“First Sight means you can see what really is there, and Second Thoughts mean thinking about what you are thinking. And in Tiffany’s case, there were sometimes Third Thoughts and Fourth Thoughts although these…sometimes led her to walk into doors.” –Terry Pratchett
My name is Ian. I am a senior studying neuroscience at Boston University, with a minor in speech, language, & hearing sciences. I come from the town of Brookline, MA, which is all but a couple minutes’ walk from BU’s campus. In some ways, I never really left home when moving to college. Instead, my home expanded, growing to encompass the space within BU’s campus and to include the friends, mentors, classmates, and people that I’ve met in my time here.
I also happen to work at Marsh Chapel, which as a science major can lead to some interesting conversations with people when it comes up. These conversations frequently contain a healthy dose of awkwardness as well, so naturally I tend to avoid them if I can help it. Nevertheless, navigating the boundaries between science and ministry has challenged me to grow in my ideas, my expression, and my ability to encounter and engage with ambiguity. But to quote Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, “that is another story and shall be told another time.”
The story that I will tell you about myself centers around a question that a friend asked me recently: What is your philosophy on life? This was one of the few times I’ve been asked that particular question, whose answer can range in length anywhere from a sentence to an entire novel, depending on whom you’re talking to. I can’t answer the question in its entirety at the moment, frankly because I don’t have a complete answer yet. But I can at the very least explain how the Terry Pratchett quote that began this post ties into it.
I read Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, one of the novels in his Discworld series, three summers ago. In the book, a young girl named Tiffany searches for her kidnapped younger brother with the help of the Nac Mac Feegles, a race of tiny, boisterous, blue-skinned fairy folk. During her search, the Nac Mac Feegles tell her that she possesses two gifts: First Sight, and Second Thoughts. Her First Sight allows her to see things as they are, and not as they appear; her Second Thoughts allow her to think about, evaluate and challenge her First Thoughts, which tend to appear immediately when she encounters an obstacle. Third Thoughts are her thoughts about her Second Thoughts, and so on.
When I read this book for the first time, those two concepts jumped out at me as something personally significant. At the time, I didn’t know why. I had only finished my freshman year at BU, and hardly could come up with what I wanted to study, accomplish, and become–let alone articulate my personal philosophy to a friend. I don’t think this is a bad thing, as there is time to discern and decipher those things. But reflecting on that book now, I believe that First Sight and Second Thoughts do play a significant part in what I believe in.
I believe in the notion of presence, of simply being to the fullest extent possible. Much of what I think we do to be present in a moment requires us to experience and discern things as they actually are–not as what they were or might have been. This does not mean I don’t believe in looking back or looking forward, nor does it underscore the value of imagining things to be better or different. Presence to me means being centered in the present reality, not being restrained or confined to it.
Nevertheless, I hold to the principle of acknowledging what we encounter in acts of presence, instead of trying to distort or downplay it to make it more pleasant or palatable. For me, this act of discernment, or First Sight, applies to the joyful things in my life: the friends and relationships I’ve formed, the compassion I’ve received from others and given to others, and the acts of witnessing someone come alive in their personality, beliefs, and actions. It also applies to the grim, harsher aspects that I’ve seen as well: death and loss, people’s responses to trauma, and the resilience and durability that grow out of grief and suffering. When I see moments like these, I try to feel their weight and bear it before letting the weight pass on. In carrying their weight, I can better understand the depth of these moments, and better appreciate their meaning.
A second concept that is something I deeply value is the concept of self-awareness. Although it is closely related to presence, I don’t think it is identical, as the act of being present carries two kinds of awareness: the awareness of one’s surroundings, and the awareness of oneself. Terry Pratchett’s idea of First Sight belongs to the former, while his notion of Second Thoughts belongs to the latter. The ability to think about our own thoughts, or metacognition, lets us evaluate who we are as people, question ourselves, and understand our own thinking and feeling. Being aware of ourselves shapes how we are aware in relation to each other. As a scientist, I believe it shapes how we are aware in relation the world around us. As someone who struggles to grapple with religion, ministry, and theology, I also believe it can shape how we are aware in our relationship to the Divine, or whatever guides us in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
First Sight and Second Thoughts are two ideas that lie at the heart of what I believe in. I call them presence and self-awareness, respectively. These aren’t the only values that form my personal philosophy, but perhaps they can give you a better idea of who I am than my major, hometown, and position could on their own. As my final undergraduate year at BU begins, I hope to explore and articulate these concepts that define myself, what I believe in, and how I choose to interact with the world. I seek, in other words, to know myself. In that process, I hope I will learn to know you as well.