reflections on the beginning of a new academic year

Campus is alive again. Students have returned, teaching has started, and I love this time of year. Among my other duties, I get to speak to groups of new students, and having just come out of one, I’m reflecting on things I tend to include in those induction talks.

I’m honest with the new students that I feel a non-insignificant amount of envy. They are starting a grand and glorious, and there is a part of me that would dearly love to go back to school, pick a new subject and in some sense start over again.

This wanting to go back and relive parts of our lives we’ve already lived is a not uncommon theme in science fiction and more generally, with both positive and negative outcomes. I’m not sure I would consider Groundhog Day to be science fiction in the traditional sense but it is an interesting exploration of a possible reaction to the lack of consequences of living the same day over and over and over and over again. And Bill Murray rocks.

And while I’m typically not a fan of the Q episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I do enjoy the episode where Q gives Picard this particular gift, and Picard’s ultimate lack of acceptance of the gift.

I suspect that one of the reasons this going back and starting over is an attractive topic for speculation is that it is not in any way, shape or form a thing which is possible for us to do. With that impossibility, it’s largely consequence-free speculation. I suspect that someone has written the story or the novel about how a society might react or be shaped by such a thing actually being possible. If you have a suggested reading along these lines, I’d be interested in a reference.

But one thing about the picking up a new topic and starting the learning process with this new subject is something that we can always do. The constraints on time that come from the day job might make this difficult, but I do like to remind myself that this is always something I can decide to do.

It might require a shaping of my current life to make enough time available for such a new thing, amidst all the current things, and it might well also require a slight renegotiation with the current day job. And I’ve started thinking about what this new thing might be. I have a few ideas. Let’s see where they lead.

~ by Jim Anderson on 10 October 2018.

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