As I begin this post, I sit amongst a sea of UCD students in the James Joyce library because it is, of course, the dreaded end-of-term cram-for-exams season. Brows are furrowed and hundreds of fingers anxiously pound away at keyboards. I can pick out at least three individuals within eyesight that clearly haven’t slept in quite awhile, and it’s even more obvious that a few students have neglected their personal hygiene. It’s always fascinating to me just how far people will go in times like these; health and well-being are tossed by the wayside in the pursuit of a decent exam grade. I, too, am guilty of neglecting my basic human needs in times like these of intense stress because, like many others, I am results-oriented, and I strive to succeed in all my endeavors. With this being said, the stakes are extremely high with regards to final exams at UCD, and it’s noticeable. As I mentioned in a previous post, UCD’s teaching philosophy is oriented around self-learning; there are very few submissions throughout the course of the semester, and, generally, the final exam is worth anywhere from 50% to 100% of a student’s grade. Although I’ve anticipated this time for quite awhile and have attempted to mentally prepare for it, there was no way to predict this sort of uncanny madness. When I sit quietly and observe my surroundings, there is a general sense about the room that feels as if everyone is desperately digging in their heels in a final, futile effort to avoid defeat in a plainly impossible match of tug-of-war. Maybe I need to find a different place to study…
My friend recently introduced me to the brilliant works of Douglas Adams, specifically, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and, I have had a hard time putting these books down. The reason I mention this is not because I think you care about what I’m reading at the moment; rather, I believe one of the main ideas that Adams champions in his books is quite relevant to this post. The idea is anchored in proportion and is elaborated on in the second book of the series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In the story, the Total Perspective Vortex, a machine that, in a single instant, shows the user the entire infinity of creation in relation to himself or herself, is considered the deadliest and most feared machine in the entire universe. The reason for this being that when anybody actually sees himself or herself in relation to the infinity of the universe and just how microscopic he or she is in proportion to it, the shock invariably annihilates the brain. This, of course, is an allegory of sorts to illustrate how silly we all tend to be at times.
In our search for meaning and purpose, we loose sight of ourselves as we all truly are. What I mean is that the world in which we actually live in is considerably different (and much larger) than the one in which we tend to construct for ourselves. Many of us, including myself, at times live in a world in which nothing exists other than one’s own problems and worries. The ability to consider oneself in relation to the enormously large universe that we all are actually a part of is a uniquely effective stress reducer. I want to get good grades, too, but, taking a proportionate perspective approach, it’s just a test. I think effective preparation and a calm attitude have the ability to yield the best (and least taxing) results.
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” (Except from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)