Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Warrior Physicist

I attended a tea session with Professor CN Yang today, the 1957 Nobel Laureate. Somehow the topic of how Western researchers somehow do better than the researchers of the East came up, and yes, as I had expected, it was a matter of courage.

Western researchers are somehow more courageous than those of Asia. And I attribute it to the fact that their education is not as rigorous as ours, as such, their minds are often free to explore the arcane and the weird. For us, because we are forced to subscribe to a very rigorous chain of thought, we ultimately narrow our comfort zone to intense rigour and it prevents us from going on to explore.

But before you think I'm throwing stones, Prof CN Yang also did stress that rigour was important, to get the fundamentals down solid. This was the strong point of Eastern science education.

So if each of the 2 modes of education have their own strengths and weaknesses, what does it boil down to? Human nature. Humans somehow need to 'fit in' with their society, since we are social animals by nature. If everyone's trying something new, we would feel pressured to try something new as well. But if everyone's busy 'mugging', then somehow we would as well.

So ultimately, what does this mean? It means, that the ultimate form of science education combines the courage of the West, with the rigour of the East, such that both strengths are tapped. And if you combine courage and rigour, you may think of the training of a warrior. So I propose that to train the best researchers in the world, you need to train them into warriors.

A warrior physicist, the notion is pretty cool. But you would immediately point out that while such an idea seems fancy, it is definitely not easy. Well, I don't know about students who have been good students all the way, but I was once a delinquent, so my study powers are not as good as some of the other good students out there. For me, when it comes to tackling difficult equations and rigorous proofs, it does require a lot of courage. My fear of maths was a result of a lack of courage to attack the proofs and rigour. But to me, it is simply a matter of overcoming your fear, fear of failure, fear of this, fear of that... The way I conquer this fear is probably not something I should mention on this blog, it's a little weird, if not very weird.

So it's really just a matter of conquering fear. For the West, their fear may be getting into the rigour of the East, for the East, it is about venturing into the unknown and battering down preconceived notions.

Sadly, there is not a single education system in the world that can teach a person how to effectively overcome fear. Happily, this means that success in science is independent of geography.

So to every aspiring scientist out there, don't feel bad that you may not be studying in the West, the key to your future ultimately lies within yourself, no one else. Because if you so want to, you can batter down mountains, lakes, oceans, people.......

So which fear are you going to overcome today? I'm going to work on becoming a warrior physicist, anyone wants to join me?

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