“Electricity comes from other planets” jovially declared the proto-punk songwriter Lou Reed in 1967 (online). Jupiter, a planetary marker of joviality in that it heralds the outer planets (once known commonly as the jovian planets) suggests by its swirling eye that we are in the centre of a great cosmic mystery. Colours, textures, swirls, to reduce gas giants to their components belies the joy they are to behold. Likewise, the magic of interaction with a special someone is equally devoid of meaning when reduced to chemicals and even body language. Sparks are sparks, right? And the same is true at AU when we discover a topic that really piques our heart’s intrigue.
From the personal to the cosmic, answers abound but depend on what question is being asked. Wherever the magic of life originates, whether extraterrestrial ET fingers or in the depths of our DNA, the reality of educational success is that we have to lock into our goals and pursue them like greased lightning. There’s no incantation that can replace hard study hours. And yet few students can muster the drive to thrive on sheer willpower alone (although I suspect a few accounting degrees are based on such a hardcore ability to disavow one’s feelings about the topic). Success for many of us hinges on an almost mystical enchantment rather than on sheer rote memorization. Add to that a dollop of ineffable muchness where we learn to apply, say, our sociology learning to daily life, and, voila, the magic of the universe is there at the prestidigitation of our fingertips. that makes we humans the symbolic creatures we are.
Wherever the magic of life originates, it’s dubious to suggest that our academic accomplishments are reducible to minerals or material reality. We have to be there somehow to pull together our mechanistic urges. Who ever grasped an idea physically, anyway?
Demonstrations point to concepts and examples elucidate scaffolds of meaning but an idea itself is as wispy and mysterious as a wraith vanishing and reappearing in thin air. So, when reading that recent evidence suggests that many building blocks of life occur on asteroids that land down here as meteorites, for instance, one might want to add a grain of salt and a lick of humor.
Scientists apparently have discovered that “three of the five chemical components needed to form DNA, the molecule that carries genetic instructions in living organisms, and RNA, the molecule crucial for controlling the actions of genes” are present in space asteroids (Reuters, online). Far out, man! However, some might claim that asteroids with familiar DNA may have once been part of earth and departed ways from Terra Firma due to some unsightly collision. And anyway, even if every shred of evidence about the origins of life was illuminated and every last bit of physical evidence for the origins of life as we know it were unearthed (or unspaced if you will), not to mention the alchemist cauldron of interaction by the birds and the bees and the magic of reproduction, there’d still be that funnybone something that leads us to all the best and most memorable advances in our personal development and great leaps forward as a species. Ideas may yet be seen as the enzymes that allow the magic of human reality to ensue. And the poetry of bodies and minds transcends all the chemistry textbooks ever published, surely.
In any case, the truth about learning is that it’s personal in any setting. We’re not machines no matter how focused we think we are and no matter how well-oiled our academic minds seem to be. In fact, if we were machines, we’d miss the crucial creative tenet of learning: we recount what we’ve learned, demonstrate it, and then add something new to the mix. It’s fair to say that the basic physical stuff of life is out there, literally, in the atmosphere and outer space—as well as equally out there within the farthest reaches of our minds. Imagination is a pretty distant place from common sense.
So too, recalling David Duchovny of X-Files fame, one would presume that the universe itself is composed of some sort of truth. But if the truth is “out there” what is this truth really made of? For living organisms as we know them, DNA seems to be the underpinnings of our existence, the wiring of our enigmatic lives. Yet, further down the aforementioned asteroid report and almost buried under a captivating photo, reads the phrase “The five nucleobases would not have been the only chemical compounds necessary for life. Among other things needed were: amino acids, which are components of proteins and enzymes; sugars, which are part of the DNA and RNA backbone; and fatty acids, which are structural components of cell membranes” (Reuters, online).
But even if every possible missing link was discovered, wouldn’t further elements of the mystery of life yet remain unplaced? After all, what makes life real is interactional rather than indexical. A human in total social isolation would be a sad baboon indeed. So maybe we’d be a bit cracked to imagine that all that makes life worth living is reducible to chemical coding, like some old MySpace page or Sudoku chart hastily crumpled up and used as fodder for a campfire that we might better enjoy a starry night.
The magic of life and learning elides simple descriptions of the aha moments that make schooling fun. Few journeys are more personal that the journey of self-discovery by the addition of external elements; a foray into psychology or sociology can change our whole worldview, for instance. Or try a nature walk while pondering your AU coursework. You’ll likely be changed in ways minute or, if lucky, drastic enough to pen new enunciations about the enigma of your research topic.
We’re never lost in space when we’re pondering our coursework. And anyway, what we do is different than what we are, regardless of where our essence comes from. Consider Joni Mitchell’s famous line “we are stardust, we are golden” and it’s immediate followup: “and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” (Mitchell, online). Wherever and whomever we are, markers of our identity, is less vital than where we choose to go. Action based on beliefs allows us to achieve our academic goals and, whatever our talents or predilections, it’s down to us to create and fulfill our destiny. So, whatever is the truest of the true, in space or here on our planet of blue, is a matter of perspective. It’s up to us to forge a reality that includes the truth of our learning as well as the reality of our unique lives as distance students.