This I Believe

Brian - Dallas, Texas
Entered on October 14, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

Growing up, I heard stories of how the adults in my family never had chances to pursue higher forms of education. They used to preach about the horrors of Asian social systems and everybody’s indifference toward their futures. Of course my parents and extended relatives became pretty successful in business and such ventures, but not many went into the “gifted” fields. They were all brilliant and possessed great wisdom and street smarts, but they didn’t fit society’s mold of aptitude. My parents can’t tell me whether to integrate or differentiate to find the area under a curve. My grandparents wouldn’t be able to explain a periodic table, let alone recite the elements in order by atomic weight. They just never learned how.

Being part of the first “educated” generation, they all urged me to pursue a white collar future. From what they told me, plain wisdom and general astuteness were still considered proletarian qualities, so I had to push farther than that. Apparently, intelligence was naught unless backed by hard facts. It’s measured by how far you can recite Pi or e. It’s measured by how fast you can draw the condensed formulas for the hydrocarbons involved in cyclic phosphorylation. It’s measured by details, little nitpicky things. People don’t want a doctor who tells you to drink water and rest. They want a shot of epinephrine to activate the beta adrenergic receptors in your liver and muscle cells, thereby activating the adenylate cyclase signaling pathway, which will in turn increase glycogenolysis. It’s much more esoteric and, quite frankly, a lot cooler.

One benefit of relying on details is the ease in conditioning. Not only do the details change, but so do their perceived paths. For example, with the integers described in Fermat’s Little Theorem, the first five are prime numbers but after that, the pattern subsides. Richard Guy, a professor of number theory, proposes in his law that “Capricious coincidences cause careless conjectures, and early exceptions eclipse eventual essentials.” After something falls in the same place for the third or fourth consecutive time, you just assume that’s where it belongs. Fallaciously, people try too hard to find an overall picture to explain things. Main ideas do nothing but compact and truncate valuable information to make things more appealing. If you don’t strengthen your foundations, the edifice will collapse.

Like most other people, I always try to find relationships in any situation. It helps me understand things better and provides an increased sense of security. However, being semi-perfectionist, I pay acute attention to details and regard precision as the ultimate achievement. The little things are what allow for greater triumphs. I agree that as humans we are prone to make mistakes, but that’s why we should strive to be more meticulous and vigilant. I’ve spent my whole life trying not to be careless, and it’s worked pretty well. Ergo, I believe in the fundamentals, in perfecting that which has already been established.