My mom gave me a box earlier this year that’s full of old papers of mine from high school and college. She found them while cleaning out my closet back home. I wasn’t even sure what was in it because I just shoved it in the corner of my bedroom until it was time to move to DC, and then I shoved it in the corner of my new bedroom. Finally I decided to go through it. Why did I keep this stuff? Did I think that some day I would need to look up my old physics homework?
Looking through this box was mostly depressing because it just makes me realize how dumb I’ve become. The proof is right in my hands: all these homework assignments, in my hand writing, proving that I once knew stuff. I threw out these papers immediately to hide the evidence that I was smarter when I was a teenager than I am now. But I set a few aside to share with you.
Once upon a time, I knew how to solve physics problems. Not advanced physics stuff - I never had to go beyond University Physics III in college - but looking at some of these assignments, I’m like “yeah I remember knowing how to do crap like that”. Take this question from an exam. The top of the paper says “SPSP 375-371 Practical Exam” and I have no idea what that means. See I’m so dumb now even the heading of the paper stumps me. This is an exam that I scored a perfect score on. BTW I don’t know how to do the “plus or minus” symbol in HTML so I’ll just do “+-” and likewise I’ll write out “degrees” rather than the little circle thingie.
In the preliminary set up of the Equilibrium of Rigid Beams experiment a group of students tied the strings to the meter stick before attaching the clamp! Without the clamp and added mass hanging from the meter stick, however, they were able to level the meter stick, and recorded the following data:
location of “25 cm” hole: 24.950 +- 0.025cm
location of “75 cm” hole: 75.050 +- 0.025cm
location of center of gravity: 52.950 +- 0.025cm
mass of meter stick: 63.4 +- 0.2 grams
mass hanging from “25 cm” string: 50.0+-0.1 grams
mass hanging from “75 cm” string: 54.5+-0.1 grams
angle of “25 cm” string: 34.00+-0.25 degrees
angle of “75 cm” string: 40.50+-0.25 degrees
both acute angles were measured with respect to the horizontal meter stick.
a) Draw a free body diagram of the meter stick with all values indicated.
b) After choosing an axis about which to calculate the torques and clearly indicating its location on your free body diagram, determine if these data are consistent with the criteria for static equilibrium.
This is followed by my neat, well written calculations involving strange symbols and sin and cos of this angle & that. I conclude with the statement, in cursive handwriting (another thing I don’t know if I could even do nowadays without making errors), that ”The beam is in static equilibrium because the sum of the forces and the sum of the torques on the beam both equal zero.” Don’t think I’m bragging that I used to be smart. That probably wasn’t a hard problem at all. I’m saying I’m just dumb now. If someone were to give me that problem now and tell me to either solve it or he’ll chop off my arm, I’d ask “the right or left?”
I had a technical major (started out mechanical engineering and switched to computer science) so most of my papers were of math/science/computer stuff. But my curriculum also included some liberal arts classes. Mostly basic stuff: introduction to philosophy, modern American history, government, 6 psychology classes (that was my liberal arts concentration). Again, I had to face up to the fact that I used to know stuff that I don’t know.
If you were to ask me today about Aristotle’s philosophical views, I’d say that he discovered some laws of logic, but that’s about it. Now consider this take-home test question:
According to Aristotle, the Unmoved Mover - the first cause, the Prime Mover, pure actuality - is the cause of everything. (a) Explain how it could possibly be such a cause, and (b) discuss what that has to do with human beings in particular.
Here’s my essay, which scored a perfect 70/70 and a comment “A very thorough answer”:
Aristotle believes that there is an Unmoved Mover, or pure actuality, that is the cause of everything. Here is an explanation, using Aristotle’s views, as to how this is possible: Every substance in the universe is composed of matter (potentiality) and form (actuality). A substance cannot exist without one of these two components. Actuality precedes potentiality, meaning nothing exists without a cause. For an explanation of Aristotle’s theory of the four causes, refer to the previous essay. [This was the 2nd question on the test.] For any substance we can name, it is logical to say that something else must have caused it (its actuality preceded the substance’s potentiality.) But in order for that other thing to exist, something else must have in turn caused it. Without things affecting each other in this way, there would be no change in the universe. However, with this line of reasoning, there would be an infinite chain of substances affecting each other which didn’t seem logical to Aristotle. For instance, Aristotle believed that the sun moving around the Earth accounted for the changes in Earth’s atmosphere. Then we’d have to ask what accounted for the sun moving (or changing.) If we say the moon accounted for the sun moving, then we’d have to ask what accounted for the moon moving, and so on. Each substance requires an actuality to precede it in order to exist. The answer to this dilemma is that there exists a “pure actuality” that is the prime mover. It is without substance and doesn’t change, therefore it does not require anything to cause it. This unmoved mover cannot be a material cause because it has no potentiality. Therefore it is also not a formal cause because form requires material. It is not an efficient cause because nothing precedes it. However, it can be explained using the final cause, or purpose. This purpose is what sets everything in the universe into motion. It is the cause of everything, the purpose for everything.
Everything in nature moves towards this pure actuality, attempting to fulfill its purpose. However, nothing can reach this state of pure actuality because matter and form are inseparable. In humans, the highest actuality they can reach is happiness. That is their purpose. There are two types of goals that humans have: instrumental and intrinsic. Instrumental goals are desired in order to achieve a further goal whereas intrinsic goals are desired for their own sake. For example, the goal of my writing this essay is not intrinsic, but instrumental. I am not writing it because I enjoy writing essays about Aristotle, I am writing it because I want to get a good grade on this test. In turn, I want to get a good grade on this test in order to get a good grade in this course. Even things that can be viewed as intrinsic can also be instrumental, however. The only thing for humans that is always intrinsic and never instrumental is happiness itself. Humans desire happiness just for the sake of being happy. Therefore happiness is the final goal of all humans, even if not all humans reach this goal. By being happy we are helping to satisfy our actuality, or soul. By satisfying our soul, we come closer to achieving the unattainable pure actuality. The way to achieve our fullest happiness, and our purpose, is through contemplation. Pure actuality is somewhat like a thought thinking about itself. When we engage in contemplation, we are thinking for the sake of thinking and thus we are coming closer to pure actuality and our purpose. The final form of humans, that which all humans naturally move towards becoming, is that of the philosopher who contemplates.
I remember that class. It was taught by this little man with a gray beard. He basically was what you would expect a philosophy professor to look like. I’m not sure why, because he wasn’t that funny looking, but I would literally not be able to stop myself from cracking a smile when he walked into the room. There was just something funny about him. I liked that guy. It may have been in part because I felt like he thought most of this stuff he was teaching was b.s. too. That stuff I was saying in the above essay? I don’t agree with any of that crap, but the assignment was what would Aristotle think, not what would I think. It hadn’t occurred to me until I took that class that you could appreciate studying about what people have believed over the centuries even if you don’t subscribe to any of those beliefs. Then of course I proceeded to not read any more about philosophy after that. Thus my current dumbitude.
There was something the professor did often that never got old. For example, we were discussing some philosopher’s (I don’t remember who) beliefs about an omnipotent being and he asked if there were any questions. I asked “how could an omnipotent being want anything?” This wasn’t some idea that popped into my head while sitting there in class, I had read Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith and I couldn’t help but bring up that point. He just gave a slight knowing smile and said “Hmm yes…” then looked around and said “are there any other questions?”, indicating that yes, it was an important question that he had opinions about, but no we weren’t going to open that can of worms in this class.
I have a few more papers I could share but I’ll stop here. I’d have to have a couple drinks before I could share an English Composition assignment I wrote entitled “Starlight Elves”. Yeah. I also have an economics paper from high school - I forgot that I even had an economics class in high school! - that’s about aliens from the planet Ryxlen. The point of this post was to show how dumb I’ve become but revealing those to the world might be the ultimate in stupidity.