Physics is Not Literature . . . .

If you’ve been reading the previous posts, most of you know by now that I am an English major by choice. The problem this semester is that because I returned to this major so late in the semester, I missed out on my chance to get into any English courses. This has caused me to focus on the core curriculum, which includes Physics. I’m also taking Sociology and History, but these courses are something like literature because there is so much reading and thinking about the reading involved. Physics is an entirely different matter. For one thing, although there is reading required for the course, most of the reading involves words and phrases such as “kinetic energy,” “law of relative gravitation” and “thermodynamics.” It also is constantly requiring formulas for every single new word that is taught, which is reminiscent of algebra (a subject I struggled with constantly throughout junior high and high school). When I come across these things, I feel a tad lost because I would much prefer to study something along the lines of the following:

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.

This excerpt from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice incorporates a different manner of speaking than we in America are used to hearing, it uses phrases which are outdated and places every syllable in a more grammatically correct position. Yet, it makes sense to me. I understand every sentence, every syllable, and every punctuation mark because I am passionate about Literature. Physics is a cold and calculated subject to me. It allows no room for emotion or passion.

The second issue I find I am facing in Physics is that on some level I enjoy the sensation of knowing that there is only one answer that will be accepted for each question I face. Whereas in English, I often found that although there may be many ways to interpret a particular phrase or piece of literature, most professors are looking for a specific type of answer; and as an English major one must be in tune with their professor’s ideas in order to create the type of essay that is expected. It can be very frustrating at times. I have discovered that sometimes it is nice to know that in Physics there is only one accepted answer per question. In a way, it involves less stress than the uncertainty of wondering if the answer I’m giving might be correct in one English professor’s eyes while at the same being entirely incorrect in another’s. (I found this to be especially true when I faced my first college English professor, who told me that my writing was entirely too flowery and fluffy. I happen to like the way I write and would like to let her know, although I can’t remember her name and she will most likely never read this, that English department head from Baylor University had high compliments for the paper I presented at last year’s C. S. Lewis and the Inklings Conference at Oral Roberts University.) That is another post for another day . . . .

I suppose I should be thankful that Physics is not Literature. After all, if they were, I wouldn’t be able to choose Literature over Physics. My inner literary genius would have no room to fly because there would only be exact answers and specific solutions. There would always be some hypothesis or theory out there proving my idea of passion and romance wrong. There would always be the reminder that feeling and philosophical thought are not allowed distort the experimental facts of Physics.

Third, I must admit that I do find some enjoyment in figuring out the solution to the problems I encounter in Physics. I believe it is because there is a challenge in tackling a subject that doesn’t come naturally to my artistic soul. English, theatre and music have always been so simple in my mind that I rarely find a challenge in the practice of them. I have experienced difficulty with the creation of the “perfect essay,” or with the performance of a role that is opposite of my personality, or even with a musical piece that was ever so slightly out of my range causing me to work harder to make it a pleasing sound. Yet, this challenge isn’t the same as the challenge I encounter when I sit down to Physics and try to decide which formula matches which problem in order to form the correct (and only) solution.

I have such a passion for Literature that each day, as I’m walking into my 8 to 5/non-literary job, I think, “It’s so nice to have work, because so many don’t; but I would love to have a job that I LOVE!” I like my job, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t love my job. I’m not passionate about my job. My job is just a job. It allows me to pay my bills and occasionally splurge on myself. I want work that isn’t work. I know it is possible. I know there are people out there that are living out their dreams. I know this because I know them. I know there are people out there who are performing the tasks they are passionate about every day. So, I know, I know, I know it is possible. I also know that they paid the ultimate price to achieve that job they love. I know that most of them obtained the college degree necessary for that job, something I am taking my time finishing. I know that those who work in a field that doesn’t necessarily require a degree (such as theatre or music) took the risks essential to breaking into the entertainment business, which I haven’t taken because the few times I have I was disappointed, so I honestly gave up hope. I know that as long as I’m not willing to take the risks or until I finish that beloved English degree, that I will have to continue on in a job that possibly is just a job. I understand that this is how things work. Still, as with so many other things, I long for something better. There are so many directions my life has taken that I never planned for, and I realize this happens to all of us. We all find ourselves in a place we didn’t plan, but I never imagined my life would take me so far away from the places I’ve always dreamed of being. Yet here I am, somewhat content, but still hoping and trusting that tomorrow might bring the “something better” along that I keep dreaming about.

2 thoughts on “Physics is Not Literature . . . .

  1. Sarah says:

    I miss math!! (I know that physics is science, but I enjoyed it because of all the math involved!) Math is the only thing I miss about not teaching. I heard that math textbooks hire people to go through their books to work all the problems and make sure everything works. I’m not sure how to get that job, but it sounds fun!!! =)

  2. Jana Swartwood says:

    How much do we love Jane Austen?!? Yes, I know what you mean, although physics is starting to grow on me now that it’s not being forced upon me. It’s interesting that you bring up the point about how with literature, many things are somewhat subjective (at least, the personal response to someone’s artistic endeavor…obviously the artist had his/her own purpose, but I won’t get into literary theory here), yet with physics there is usually just one answer. Interestingly enough, in higher physics, I think they’re realizing that the answers are less concrete than expected. But no matter. The reason I understand what you’re saying is that I’m experiencing that very same phenomenon dealing with biblical scholars. We’re still dealing with literature, which by nature is open to many sorts of interpretation or misinterpretation, but combined with it is a dogmatism (this is what it is because it is the Word of God). I’m not saying that’s wrong; obviously, to believe the Bible is to believe in absolute truth, and even though the mechanism is literary, we have to take the biblical teachings as true (once we figure out what the text/context is really saying). I don’t know where I’m going with this rambling mess of a comment. But I’m glad you’re experiencing physics as that other side of your education. It’s good for you. It’ll round you out, and you’ll be amazed later how it may even come to affect your writing. Hmm.

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