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Getting lost and Annie Dillard

kgould's picture

I liked Solnit's book. It speaks really strongly into my own understanding of the brain and the mind and the ways in which we learn. A lot of us feel uncomfortable when we get lost, literally or metaphorically. While I'm not going to lie and say that I enjoy wandering around strange places when I have a destination in mind, I do often go for walks into unknown areas around Bryn Mawr. I like looking at the environment around us, both the natural and cultural aspects of it, and I like snooping on the massive houses around here. 

But my favorite kind of "getting lost" is probably in an intellectual pursuit. That moment where I don't know, where I can't make the connection, where my brain has to burn and tug and start spinning like a blender, is one of the most enjoyable feelings I get in the classroom. I love the search and I love brainstorming new ideas. I think that's part of the reason why I like writing and science so much. There's always a new connection to make, a new way or form of expressing myself, of parsing and combining information to come up with a new theory or argument that I can use. I love writing big research papers (lucky me) because it's an opportunity to get lost in a sea of information and see if I come up with anything good. Of course it feels bad if I swim back to shore with nothing to show for it, but when I do it's like finding that shipwreck and the treasure hiding inside. It is, if you forgive me, like having a brain orgasm. I'm hooked on academics and learning because of it. 

Solnit's book reminded me a lot of Annie Dillard's "A Pilgrim at Tinkercreek," which I could see playing nicely into our class. Mind you, I last read it five years ago for AP Language and, as far as I can remember, I loathed the book--but part of me remembers that as part of the experience of reading it with my high school peers. It would be interesting to read it in the context of getting lost and memoir and fact/fiction/truth/lie. Dillard is kind of a trippy hippy. Her imagery is beautiful, although I think a lot of the time she was more interested in the aesthetics of her images than what she was trying to say. But you'll have to forgive me: my memory is pretty lame as is and thinking about a book I didn't like from five years ago is... less than accurate.

I like getting lost. It's part of the reason why, even as a skeptic, I still find enjoyment from watching and reading about hauntings and ghosts. Until I have my own convincing empirical data to support the existence of such events, I'm not going to buy into it. But the process of challenging myself to just consider, to look at the information and feel discomforted by what I see (either because it doesn't make sense with what I understand or because the execution of the methods/control is sloppy and makes me want to slam my head into my monitor), there's something really appealing there. And that's why I don't think I agree with whoever mentioned the idea of science not leaving room for exploration or mystery, as opposed to art.

I mean, are you kidding me? Science is all about exploring! And only bad scientists will tell you that they've "solved, conclusively" some mystery or question. Good science is never stagnant. There is always room to continue exploring a concept. Hell, we'd still be living in a geocentric universe if we thought that way. The earth would still be flat. (Or maybe it is, I don't know. It all depends on your perspective.) Science does NOT keep eliminating mysteries or questions. If anything, it gives us more perspectives to look at our questions, and gives us more tools to dig just a little further. 


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