I’m in a doomed relationship with Physics. Yes, Physics, the science of the nature and properties of energy and matter. In short, the science of everything. For decades, I’ve tried to learn the basics, only to give up baffled and defeated. If you, like me, have a subject or skill you long to master, I’m sure you can relate. Now, old, I still try — as Olivia Newton-John suggested in a song, — to “Get Physic-al.”
Overall, I have a love-hate relationship with science. I like Geology and Astronomy, but not Chemistry. Chemistry is too much like cooking, all that mixing, measurements, gloves, spilling, and opportunities for explosions. And then, there’s Physics, feisty mathematical-based.
While it is true that by day I obsess about such mundane topics as gnats in houseplants, by night I dream of understanding the universe and everything in it! And to understand the universe, I know I must wrestle with Physics.
I, in fact, take this pursuit so seriously I even own a dress-for-study-success Einstein sweatshirt!
Physics: The Key to “Everything”
My aspirations to get “it,” whatever “it” is, began at an early age, but were thwarted when I was a teenager. I graduated early from high school, skipping most of the high-level science and math courses. I never got past Chemistry — a subject that practically derailed that whole smarty-pants graduating early scenario. Luckily, I had a brilliant lab partner who helped me pass the class. Without her help, I not only would have failed Chemistry but likely would have exploded the classroom through a near-catastrophic beaker-related mixing miscalculation!
As for my SAT scores? I don’t exactly remember what my college counselor said, but I recall he used the phrase “Grand Canyon-like abyss” to describe the gap between my verbal and math scores!
Liberal Arts for Me
Anyway, I didn’t care at the time. I got into the college of my choice and majored in Russian Area Studies (Political Science, Language, History). Life, liberal arts, career were fine.
But still, the meaning of the universe and that Albert Einstein sweatshirt hanging in my closet haunted me. I knew I was missing out.
Plus, my father was a brainiac. Growing up in NYC, we two made frequent trips to the Natural History Museum and the Hayden Planetarium. He explained scientific findings in a way that was both thrilling and understandable. As proud as he was of my achievements, I knew it hurt his heart a little bit that I was a dud in the science/math departments.
So, I always read the New York Times science section but after my father died, I just couldn’t follow the details of the latest discoveries. I tried lectures and books on tape but nothing equaled my father’s distillations of information for clarity and brilliance.
A few years ago, when we moved to the San Francisco Bay, I was determined to try again. I contacted the Physics Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and found a Ph.D. candidate who was not only smart but could talk about science in a down-to-earth manner. I gathered a circle of friends who were interested in forming a study group … and next stop, the Universe! Unfortunately, our biweekly sessions quickly collapsed, not under the weight of gravity, but under the weight of work and family obligations. People kept missing sessions. The study group imploded like a dying star.
Whose a Dummy?
Now, I’m attempting to work my way through Physics for Dummies but I’m not optimistic. The book begins with “assumptions:” For example:
- “You have no or very little prior knowledge of physics.”
So far so good, I thought. This is the book for me!
- “You have some math prowess. In particular, you know algebra and a little trigonometry. You don’t need to be an algebra pro, but you should know how to move items from one side of an equation to another and how to solve for values.”
I read this assumption and my heart sank. I thought of returning the book for a refund, but I foolishly had underlined a couple of things already in the introduction.
So, after three weeks, I haven’t even made it past the book’s introduction. I haven’t quite given up, but I’m not feeling the Dummies’ love. (I’ll keep you posted.)
Meanwhile is there some subject you’ve always wanted to study but haven’t tackled yet? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.
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If you need more encouragement to share, here’s another on my “cannot do” list: piano. I took lessons for a time until one day, my piano teacher turned to my mother and shaking his head, said, “Mrs. Galatz, I hate to say this to you, but you’re just wasting your money. Your daughter has no talent.”
So much of this Applies to me as well…but I always enjoy your columns.