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Voyages of Self-discovery

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My life has been somewhat like a mosaic. As a child, I have been raised in a proud Taiwan culture (proud both in terms of its Chinese language heritage and tradition). Yet I have a family who greatly values independent thought and thus exposed me to a myriad of environments and diverse cultures. I spent the majority of my elementary in Canada where my dreams and aspirations took shape. The free and idyllic atmosphere there (both in school and in social situations) fostered my risk-taking and inquisitive spirit. Even after I had gone back to Taiwan, the image of Canada was planted in my mind. Though I love my home country, growing up there was not what I really wanted. At school, students were just expected to “follow the directions.” That was not me. I wanted to doubt, to question, and to be skeptical even towards authority. Curiosity is in my nature. I could not help myself.

It was then I decided to coming to the States in hopes of better pursuing my dreams and figuring out my life. Here, I have seized every opportunity to broaden my horizons and work for the benefit of the larger community. I flew to the Amazing Meeting at Las Vegas, a convention of some of the world’s best science communicators, and conversed about the importance of science literacy in today’s society. I traveled to the stone coasts of Vancouver and worked alongside a dozen whale researchers, helping me recognize the fragility and tentativeness of life on Earth. I attended Secular Humanism gatherings and equipped myself with the weapons of reason against the nonsensical and the irrational—ultimately, to safeguard freedom of inquiry and investigation from religion and superstition. During these experiences, I had a plethora of opportunities to explore my inner self. I discovered qualities that are harmonious with those that I value and place in high esteem: appreciation of beauty, honest inquiry, and love for the truth.

In the middle of high school, my exploratory journey continued. Carrying a deep will to question, I embarked on a philosophical exploration quite unlike those during my childhood times. Why am I here? What am I here for? What is the meaning and purpose of existence? This time, my vehicle was my mind, and my voyage was one of self-discovery. My love of contemplating courageous questions eventually (or perhaps inevitably) led my winding path to gates of science. Previously blinded by the trivialities of daily life, science opened my eyes and my senses to the larger universal reality outside of my own little shell. The scientific outlook of the universe shattered my self-conceived vanity in daily life. It unveiled a world far beyond my wildest childhood imaginations—the vastness of astronomical space, the immensity of geological time, and the elegant complexity and richness of life on Earth. Think about it! Our brains may be the only objects in the entire universe capable of contemplating its own existence! From my lonely point in cosmos, a sudden awareness of the immense inexplicability of the universe dawned on me. It was then T.S. Eliot's words wafted a new profound personal meaning, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”

Sometimes in my sleepless nights, whenever existential doubts threaten to come back and haunt me, I would lie on the grass on my backyard and silently stare skywards. I would sit on the edge of the pond as the Milky Way gradually comes into view, extending across the sky and slowly claiming the night. The clear waters reflect both the shimmering brilliance and the immensity of the heavens. Infinity above. Eternity below. While pondering the deepest questions of human existence, I would lie there, enchanted by Andromeda, Gemini, Orion, and tearful with the unheard symphony of the cosmic harmony. I would set my mind free and gaze across the millennia to view humanity residing in space, having built a glorious civilization among the stars. Imagine! They will have glimpsed inventions, ideas, and worlds undreamt of in our present day.

Even though I may not live to witness that monumental moment, I take comfort in the fact that I have the potential to comprise a small but important role in this timeless pursuit of knowledge and wisdom—the uniquely human endeavor we call science. Over the years, I have come to realize that science is itself a "voyage of self-discovery"—although my lifelong search for who I am and how I fit into the world has come to an end, I have just begun the eternal adventure of finding out what it truly means to be human. In understanding the world around us, we are in turn searching for our place in the universe. I am an explorer still. At times, Carl Sagan's immortal words ring in my mind, "The scientific enterprise spans the generations; we remember those who prepared the way, seeing for them also." Thus in my time and my generation, I carry a special responsibility to further our understanding of the cosmos and ourselves. And in doing so, I will contribute my part and advance another step on humanity's ladder reaching for the stars.





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