As part of my new-year reflections and resolutions, I’ve looked at how well-rounded human being I am. How do I look at the things around me, and how are my interests? Are they wide enough, are they deep enough (by whatever metric)? I came to the conclusion that I knew much more as a kid than I know now as an adult, regressed in a lot of areas, and it’s worth taking a look at why that could have happened & what does it really mean? Do I need to be worried about that?
Let’s see some examples of things that occupied the mind of kid-me and now-me…
Kid-me knew more
Dinosaurs & Prehistory
I don’t think there are many kids who were not fascinated by dinosaurs! I had a bunch of books about them, and about other prehistoric creatures. It’s amazing to see life forms that are not found anymore, and also see how they connect to animals living now. It’s a whole different world that is amazing to imagine. This also includes prehistoric people, their ways of living, a much simpler, very different way of being. This put everything into perspective, gained an appreciation to looooong times, and change all around us on earth.
Minerals & Crystals
Yes, had some books about minerals of all kinds, how they were formed, their different appearances, their properties, crystal structures and all. In my hometown there was a Mineral Exhibition once or twice a year on the university campus. It was a great exposure to something at least remotely scientific. Looking at collections, learning by example, might even collecting things that struck my interests (mmm, snowflake obsidians:).
In Hungary we had a pretty good series by Springer Hungarica called “SH Atlasz”: handbooks of different scientific areas. Opening any of them, on the left page there are graphics and illustrations explaining the concepts and details on the right page, all through the books. I had a bunch of them, Astronomy, Physics, Astrophysics, Chemistry, Space Science, Maths … not sure what else, but probably even more. These were almost encyclopedias, can just flip through them and dig in anywhere I liked. These books did probably more than anything else to get me into sciences (being a PhD physicist by now…)
Besides this, having to study all the different areas of science in elementary and high school was great – and now I lost almost all of it. I have almost zero knowledge of general biology and chemistry now (and I don’t want to make the regular physicist joke that “chemistry is just applied quantum physics, biology is just applied chemistry”).
The Night Sky
Besides the astronomy books I had, I did borrow our high school’s telescope for a few months, and been freezing in the night on our balcony looking up at Jupiter and Saturn, looking at the constellations, the galaxies. Been a member of the Hungarian Astronomy Society, reading their handbook on all kinds of astronomy charts and projections for the year, and understood them. Knew many of the constellations, and I think I could tell time by the night sky.
Most of it is now just a memory, while I do have a strong longing for space, and I look at it somewhat differently now (yey, astrophysics courses at the university). In theory I know deeper, but I miss the visual knowledge.
Ancient history is utterly fascinating, and did quite a bit of digging and learning about Egypt back in the day, all of it is gone now. Egypt, just like dinosaurs and astronomy might be cliches in interests, but I had them when I didn’t know what a cliche was.
In high school I took part in the International Philosophy Olympiad, read a lot, debated a lot, it was amazing way to hone my reasoning. All that remains from that is my logic, but none of the facts or opinions. It almost feels like I forgot the entire body of human knowledge by losing philosophy, even if I *know* it’s not really like that. But still, in my memory I used to be more articulate because of philosophy.
Had loads of books and resources about airplanes, and bunch of friends who were similarly interested in them. While some of them were doing aircraft models, I was mostly drawing things. I remember a couple of sketchbooks with weirder and weirder aircraft doodles, trying out different ideas and constructions – one of my favorite brainstorming that I can actually remember.
Also played with a lot of simulators: SWOTL, F-19, F-15, LHX… Explored about airplanes of especially the WWII era, got some metal models of different kinds that I can explore. I remember the feeling of intense appreciation of machinery.
Now-me knows more
Of course those 15-20 years didn’t pass without change, and there are things that I can honestly say I know a bit more now.
How society works, politics, elections, democracy, taxes, the big picture of evolution on the social scale. I can now take a topic and reason about it as part of people’s everyday life, see the pros and cons, and come up with non-trivial conclusions about things I hear in the news.
Learned a lot more about history, both books, and now documentaries. Reasoning and big picture also plays role here, it’s very fascinating that now I can explore cause and effects much more while as a kid I was mostly interested in (and capable to handle) just the facts.
I did a *lot* more reading, fortunately. It would be sad if that wasn’t the case. Literature of all kinds, countries, styles. It feels great to be able to put a lot more things into context and appreciate literature more. Now I can see which books I was fortunate to read as a kid. Also how translations divide access: with English I can reach a lot more than just in Hungarian, though interestingly there are a bunch of books that exist in Hungarian translation but not really (or not well) in English.
I know now much better how to travel. The practicalities, the differences in cultures, the things that worth risking and trying, and what does not in a new place. How to get where I really want to go.
It would be really bad if my programming skills were stuck at my 17 year old level, and I think fortunately that’s not the case (by a long shot). On the other hand, I think I was doing some really fun stuff back in the day, while now I’m doing a lot more useful stuff.
If I look at the main difference between kid-me and now-me, kid-me knew a lot of interesting things, while now-me gained in experience and practicality (that are often actually pretty boring). Most of the things I know now just had to go through and it’s almost a given that with time I’m more acquainted with them. On the other hand, indeed as a grown up it’s much harder to find the time – and purposefully need to find the time – to cultivate being interesting. Not just, and not really for others, but for myself.
Of course this view of the “good old days” is likely a mixture of reality, nostalgia, and this kind of result shown by PhD comics:
In the light of new-year reflections and resolutions, it’s clear what I want and need to do: continue purposefully digging deeper in my chosen specialty, while making an effort to be interesting enough for myself, feel better rounded. Of course, no need to be a “know-it-all” or “smartass”.
If I really think about it, for this all I need is to be as curious as a person can be, and it will all be perfect. Now that’s a good resolution. :)