The gist of the meme is to list three things in the course of your lifelong learning that came as natural as falling off a log, especially if they strike you as possessing elegance, expository power, arousal of curiosity, or best of all, a lot of formerly disparate concepts somehow “fall into place.” The other list is three things that are utterly opaque to your mind, that you have made repeated attempts to learn, but for some reason or other, you just don’t seem to be meant to learn these things.
Well then. Three things that I found exceptionally easy to learn:
1) Evolution by Natural Selection: I’m honestly going to say that this has to be the single most elegant theory in the history of science. So elegant that I almost wish I had been an evolutionary biologist (almost, but not quite). And it just fits all of the pieces from all of the different parts of biology so perfectly that it seems like people should have thought of it even before Darwin.
2) Boltzmann’s Hypothesis: That’s S = k_b ln(W), for those of you not in the know, where S is the entropy of a system, k_b is Boltzmann’s constant, and W is the number of quantum states. It is otherwise known as my all-time favourite law of physics, though to be honest, I love thermodynamics in general way more than I should. And the thought process that went into formulating it was extraordinarily clever.
3) The Tower of Hanoi: This one is a bit of cheat, because really I’m talking more about what the Tower represented for me. The Tower of Hanoi is a game in which (although the specifics my vary), one has three wooden pegs situated in a line. On the peg at one end, there sits a tower consisting of five blocks, stacked from largest to smallest. The objective of the game is to move the stack to the peg at the other end, in the fewest number of moves possible. The rules are these: you can only move one block at a time, every block must be on one of the pegs, and you are not allowed to stack a block on top of another block that is smaller than it. This game had especial significance for me, you see, because I had struggled with mathematics all throughout high school. Then, during the summer following Grade 11, my parents went to a conference in Germany, leaving me at home alone*, during which time (and I don’t remember why) I suddenly realized that mathematics was nothing more than logic. I had been told this before, of course, but I didn’t really understand what was meant by it, and frankly, neither did my high school math teachers**. However, one day as I was standing out on the deck watching birds and sipping lemonade, the fact just clicked it my head. When my parents returned with a copy of the Tower of Hanoi that they had purchased at the Deutchesmuseum gift shop, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to solve it without much difficulty.
…Now, here are three things that I find well-nigh impossible to understand
1) Group Theory: This one’s a bit of a killer, because Group Theory is extremely important in modern physics, but damn! I don’t even begin to understand all of these symmetry groups and such, and every time I try reading-up on the subject, I get about as far as three by three matrices representing angular transformations, and I start to phase out. It’s really kind of serious.
2) The Yugoslavian Civil War of the 1990s: I’m not even talking about the mentality which allows people to remorselessly murder civilians (although I don’t understand that either and I hope never do). Rather, what I mean is that I have only the fuzziest notion as to what actually transpired during this war. I once sat down with an account of the conflict and studied several detailed maps of the region for three hours, and even then was only able to understand the absolute most basic details. So…Slovenia separates, and everyone is fine with that, but it emboldens Croatia to separate, and that leads Serbia to invade, and somehow the Bosnians get tangled-up in it, and every country has an ethnic minority population which has its own militia that is unaffiliated with its parent country’s army (except on reality it’s not) and….Let’s just all agree it’s Tito’s fault for dying.
3) LUSH: It’s a store. It sells soap and stuff. It’s not the second coming of Christ. Why is everyone so obsessed with it?
*Technically, my sister was there too, but she was out an awful lot.
**The present (sorry) state of math education in public schools can be added to the list of things that I should blog about at some point.