Nothing has fascinated me more than the concept of libraries. They provide the illusion of finality, a lovely feeling when you’re writing a research paper worth half of your class grade. I walked down the narrow hallway, surrounded by stacks of old anthologies and monographs, boots clacking loudly in the small room. The aroma of old paper spilled in from nonexistent vents, overwhelming but strangely comforting. I let my own mind wander as I pulled books from shelves; quiet noise echoing as the hardcovers fell open. I was alone, but I could feel the authors’ voices surrounding me, feeling their desperation in the search for knowledge, just like me. The interesting aspect of libraries is that we all, in a sense, have our own inside us. We collect memories, and we use them to build the future. What if we saw memory as final? Would we ever push towards the future, then? Does our concept of knowledge have to be continuous?
We are all defined by knowledge. The first time I went to the Adler Planetarium as a kid in Chicago, I knew the vastness of our universe would drive me to spend my life searching for answers. The fickle part of knowledge, though, is that we can never truly define its end. Lord Kelvin famously declared that all of physics had been discovered merely years before Einstein’s work in relativity. If we learn anything from Kelvin, it’s that knowledge is never simply a point on a plane. Rather, it’s the limit of infinity, something beautifully undefined. We search and search forever, but this is, in itself, a noble pursuit. The very satisfaction in knowledge is its inability to truly quantified; as we push towards the boundless future, we find joy in human existence.
The amazing part of knowledge is its infinitesimal beauty. Personally, I find knowledge in my old cryptography book. It was an impulse buy, but it ended up showing me that problem solving is always incremental, not definitive. There’s nothing like cracking open a cypher that was previously thought too difficult; nothing like watching all the figures fall into place from one right move, a calculated shot in the dark. Knowledge is our foundation for existence – how could we survive without a sense of awareness, of clarity, in a world so large and incomprehensible? Knowledge is fluid, malleable; knowledge is awareness. We learn and grow, we gain knowledge. We explore the region, the continent, the world, the universe – with knowledge, we build our identity. Knowledge builds our existence.
I believe that life is beautiful. For a self-proclaimed existentialist, the irony is certainly not lost on me. Even so, to deny the wonder in the unrestricted wild of the mountains, the deafeningly silent museum exhibits, or the hidden library bookshelves would be simply absurd. So, what defines life? When you walk down empty hallways and feel vastly alone, when you grasp onto your seat as the airplane takes off, feeling out of breath and control, when you hear a song that feels made for your ears – the rush of adrenaline that binds us all – this is existence. What defines existence? The journey that characterizes human life; whether you find meaning in the soul or in the sky, it’s the search that defines us. It’s knowledge. I want to redefine how we conceptualize knowledge. So often we try to reduce error like a repeated experimental trial. We work towards the noble goal of finality, but we tie our own hands. We spend our lives finding meaning in existence, but cut ourselves short by losing the connection to knowledge that makes us so fundamentally human. The beauty in knowledge is the introspective nature of our own existence. Just like my journey through the library hallway, we learn that finality doesn’t make a great research paper – the spirit and drive of inquisition does.