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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Unedited notes on gravity, etc. by Yan Z. '12

Brief thoughts on gravity, science, and consciousness that I plan to elaborate later when I have infinite time.

[Tonight I worked on a problem set in General Relativity until 4 AM and walked home under soft, acidic streetlights to an empty house with shadows peeling off like blue paint. In the sleep-killing luminosity of a laptop display I searched for comfort amidst the suburban silence of post-midnight residential Cambridge and instead found a page of half-finished notes wrung from my brain during the last two weeks, mostly typed at within 4 minutes of entering slumberland. Reproduced as follows with sporadic punctuation intact.]

consciousness at the scale of gravity, if neurons could tune to the fine geometric structure of space and time

science is nothing but an extended frame of reference. the human mind imposes its own coordinate system upon the fluid topology of our perception, gingerly constructing a set of logical principles as its basis vectors.

thoughts have mass, carve ripples into spacetime

each entry of transformed tensor is a multiple of the determinant of a matrix whose rows are the derivatives of the old coordinates with respect to the new coordinates

aware of the slowing of time due to the ripples on a river, falling leaves, the mass of flowers in spring.

gravity is a pen with which mass writes on the pages of spacetime.

science adapts experience to sentience

the American Midwest is infuriatingly conservative in geometry.

definite integrals are primitive mathematical pleasure. from the cold, sparse simplicity of adding and multiplying arises a rich and diverse ecology of numerical life forms.

to look at an integral and see tiny flower gardens enclosed by a long curling fence on one side is like writing an unabashed love letter to human creativity

Walking to the sea in the sweet wet velvet of winter eve,
I looked up and saw a beach of stars, galaxies strewn like seashells in smears of cosmic sand.

Today I will sleep exactly one hour.

[Coming soon: 300% more blog, including a photogenic Bildungsroman in which I visit the beach and McDonald’s, not once but twice each!]

retreat 030

20 responses to “Unedited notes on gravity, etc.”

  1. meh ! says:

    This post got rid of the addictive Matt post. Yeah ! . And once again the day is saved thanks to… Yan

  2. Brolin says:

    @meh !- Joy unbounded! I’d discovered late last night (to my horror) that I’d read Matt’s post at least four times a day. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that.

    @Yan – I like your style of note-taking. They’re quite a bit like mine, except my Physics notes are filled with constant references to Clone High and and How I met your mother.

    Suit up!

  3. Anurag '14 says:

    If neurons could affect space-time, we would all have the power of telekinesis! Admittedly, it would be tricky to control, but it would still be awesome!

  4. tree says:

    only one hour? Wow, 8 hours of sleep is a must for my sanity… Wow, I am probably going to die of sleep deprivation in college.

  5. navdeep says:

    i compltly love ur blog Yan …
    i was like Yayyyyyyyy another entry by yan when i saw it in my feed …

  6. Um says:

    I think I love you.

  7. one hour better than no thing ..

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yan, you are my hero Yan, you are my hero <3

  9. Rutu ^__^ says:

    Yan, you are my hero as well (and I’m not anonymous! ^__^). Do you write poetry? If so, you have to show me some of your work……

    @Anonymous 2 and @tree: one-to-none hours of sleep nights occur pretty frequently, if you are like 90% of the population here and are prone to procrastination…..actually, no, most people get more sleep than that. It’s really how you manage your time. I know people for whom 3-hours-of-sleep-a-night is a regular thing, and I know people who go to bed at 10pm sharp each night and get up at like 7:30-8am….So, there IS hope….^__^

  10. '14 says:

  11. Arpit says:

    i think you are great

  12. Michael says:

    Wow, what an incredibly bizarre scattering of thoughts, interesting though in that it reminds me of some times when I’m trying to wake up: for instance, one morning I was convinced the best way to decide whether I needed to get up or not was to turn time into a function and integrate with the lower-limit as what time it was and with the upper-limit as what time I needed to leave for school, to which I promptly fell back asleep trying to figure the solution out. Or another time, I similarly tried to figure out how much time there was before I needed to leave by evaluating the time as an arc length of a sine function–similarly, I fell back asleep.

    On an unrelated note, I’m wondering how you like the Physics major? I’m kinda trying the whole pros and cons thing between doing a Physics major or Mechanical Engineering, and since you were considering both, I was wondering what your perspective is. What interests you about it? What do you want to do with it? (I tried looking on old blog posts to see if you’d mentioned anything along these lines, but I didn’t find anything). I would really be thankful for any time you would take in answering this, as I know you’re busy and not getting much sleep.

    P.S., did you ever figure out that 3D goggles thing?

  13. Anonymous 2 says:

    Yan, you are my hero as well.

    Just out of curiosity, how often do these one-to-none hour of sleep nights occur at MIT? Is it inevitable even with good time management?

  14. Ka-Wiz says:

    “the human mind imposes its own coordinate system upon the fluid topology of our perception, gingerly constructing a set of logical principles as its basis vectors.”

    congratulations, you’ve just discovered Discordianism!

    there’s a page in the Principia Discordia [bastardized latin notwithstanding] that pretty much says exactly what you said, but uses “windows” and “grids” instead. interesting read.

  15. Armin says:

    To make your notes easier to read, please use shorter sentences, commas between and tend to use less ofs. Also use capital letters when you start a new sentence.

    The type of your writing is like what we see in a chatroom.

    I don’t mean to offend you, but I think it’s necessary to let you know about this since your entries are usually long.

  16. Michael says:

    @ Yan:

    Haha, no, it’s refreshing to hear the enthusiasm of a Physics major, as most people I’ve talked to on this subject are engineers. Thanks for your reply!

  17. Yan says:


    According to General Relativity, neurons do affect space and time simply by virtue of having mass. It’s just that this happens at a scale of magnitude far below our sensitivity, even if we’re Jedi. I like thinking about what sentience would be like if neurons could detect the gravitational fields of other neurons and somehow make us sensitive to the minute nuances predicted by GR.

    (Put another way, what would it be like to feel your thoughts induce gravitational curvature in the fabric of space and time?)

    @ Anonymous 2:

    Nope, this is only the first or third time that I’ve pulled an one-hourer. I actually decided to sleep as a matter of principle, since all-nighters are sort of morally taboo for me.

    @ Rutu:

    Thanks! Nope, no poetry. You should share yours sometime though.

    @ Michael:

    If you’re trying to measure time by taking arc lengths of sine curves, you’re probably better off in Physics instead of MechE (hereby known as Course 2). I considered 2 through most of freshman year before deciding that I’d really rather learn about gravity than build robots. At this point, I’m in Physics for the lols rather than for a career. (And by “the lols,” I probably mean something like intellectual satisfaction.) My only goal is to eventually wind up at a job where I get to work on interesting problems and feel superior to computer engineers.

    MechE is good for: lots of project classes, getting summer internships, lab experience, learning to build just about anything.

    Physics is good for: having friends, free food on Thursdays, understanding just about anything, your health.

    I might be a bit skewed.

  18. val_val says:

    Very poetic, I look forward to more of your unedited notes smile

    I don’t go to MIT I’m still in high school, I just came across this by pure chance. I want to go to MIT the student’s blogs are great smile


  19. M. Zweig says:

    There’s something irresitabely enchanting/captivating about early in the morning walks.

    I can’t do one hours of sleep, unless I drift to it cause it usually takes me at least that long to get to sleep. Hope you’ll get the chance for some sufficiant rest soon? /spring break soon for you to I imagine?

    Love your note taking style to, I used to write such copious amounts of notes I eventually stopped doing so all together, since I always considered everything important and left nothing to not be included.

  20. My note taking is overwhelmingly utilitarian except for occasional doodles.

    On the other hand, it’s fun to scribble fiendishly poetic comments where people don’t expect them.

    Someone needs to suspend my Adverbial License.