Sometimes I dream about taking a few years away from everything and reading 40 textbooks and trying to understand how everything works. This is something I felt deeply in high school, and then lost at some point in college, and in the time after college it’s come back with overwhelming force.
The thing about this curiosity is that it’s something you need to feed in order to keep it alive; you need to keep setting aside time to learn about the things that fascinate you.
Below is a journal post from September 2020, with stream-of-consciousness thoughts on various things I’d like to learn. Making lists like this often gives me renewed energy and excitement about life. Of course, you should be careful not to confuse making lists of things with actually doing things, but I’ve done enough actual learning in the past while to feel like this isn’t just something I fantasize about.
Journal: Sept 28, 2020
things I wanna do:
- read a psychology textbook, in addition to the neuroscience textbook
- after reading the neuroscience textbook, reading more advanced textbooks on specific topics in neuroscience
- it’s kinda cool how there’s this slow transition from “publish a paper” → “get referenced by other papers” → “get integrated into a textbook” → “be seen as a solidified bedrock of knowledge”
- (of course at the end, it’s “get refuted and replaced by a better explanation”)
- history is so important. in particular, the history of ideas. but also history in general. and not fixating too much on what exactly happened, but on explaining how things came to be the way they are.
- so yea, maybe history of science, history of religions, a better understanding of modern europe, a better understanding of america, a better understanding of china and india. a better understanding of the history of philosophy, what all the different philosophers have said and what they were right or wrong about.
- more math – getting a better understanding of topology, but wanna read through at least a few more chapters of that book to get the basic ideas down. then maybe books on algebra, analysis (I remember some but a rigorous refresher might be in order), statistics (I know basically nothing about formal probability theory), measure theory, complexity and dynamical systems, and other stuff.
- physics is important too. rehashing all the basics – Newtonian mechanics, elementary thermodynamics, electromagnetism. finally understanding what “classical mechanics” is about – all the stuff about Hamiltonians and Lagrangians. special and general relativity. quantum mechanics. cosmology. a whole lot about cosmology. some astronomy too – just what we understand about galaxies, stars, quasars, all the other crazy things up in the sky.
- can’t forget biology – a better understanding of organic chemistry and biochemistry – what’s up with DNA, proteins, amino acids, how molecular structure leads to interesting biological function. genetics, although not so focused on all the big data stuff.
- within math, forgot to mention computation. wanna rehash my understanding of complexity and what “undecidable” and “unrecognizable” mean in the context of languages. I learned about this stuff in third year and kinda forget it now.
- that’s a little annoying – I feel like I understood it pretty well at the time, but I don’t have a good grasp of it now. I guess that’s fine? I’m sure I would pick it up a little faster now than I did the first time I learned it. I could probably even derive some of the basic concepts myself. you have a finite set of symbols. a word is a finite sequence of such symbols. a language is a set of words. a problem involves determining whether a given word (input) belongs within a given set of words (language). also, there’s a computer (DFA) which is made up of – a finite set of states, for each state, there’s a function from the set of symbols to a state, and there’s an “accept” and “reject” state? so a language is undecidable if there is no finite program that can determine whether a word belongs to the language. seems simple enough. we’re missing the infinite tape part of the Turing machine but otherwise I think we have the right idea.
- ok so we talked about low-level biology like biochemistry, but bruh we also need higher-level biology – an understanding of cells – wtf ! the cell membrane, the nucleus, all the little organelles…how do we know anything about the endoplasmic reticulum? what a ridiculous name for something. more like endoplasmic ridiculous. anyway cells, organs, all the different organs of different organisms, the organisms themselves. metabolism, our bones, our eyes…also the whole earth and stuff. biodiversity. glaciers. man I remember being absolutely crazy for glaciers back in middle school. I was obsessed.
- forgot for math, we also want fractals, those seem to be important.
- also consciousness, got really deep into the science part here. want a better understanding of how people think about consciousness. this kinda ties into philosophy, epistemology, how we define reality, all that.