This post responds to Activia’s scholarship prompt: “Why is learning important to you and how has it impacted your life?” A link can be found at the bottom of this post.
My outstretched arms teetered on either side of me as my right foot hovered. Carefully, I lined my right heel up in front of my left toes and gently placed one foot down as I lifted the other. “We’re getting closer!” a high-pitched voice to my right exclaimed. I blocked out the chorus of excited squeals and continued my mission. One step after another, I gradually quickened my pace and eventually returned to the corner of the sandbox from which I had started. 104, I thought to myself ecstatically. As my first grade classmates had been digging their hole to China, I had walked around the raised edge of the elementary school playground sandbox one hundred and four times. A new record.
Soon after my momentous victory, I was hooked. If I could figure out the maximum number of times I could tightrope-walk around the sandbox without falling off (186), what else could I conquer? How many multiplication facts could I do in a minute? My goals matured as I did. How many pull-ups could I do in a row? How many Latin vocabulary words could I master for the next quiz? I wasn’t focused on learning; instead, my life became a numbers game. I was determined to find the data points that inspired and fostered the best version of me. If I could score two goals in practice today, I wanted to score three tomorrow. The goal was always the next number. In my quest for quantification, I begrudgingly, then eagerly, discovered the infinity of the collective human brain.
There is an infinite number of numbers that you will never think of, speak, or write in your entire lifetime. No matter how long you continue to count, as an individual, your mortality will ultimately get the best of you; there will always be a next number but not always another year. As the human race, however, we have an infinite expanse of knowledge and information to explore, and as far as we know, we have an infinite amount of time to do it. There will always be someone after you to continue counting, whether this means continuing ground-breaking scientific research you started, or pushing to pass your legislative bill that ensures quality of life for millions of people. Before John Green reappropriated the phrase in his novel The Fault in Our Stars, Georg Cantor famously proved that “some infinities are bigger than others.” At some point during my interest in self-improvement, I realized that some infinities were also more important than others. Bettering yourself is important, but even more vital and perhaps more rewarding is being able to contribute to an intellectual community greater than yourself. The encyclopedia of human knowledge is ever-growing, and one of the greatest things a person can do is make a lasting contribution to it – one that could someday send a man to Mars or save a dying patient’s life. It is our responsibility, therefore, to amass and interpret as much knowledge as we can before our descendants take over the reins.
Although I still push myself to perform at my best, my actions are no longer driven by a naive need to find my own data points (and I no longer map my trips around the sandbox). Now, instead of getting crushed by the pressure of those infinities, I am empowered and encouraged by the beauty of and possibilities within the infinite realm of learning. Contrary to what I wanted to believe as a child, there was, in fact, a finite number of pull-ups I could do. Ever. Expansion and improvement of the human race’s collective knowledge, however, is infinite, not bound by the physics that restrains our mortal bodies. In my quest for satisfaction through personal advancement, I discovered that although an individual is limited, the human experience is not. While I was testing my own limits by counting my way around the sandbox in first grade, my classmates were exploring the possibility of transporting themselves, via the same sandbox, to China. Just as we were investigating the same medium in completely different ways, researchers explore, for example, cancer research from many, many different angles.
Collaborative exploration and inquiry cannot be quantified by data points but rather offer humans an infinity greater and more valuable than any one individual could ever achieve. I claim that neither personal achievement nor ultimate happiness constitute our purpose here. Rather, they are merely beneficial side effects of our larger destiny to expand our infinite and ever-growing universe of knowledge.
Please check out Activia’s scholarship page here: https://www.activia.co.uk/scholarship-us. They are providing a wonderful opportunity!