Reading and Physics

I started reading QED by Richard Feynman today in AI and I was amazed at how well it improved my overall mood.  QED (which here stands for Quantum Electrodynamics, not Quod Erat Demonstrandum) is a look at how light and electrons interact via the model of quantum mechanics.  Feynman has the gift of explaining very complex ideas in simple terms and he has no problem admitting what he (and all of the physics community) do not understand.  He talks very bluntly about the limitations our physical models have and admits that none of it makes sense.  In this book he explains how physicists make predictions in this area without going into the complex math that is required to make the calculations efficient.

I think starting up this book made me feel good for two reasons.  One, reading can be very relaxing and was a good way to slow down in the middle of the day.  I think this helped me see AI as more of my own time to enjoy my interests, rather than managing the class while they read (of course there were breaks in my reading to do that).  The same feeling occurred after school during detention.  I was able to slow down and enjoy reading while they sat until they were able to give 15 minutes of uninterrupted silence.  This gave me the strongest sense that I was “winning” that I have experienced yet, if that makes sense.  Once I let the two students who modeled good behavior go, the others ended their whispers and giggles without needing a word from me.  Slowly I let students go as they fulfilled their 15 minutes of quiet requirement.  I got the sense that there was more power in this than in giving them a lecture.

The second reason reading really improved my mood is because it gave me a chance to look at complex physics again.  I love the concepts at work in the topics that we study in class, but I have always had a special curiosity and interest in quantum mechanics.  I love reducing to the behavior of the smallest particles and I am constantly amazed that the universe really behaves in this bizarre manner.  With teaching I have had not shortage of intellectually demanding work, but there is a distinct difference between studying learning and studying physics and I believe I really need a balance of both.  Few things excite me and energize me like thinking about a new way to teaching something, or new pedagogical technique, but contemplating the ridiculous nature of reality definitely matches up.  I was reminded of this when I met with my fellowship in the fall and I think continuing to pursue this intellectual outlet will help balance out my mind.  While it sounds crazy, studying quantum mechanics may be one of my stress relievers. 

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