A brand new path

I enjoy seeking out boundaries, so I can then take a leap and jump over them. My entire life I’ve been seeking out the physical boundaries my muscular disease puts onto me, and ever since I can remember I’ve seen them more as hurdles than actual limits. Sadly, the last couple of years have been filled with their fair share of hurdles and I had to let go of my dream to study Astronomy at the University of Leiden. That wasn’t something I admitted easily, even to myself, but “knots need to be cut” as the Dutch say. Before making rash decisions I decided to take a year off occupying myself with work so I could carefully think everything over – and search for an answer not only to the obvious question like “What makes me happy?” but also the more important question: “In what subject do I see myself excel in, and why?”

As I mentioned above, I enjoy seeking out boundaries and I enjoy exploring new things and endlessly mulling over mysteries. The technology of Artificial Intelligence is relatively new and I’ve found that it’s the unknown territory that intrigues me. I see the actual building process, the technical part of the studies, as an eventual goal. But to be able to build great things one must first understand the building bricks one is working with. To me those bricks are represented by several philosophical and mathematical parts. How can we break down an actual human train of thought into variables and parts of a bigger algorithm? Exploring limits, learning and creating new things, and using that knowledge to develop new technology makes me happy. Why? Because I find mysteries equally intriguing as annoying. When I encounter a puzzle I don’t only want to solve it, I also need to solve it. And it’s that crazy and complex quest which I plan to feed with the AI studies programme.

For the second question I’ve had more than enough time to think about it and nonetheless I concluded that the answer came rather unexpected and sudden. I never had philosophy classes in high school – a choice I greatly regretted – but after interesting and stimulating conversations with the philosophy teacher I found myself adjusting my personal timetable to be able to sometimes tag along. I find astronomy fascinating, and that fascination partly focused on the mathematical aspect of the subject. I’ve always found languages and the way we use language and words in our lives fascinating, and mathematics is really just another language to add to that spectrum. We’ve been conditioned to use words and phrases to express thoughts, and then my knowledge of language broadened when I learned that we could also use mathematical equations to express certain parts of them. It’s all about breaking down bits and pieces of information and translating them into something entirely new. To expend on my view of language it’s not too big of a leap to then consider converting it into coding – nothing more than yet another language, one designed to be understood by machines. Again, to ensure one can properly translate different kinds of languages, one must first understand what language actually is made up of and how it exactly works. Something I plan to find out.

Combining a scribbled list of my interests and fascinations a trusted advisor led me to AI. After enrolling it now seems as the obvious choice, one so obvious that I don’t quite understand why it took me so long to end up there. What I do know is that I can’t wait to be able to solve these puzzles and start the journey of evolving myself into an even more curious human being.

Future plans

Nom nom nom

For as long as I can remember I’ve been both afraid of, and excited for, my future. It depends on my day which of the two overrules, but at most times I simply avoid to look forward too much and focus on the present instead, since it somehow feels ‘safer’.

Of course I do have plans and dreams, and things for which I work hard to achieve, but I never let my mind wander into the future for long. It is not the unknown which scares me, but the known. I know for a fact that today is the best it’s going to get; my body won’t function better any day than this day. Those facts scare me, instead of the uncertain and unknown variables ahead of me. “I won’t let fear handicap me any further than my disease already does” is a decision I made quite a while ago, and although I find it hard to keep that in mind at all times I try my best and may say I succeed rather often.

It took me a lot of sweat and tears (and 8 years instead of the usual 6) to come this far, but if I keep on this track of the road I will be done with my bilingual VWO (pre-university education) coming May. I can’t wait to be done with it and I’m ready to jump into the depths of a new part of my life: university. Provehito in altum.

Space, stars, and black holes have fascinated me ever since I first watched Discovery Channel, and it is that fascination which I plan to feed. I’ll enrol in Astrophysics at the University of Leiden next fall, and I simply can’t wait for it. I’m tired of my physics teacher chuckling and telling me to “back off” saying “I can’t answer that question. You don’t have to know that for the coming test and besides, we just don’t know yet” whenever I fire my why’s and how’s at him. I want at least to try and grasp this marvellous and mysterious universe we live in, and discover the ridiculous and amazing secrets it has. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan

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The original pale blue dot – Earth from 3.7 billion miles away (NASA/JPL/Voyager)

Apart from my everlasting curiosity there’s another reason for my choice of ambition and it can best be explained by referring to yet another Carl Sagan quote: “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

I’m often overwhelmed when looking up at the stars in the clear night sky. It makes you realize how nimble, coincidential and utterly useless we humans are in the larger scheme of things. That experience is truly tranquil and anxious feelings that often plague me are then laughable in the cosmic reality that surrounds us. But hey, maybe one day I’ll laugh at the cosmic reality.