Missing Chemistry

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I’ve been having difficulty writing in this blog.

I miss chemistry. I miss writing lab reports.

I know I started this blog to connect with my loved ones while I’m far away, but I don’t know how to write about Korea and my experiences here. I’m too sensitive. I subject every sentence I write, every observation, to its potential to be misinterpreted or to offend someone. I’m too critical.

But there’s another aspect to this: writing about my experiences here is too… subjective.

Pursuing chemistry, I wrote a lab report roughly every week and I miss that discipline. I had to labor over every word, every phrase, to articulate exactly everything that happened in the experiment and the laws and concepts behind the results. As a test-taker, I struggled, but as an elaborator I was consistently a top scorer. There is a lot that is satisfying about chemistry: working the math, the kinesthetic aspect of being in the lab itself, the power of being able to make predictions for chemical outcomes based on intricate concepts- but for me, the most important work was that of articulation.

Writing in science is unlike anything I’ve ever done. It’s quite possibly the most extroverted thing I’ve done. Never have I had to strive so hard for objective truth. (I could diverge here and compare to the laborious search for objective truth in philosophy and spirituality, to which I have been a lifelong dedicant, but I’ll save that for another post :P) I was constantly- word by word- testing my ideas and understanding against the critical feedback of my experimental results.

In contrast, writing about personal experience…

Jung observed four main aspects of human functioning: the Thinking function, the Feeling function, the Sensate function and the Intuitive function. Unlike the more familiar Myers-Briggs system which is based on Jung’s findings, each function is understood to have either an introverted or extroverted tendency, not the person as a whole. The Thinking function and the Feeling function are considered the Rational functions (I know many initially protest at this, thinking that feelings are irrational, but hear me- and Jung!- out), and the Sensate and Intuitive functions irrational. The rational functions have to do with our, well, rationalizing of reality. The Thinking function strives to interpret experience. Scientists typically embody this function well. The Feeling function places value judgments on experience. I like to analogize this to the archetypal Judge, who had to determine the value of each aspect of every case set before them and therefore act as a moral barometer.

(For those who are curious, I’ll also mention that the Sensate and Intuitive functions are considered the Irrational functions, meaning they are concerned with the experience of reality itself. The Sensate function experiences reality more directly, whereas the Intuitive function “blurs the focus” of reality, as Jung puts it, in favor of its possibilities. Hand a cup to two children: the Sensate child will say it’s a cup. The Intuitive child will say it’s a home for fish, a magic hat, a cave, etc.)

Writing about personal experience feels like an exasperating of my already worn-out Feeling function. It’s the spewing-out of value judgment after value judgment, which, by the way, I already want to avoid, being immersed in an entirely new culture where I’m unwittingly set up as a comparator of sorts.

Value-judgment isn’t just the act of being judgmental, it’s the sorting we do every day of everything we come across: This is good! This is bad! This is pretty! This is ugly! Kids should learn this in school! The government should do this! Guns are bad! Guns are good! It’s the incessant organizing of reality by way of a thousand tiny judgments a day.

Value-judgment fuels our passions, gives us the ability to emote and connect with one another, to sympathize, to punish, to stabilize society and cooperate. But in the end it’s not objective (Note: I am in no way talking about morality when I talk about value-judgment in this essay, however the two are arguably related. Again, a post for another day).

I am hyper-aware of the value-judgments I make when writing about personal experience. The subtext of every sentence is so apparent to me: This is beautiful. This is not. This makes me elated. This makes me lonely. Also, with every sentence, I am sending messages about an entire culture, a lifestyle (living abroad), a privilege/fantasy (travel abroad), all through an essentially arbitrary set of values (mine, and arbitrary because I’m a human). I am taking people on a tour of things I am completely unqualified to speak about (most harmfully, a culture). Talking about things over which I can have no authority, I wallow in the mire of relativism.

In writing about personal experience, all I ever need to say to anyone is: I am lonely. I am joyous. Life is beautiful. Life is ugly. Life is absurd. Life is meaningful. Things that have been true my whole life, no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing.

I know lots of people find value in personal narrative, but I, who journaled for twenty years, am perhaps worn out.

I miss chemistry, I miss the excruciating reach for objectivity in the reality of consequences based on physical and chemical laws.

Perhaps, until I figure out my fate as a budding chemist, I should write about philosophy? What else more closely approximates the pursuit of objective truth?

With love,

Laurie

 

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