Sometimes, in my interactions with my fellow humans, I run across the opinion that people do not need to understand the world in order to live in it. They wonder why I read so much, study so many odd things that are not immediately applicable or relevant to the day to day challenges of life. The see no point in it, and on one level, I agree with this sentiment. You can even, at times, enjoy that life.
But one thing holds me back from just letting such thoughts slide, and that is a small feeling of unbridled joy at suddenly realizing you know what is happening, and why.
Often, growing knowledge is associated with sadness, bitterness, and a frustration with the world around you. That by becoming aware, you see the ugly that is the world. This is true. One need only look at history to see those who were the brightest were burned down faster than others. They aged quickly, were driven and dogged at every step, and often died young.
This, I believe, is not a symptom of the knowledge gained, but the loneliness you find in it. There is a great lack of passion for knowledge in the world today, an apathy if you will, and those who pursue knowledge for knowledge sake find themselves on the outside looking in.
But that is not the point of this article. No, the point is the answer to the question: Why? Why go out of your way to learn more about the world than you need to? Whats the point?
The easy answer is "you never know when you will need to know something." But that answer also does not do justice to the reason. The answer is because when you see life happening and understand it, you are struck by beauty.
To strike a match and know about the chemical process of oxidization, to picture in your mind millions of tiny electrons jumping orbitals to express light and heat. To see a flower bud, then bloom and you can think of thousands of cells to dividing at insane rates all to open itself up to the world and live. To know that those cells are an integral part of the system that we live in and sustains us. To understand that the bee who lands on that flower is off to do their part in this system, and to know that the honey you ate on your toast started this way just makes it that much sweeter.
That sudden, small burst of joy in your chest when you first realize that your pets are not only aware of you, but go through the similar processes you do. The sudden rush of relief to see, with open eyes, nature in all of its blind glory.
To cast off the shackles of ignorance and see my fellow human beings not as African, Indian, or Arab, but as just... people. To know that they share genes with me, and that we all came from the same place and are all part of the same system, and many of us are going in the same direction.
That burning candle of pride when you use that knowledge to make something work.
To see clouds in the sky, and know what they are and how they formed in the intricacies of the hydrological cycle. To look beyond those, and see the planets move in their orbits, and to understand the balancing act of gravity that is our solar system or galaxy.
To be able to understand that I am but a small piece of carbon, on a small rock, looking out at a sky full of stars around which, very likely, another creature is looking and doing the same.
To know that, despite being that insignificant piece of organic tissue, one piece of it allows me to stand on the shoulders of giants and see something larger than myself. To stand where these pioneers stood, and climb the steps they climbed, and not just see the awe inspiring beauty that is our universe, but to understand it.
Why do I go out of my way to study? I do it because it gives me the keys to unlock the mysteries of this world. It takes my one and only infinitesimal life, and fills it to the breaking point by cramming it full of the very nature of the universe and all of its secrets.
I do it because as simple an act as turning on a light switch becomes more than a banishing of the dark.
It instead becomes the summoning of vision.