Saturday, February 11, 2012

Motivations and purpose

I used to loath commuting, and it hated me. Now we're getting along a little better. Let me explain.

Every day, I have the distinct pleasure of driving 69 miles each way to the university where I am pursuing a higher education. In addition to expelling several more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, this consumes an even more precious personal resource: time. In the past year, I have spent around 500 hours driving to and from my research lab, which amounts to about 20 days of travel time. I do this so that my wife and I can live together despite attending graduate schools in different cities. It's a worthwhile sacrifice, but for most of these last few years I couldn't help but lament the irrevocable loss of precious time.

Then, about a year ago, we subscribed to a local audio book rental store called Hear You Go. It was my wife's initiative, and I have to say I was pretty resistant to the idea. I enjoyed listening to the radio and my iPod day after day, and stubbornly clung to this habit. Fortunately, she persisted, and now I am probably more enthusiastic about audio books than she is!

Stepping back a bit: I've always been a slow reader. I have an insatiable curiosity about the world, but have generally considered reading books to take too much time, particularly when I must keep abreast of work in my own field of research (which, incidentally, lies at the intersection of biochemistry and nanotechnology). Like many of my generation, I procure the majority of my general-purpose information from blog posts, Podcasts, sound bytes, and of course, Wikipedia. I am part of probably the last generation that is still astounded by the amount of information at our fingertips thanks to the internet. But modern media often sacrifice depth in favor of breadth, and I've long felt that my slow reading speed and short attention span for most topics have kept me ignorant of a whole world of thought and discovery.

Thanks to my newfound passion for audiobooks, I currently breeze through about 2-3 books each month. I'm "reading" more widely and quickly than I ever have before. I actually look forward to my commute each day, eagerly anticipating the barrage of novel ideas, information, and stories that will come pulsing from the well-worn speakers of my '06 Impala. I am hooked!

This blog is about the rekindling of my passion for learning outside of my ultra-specialized field of research. It is about my journey, literally and metaphorically, towards my own internal realization of E. O. Wilson's "Consilience" -- the unity of knowledge from disparate fields. It is a candle lit by the fire of my curiosity that I hope to share with other curious and open minds.

I do not intend for this to be an endless series of audio book reviews. It will be much broader (and probably more random), encompassing any ideas my daily dabblings in the thoughts of others may engender. My initial focus will concern my current interests: science, biochemistry, evolution, music, food, language, and religion. If all goes as planned, this list will expand to encompass other topics such as history and economics. In the end, it's all the same: the attempts of one meager brain to make sense of this beautiful, bountiful, and intractably complex universe.

Won't you join me?

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