Friday, September 24, 2010

For the love of learning

On Friday night I realised I'm possibly a bit of a freak. I attended an astrophysics lecture at Swinburne University on gravitational lensing. Now, this in itself isn't particularly freaky, depending on how you like to spend your Friday nights. (After the lecture I proceeded to a bar, met with beings called "friends" and swilled a sparkly clear substance. I hear this is considered normal behaviour for 25-year-old girls. I'm still looking in to this.)

The lecture was given by a professor from Caltech, a rather serious-looking gentleman who, upon rising and opening his mouth, gave one of the most enrapturing lectures I have ever heard. I'm not well versed in astrophysics at all. My research so far has consisted of looking at pictures like this and saying, "Ooh, galaxies. Pretty" and having very little idea about what was going on in them:

Can you see those lines of light in the image, and the way some things look stretched? Gravitational lensing explains why that is, and if you're looking for an explanation you can find one here. I won't attempt to explain it myself. I got the gist of it, but the gist hardly does something like this justice.

About halfway through the lecture I was dimly aware of a warm sensation in my chest. The tingly sensation persisted when I left the lecture theatre and boarded a train. I wasn't paying it much attention as I was busy pondering this RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME phenomena that was TOTALLY NEW TO ME and wondering how I could incorporate it into an idea I have for a sci-fi novel.

I drifted around inside my head for a while longer and then became aware of what my body was doing. Hello, what is this? Why the warm and fuzzies? There was something familiar about this sensation, but I couldn't put my finger on it at first. It was a little like excitement, a little like the apprehension you get when you're stand on the edge of a very high place, and a lot like the sensation you get from drinking the aforesaid sparkly clear substance.

Then I realised what it was.

It's the same sensation I get when I'm FALLING IN LOVE.

There. I told you I'm a freak. I've always loved learning, but really, what the frack?! The psych major in me wants to give myself an fMRI scan and see which bits light up when I read something cool about, I don't know, quarks or something, and the bits that light up when I think about...OK, I don't have a boyfriend right now, but if I did and thought about him I bet the areas would be THE SAME.

I'm reading The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow right now and if things continue as they are I'll probably end up proposing to my paperback copy by page 176.*

What about you? Have you ever had an extreme emotional response to something unexpected?

*Note: I have since finished said book. I do NOT feel the urge to marry it. I very much feel the need to splutter at it wildly saying things like "For laypeople my ARSE." Review shortly.


  1. Going to an astrophysics lecture for fun? Sounds like something I'd do.

    (And I don't think Stephen Hawking can write anything suitable for laypeople. His brain is just so far out there...)

  2. GLAD IT'S NOT JUST ME! I remember what my physics teachers used to say: Physics is Phun! *Groan*

    And I totally agree with you about Hawking. Super-brainy people just can't simplify things for us plebs.

  3. omgosh we need to meet. Astrophysics is MY love too. (Adele can literally attest to that.)

    We need to meet and then attend an astrophysics lecture together and basically geek out!!! (And then write a story about it. Whooooo.)

  4. As someone who took astronomy in sixth form purely because stars are pretty, I can relate. The class teacher used to openly refer to me as 'our friend from the arts faculty', and expect me to know every Shakespeare quote to do with stars but nothing about science, but whatever. Space is exciting!

  5. heh heh, I don't think that's weird at all, there's something about a good public speech that is just inspiring, no matter what it is. It's like seeing live music played - even if I don't actually like the music, if I hear it live I suddenly believe that I LOVE THAT BAND and buy their album, only to return home and listen to the recording and think why the hell did I buy this I don't like this music at all. Once I saw Dr Masaru Emoto speak and I cried. In my defence, it was quite emotive.

  6. That just shows what a good teacher can do. I love people who make their passions both exciting and accessible!

    I'm glad you were so inspired :)

  7. Ha! This is awesome. Yeah, I react to things like this that way sometimes, too. I think it's having your mind blown. I also get overwhelmingly emotional with music sometimes. Like a certain note on a violin and I WILL cry. It's ridiculous.

  8. I sooooooooo know that feeling!!!! We were in Liverpool for the new millennium and it took us ages to decide what to do and in the end we randomly went to a midnight church service at the Anglican cathedral (which is a really famous church over there).

    We are in nooooooooo way religious and we never go to church but I totally fell in love with the architecture AND the organ music. It was the most surreal thing - especially to my husband who knows that I'm normally a pop tart. Btw, I just saw a certain snippet of info somewhere!!!!!!!