Friday, 7 October 2011


(continues from PT 2)

In this Part 3, I will continue, as promised, with the story about A Beautiful Mind, the film. But before I go into that, I like to share with you what just happened in my class this morning. I teach Theory of Structures, you see, and the subject is about solving structures that are indeterminate. I am not going into the technical details but basically, to attend this class, there are some knowledge that my current students must possess in prior like the ability to ‘draw’ the bending moment and shear force diagrams of a simpler configuration, that is determinate.

This class has been going for three weeks now but not until today one of my female student spoke as a representative of the class. She said in a most touching manner, calm at first but with watery eyes towards the end, “Dr. Memang lah sepatutnya kami dah belajar macamana nak lukis gambarajah momen dan shear tu dalam Mechanics of Materials tapi sebenarnya kami tak faham. Pensyarah subjek tu ajar cepat-cepat dan banyak skip. Dia pulak dari KL dan selalu tak masuk kelas”. You can hear a pin drop as everyone in the class was silent, including me. I was simultaneously sad and angry, not towards the students, of course but the system.

Those who are in the Malaysian academia, especially the young teachers like me would recognize that our higher educational system is going off-track. There are too many assessments and accreditations but for the wrong reasons. There are OBE, PO, LO, ISO, etc. which turning the universities into polytechnics if not schools. They assess the students but never the teachers. A general reader may not get it but I believe those in the Academia know exactly what I am talking about. Never mind, we will come back to this later. Lets get back to our story about A Beautiful Mind.

What is all the fuzz about this film called A Beautiful Mind? Just say that the moment I watched it, it was like I had my scientific enlightenment or if you like, scientific illumination (I like the latter as it would grant me the title of the Illuminatist, not of the Italian but of the Suhrawardi’s ishraqi). For the first time in my life, I able to appreciate knowledge and admire those who has it. I able to appreciate how precious knowledge is, how some men and women would live and die for it and how, in turn, it distinguishes those very men and women from the rest of the human race. I have been enlightened that there is another world ‘out there’ where I want to live in exactly for the rest of my life; the ACADEMIA.

It is not at all quiet, this world ACADEMIA. Not at all as to what I have lived at that time (I supposed to be living in one already, right? If you know what I mean). This world is vibrant, dynamic, in turmoil, loud, energetic, happening, etc. It is filled with dramas and plays where the actors and actresses perform their intellectual performances by debating and defending their ideas, notions and equations and where successes and failures are to be equally celebrated; as Noble Laureate at best or as Princeton’s Ghost at worst.

To put it simply, once I finished with the movie, I just could not had enough. I just had my first ‘high’ of knowledge. The first thing I did right after was to buy A Beautiful Mind, the book. And there you are, in front of me hundreds of pages of excitement, passion, thrillers, happiness, sadness and all the words that ever existed. It just confirmed me once and for all that knowledge itself is a life to live; no more turning back.

Like any drug addict who just could not have enough of the ‘high’, I started reading Einstein’s, Feynman’s, Paul Davies’s, Hawking’s and many more only to read the same stories about passion for knowledge. But, instead of being typical, such a repetition only reinforced my perspective on knowledge and ACADEMIA. No more ambiguity I would say, either you have it or not (of the culture of knowledge).

By this time some of you might say, “Aah! This is when he first became a secularist, or western idolizer”. Wait, do not be a typical Malay la you, please do not come to any conclusion yet. In fact, in 6 years time I would then had my ‘religious knowledge’ illumination when I started to read Naqshbandi’s books and attended quite regularly the dzikir in London. But later.

Beside the popular science books as mentioned above, I also started buying books about engineering. The first book that I bought was the Design of Steel Structures by Gaylord and Gaylord. And then, as I believed it was a Divine Intervention, I received a complementary set from a book’s company in Singapore which among them, my most precious book on finite element method, a numerical technique which now becomes my specialty, Klaus Jurgen Bathe’s Finite Element Procedures. But reading these books for the first time only plunged me into another dimension of ignorance hence the birth of my own quote “the more I know, the less I knew”. My journey had just started.

To be continued……….


Dr. Ben said...

I am enlightened as well!

Please continue.

ijad said...

"surely you're joking, Mr.Airil!"

Airilsametok said...

Dr Ben: I'm honored
Ijad: honour as well. To all readers, what Ijad is referring to is the book by Richard Feynman, "surely you're joking, Mr Feynman".