josiah jennings

(Sean Zevran)

On the Shoulders of Giants

These last several weeks, my pet project has been to reteach myself all of the maths, at least up to probability and statistics for now. Rather, completing probability and statistics will be my benchmark before shifting focus to studying for the GMAT for application to graduate school. I want to study physics or computer science, or both. I am weaving this into my present studies for the CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+ exams, which are exams for professional certifications within the field of information technology that I hope to acquire at the start of 2024. I say all of this to remark upon the fact that at age 35, I deeply resent how I was taught mathematics (as well as most other subjects) as a child. Why?

Well, I am having zero issues teaching myself math or any other subject these days. In fact, it feels a little too easy, and while some of this can be attributed to simply being older, wiser, and more disciplined, I believe more can be attributed to the epistemological foundation gained from having received a BA in philosophy some several years ago, a foundation that I believe to be sorely lacking in public education, and this is what infuriates me. In some sense, I feel cheated. If things had been taught to me differently as a child, I would have sooner acquired a much deeper appreciation for the way all things in this world are connected. Moreover, I would have understood how to connect all of these things myself insofar as building a cognitive model of the world.

I have expended a lot of unnecessary energy over the years teaching myself how to fit these pieces together in my own way because I was never taught how to do so as a child. Furthermore, I hate that I had to essentially borrow 10s of 1,000s of dollars for a philosophy degree to teach my own self how to do this. As a child, I was often taught things without knowing the reason and without being equipped with an epistemological model to parse such concepts as truth and knowledge. In retrospect, one of the most destructive things I ever heard as a child was “you’ll never use this once you graduate”—bullshit. This is but an adult or teacher admitting to not understanding why something is learned in the first place. It is the revelation of an epistemological disconnect between the theoretical and the actual. It is complete ignorance of how the world works.

My path in life has been relatively unorthodox—from sports and the rural, religious life, to college and the military, to the sex industry and traveling the world, yet in all of these ventures have I only ever felt I was an observer. Few friendships have lasted, and despite excelling nearly as much as one can at each of these endeavors, I have always felt out of place. At the risk of sounding vain, the only aspect in which I have ever found myself lacking is academics. Of course, this brings me full circle, as this would likely not be the case if we as a society approached our relationship to knowledge quite differently, in my opinion. I think we are slowly learning this, though whether we learn it quickly enough to avert catastrophe awaits to be seen.

All of this may sound as if I am deflecting responsibility for my own shortcomings, and there may very well be some truth to this, but merely reducing it all to being a part of life, without examination, is to do the very thing of which I am being critical. It is to blindly accept an existential construct into which I was unwillingly thrust and which I wholeheartedly resent. And before it sounds to any reader that I simply hate life, know that it is not my life in particular that I hate, for it is the case that all roads lead to the same end. Besides, how can I hate my own life when it seems fairly decent relative to, say, the Palestinians being made to endure an ethnic cleansing right now, or the people in my own country and city without a roof over their heads nor food in their bellies? If anything, I wrestle daily with passionate disdain for this entire existential conundrum.

What does this have to do with epistemology? Everything. There is a lot of noise in the world, as in the universe is essentially data that requires structure to understand it. In his letter to Robert Hooke in 1676, Sir Isaac Newton is quoted as saying, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Still, some of us striving to see further require a ladder to even reach those shoulders—ladders that many of us spend half a lifetime or more having to build due to the shortsightedness of others, only to maybe one day watch the sunset and, hopefully, understand the significance of its beauty. Ultimately, it is the only thing for which one can hope.

2 responses to “On the Shoulders of Giants”

  1. Happy New Year, young man! Peace and Love in 2024.

  2. Hi, it’s so great you wanna learn maths and physics. Drop me a line at my email, I can offer you lessons. I have a major in mathematics and just finishing astrophysics. I also like programming and data analysis. I live afar, but we can have meetings online. I also have a twitter (or X now) profile, we can talk there. Don’t wanna share it in this comment, can send it via email. I’m quite a good teacher 😉
    Hope to hear from you.

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