refuse to acknowledge reality, which never seems to work out well for anyone in the long run. If there's a reasonable way out of this impasse, I'm not sure what it is.
There are so many things I'd like to do in my life, and such limited resources with which to do them. There are things to build, people to meet, mountains to climb, places to fly to, and ideas to teach and learn. So many of all of those. It takes money to building things, though, and serendipity to meet the right people, and most wickedly of all it takes time to do everything, and that time is constantly running draining away. I know that I can't do everything that I want to, but that doesn't do much to keep the desire at bay. My hope is that I can actualize as much of this potential as possible, and learn to live with the losses when they happen. One more thing to add to my post-college list of learning objectives.