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Blue hair, yellow sweater, big smile

Exam results and existential crises

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The good news

The day finally arrived yesterday: we received our results for S104: Exploring Science. There was much excitement and anticipation in the land, and verily did we leap into the course website with glee.

I'm delighted actually - I got a distinction! I knew I'd done well, as I have achieved consistently high marks throughout the course - but the end of module assessment was genuinely tricky, so I'm really pleased.

  • Overall examinable score (OES): 87%
  • Overall continuous assessment score (OCAS): 93%

The self-indulgent navel gazing

The results come at a good time, actually, because I've been dipping - rather self-indulgently - in and out of an existential crisis over the past couple of weeks. It struck me, rather more forcibly than I would have liked, that I'm 32 years old and I am not where I thought I would be.

The fact that 1990 is more than 20 years ago keeps assaulting me in an unnecessarily violent manner. I shouldn't be old enough to remember 20 years ago, surely! I keep thinking of Britpop as a modern phenomenon.

My mortality and the foundations of my existence are at the forefront of my mind, which troubles me. Navel gazing is not becoming, nor - do I feel - is it particularly helpful if it lasts longer than about 15 minutes.

I should have been so much more than I feel that I am at the moment.

Having said that, I would not turn the clock back 15 years for anything; I'm wiser, happier and feel smarter and more attractive than I did when I was but a whippersnapper - I'm just not quite where I thought I was. Either that or the world moved sideways slightly when I wasn't looking.

I've always felt slightly out of time. The 1920s, 1940s or 1950s would have suited me much better than these modern times (female emancipation and general equality notwithstanding). The music, the clothes and the manners of the times delight me. But perhaps we are living in even more exciting times as we prepare to send human beings to another planet...

Getting my Open University results has given me a bit of a kick back onto the right track. It's only a level one course, but it was bloody hard work, and I really feel proud of myself. Roll on S216 - I'm ready for you.

And while I'm waiting for you, I'm diving headlong into books on science to try to get a head start. Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" is my current literary beau, and a splendid read it is too. I've been advised by a colleague to try a little Stephen Jay Gould as anathema to Dawkins, to see which evolutionary camp I fall into, so Amazon was duly visited, and Gould ordered. We'll see where I end up.

Where I want to be is saving the world, one turtle at a time.

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Blue hair, yellow sweater, big smile

The end of days

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S104 is really picking up the pace now - I've just submitted iCMA 48, with 93%. So that's good then. And I'm zig-zagging through TMA07, which is due in on September 1.

Actually, it's going quite well. I still have trouble deciphering some of the question wording, and suspect that they are set by people for whom English is not their first language, but you can't have everything.

Sometimes, things just snap into place. You need to worry about them for a day or so, fret that actually, you're rather stupid and you'llĀ never get this, and then it happens. A golden moment, a small firework in your mind, and there it is: enlightenment and understanding.

Question 2 (c)(i), I have the measure of you. I challenge you to a duel; pick your pistol. I'm confident, knowledgeable, and I shall have my satisfaction, sir.

I've very much enjoyed Book 7 - Quarks to Quasars. I've struggled a little with the specifics, such as energy levels, and the subtle effects electrons have on one another, not to mention the strength of the various interactions. But the concepts, the wider questions that border on the philosophical as well as the scientific - those, I love.

The feeling of stretching your mind so wide open that you feel it's entirely possible there may be a permanent split is a heady rush. Have you ever stood on the edge of a cliff, or a very tall building, and had that momentary - just a split second - urge to throw yourself into the void? It's a little like that.

The Universe started as a very dense, very hot mass of energy, then exploded and expanded. But how? Where did the energy come from? Was it always there, or did it just pop into existence? Lawrence Krauss maintains that yes, it came from nothing. I'm afraid I can't accept that - which is why I shall keep reading, and watching, and learning.

And what about the "edges" of the Universe? What is it expanding into? Well, nothing that we can comprehend. The UniverseĀ has no edges, so to speak. It is everything. Or, it is everything in our comprehension. But that is not to say that there isn't some"thing" out there beyond that, far beyond our comprehension, made of stuff that we could never know...

The more I learn about our Universe, the more fascinating I find it. I worried that I would lose the meaning of life if I was truly convinced of how insignificant we are - but, if anything, I have experienced the opposite.

Perhaps everyone has (or wants, or needs) to believe in something. I'm not sure. I don't believe in a god, I know that now. This worried me for a time, as I see some of those I care for deeply, and their faith gives them strength and purpose. What would I have? I think my drive comes from a deep-seated desire to understand our Universe, to find out as much about it as I can. I believe it is within our grasp as a species, if we can manage not to destroy ourselves first. And what we find out may turn out to be completely unexpected.

And, I have faith in people. They are extraordinary.

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