Sunday, August 29, 2021

Life Lately: The World as it is

I’m going to be 30 in two Saturdays. I’m very excited about this milestone and I’m looking forward to that week (yes – it’s an entire birthday week away from work). But what’s a milestone where Koye doesn’t reflect? So I’ve also been reading my old journals and thinking about my journey. I found this entry from 2009 about a simple but political decision I had to make, and thought it was a good example of how my thinking has evolved over the past decade.

In our third year as Mechanical Engineering undergrads at OAU, we needed to run practical exercises in a wind tunnel. A wind tunnel is a tube with air blowing inside that is used to observe the interaction between air and objects moving through air. For example you might use a wind tunnel to observe how a streamlined sports car cuts through the air more easily than a boxy truck. The lab at OAU used kerosene to add smoke to the air so we could see the interaction between the air and our scale models. We were all excited about the practical, but a small challenge had arisen. The lab expected us to buy the kerosene.

My class split into two groups. One group wanted us to buy the kerosene and get on with the practicals. The other group believed we should not buy the kerosene given we had paid tuition and practical fees, and one of them in particular wanted us to escalate the matter to third-parties ranging from the Vice Chancellor to the Federal Minister of Education (no kidding). As Class Governor, I had to make and implement a decision.

It was a straightforward choice at the time. Buying the kerosene was the only way we were realistically going to experience the wind tunnels before graduation. Getting the Vice Chancellor or Minister of Education involved may have yielded results, but at what cost? And definitely not in a timely manner. It was a choice between engaging with the world as it was and engaging with the world as it ought to be. I chose to engage with the world as it was.

Many years after those events, I now view situations like this differently. If I were faced with those circumstances again today, I would be seeking an outcome where I both got my class the practical and started a conversation future classes would benefit from.

Straddling that balance between the world as it is and the world as it should be is important. Accepting the world completely as it is often leads to stagnation. The entire human race wouldn’t move forward if everyone just accepted things the way they were. On the other hand, ignoring reality and engaging with world only as it should be can result in intellectual exercises that don’t achieve anything. I have since learnt it is possible to do both – to be planted in reality while traveling in the direction of progress.

Or as Barack Obama once put it, “you may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be”.


What I’m currently reading: I think What is Life? is one of the most important popular science books ever written. Paul Nurse is that rare thing – a Nobel Prize winner and deep thinker who can explain things very simply. Using simple sentences as building blocks, he summarizes the latest thinking about cells, genes, natural selection, and adds a few theories of his own into the mix. This is not “what is life?” from a philosophical perspective. Think of it more like “what does it mean for something to be alive?” I’m going to read this book a few more times over the coming years.

What I’m currently listening to: Business Wars! Their season on Food Delivery Wars chronicles the evolution of food delivery services and asks what I think to be a very important question as grocery-delivery services proliferate. Can food apps ever deliver profits?


Have a nice week!

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