Going to school post-mormonism…

It’s only my second full day of classes, but already I’m jazzed, blown out, ecstatic, stressed, exhilarated and a melange of other feelings. Wow.

Anyhow, I’m already noticing a big difference in how I approach things. Chemistry, for example…the last time I took this subject, I was TBM (true, believing Mormon) to the core, and if the instructor said something like, "protons attract electrons," I’d accept it without question. The instructor and/or the book says so, so that must be the way things are.

But now, I’m all over it like, "Why? Why do protons attract electrons? How do they attract electrons? How do you know this is how it works? How do you know this is how they look or how they’re structured?" I’m not actually asking all of these out loud…some, but not all. I’ll look up some of the others on my own time, and I realize that many are questions that are going to be answered in more advanced chemistry or even physics classes later, and my impatience just about kills me, because I want to know it all now. But I’ll get there, eventually.

But like today, I learned this neat little thing–apparently sensitivity to magnetic fields is determined by unpaired electrons–if an element has unpaired electrons, then it’ll be affected by magnetic fields. Iron, for example, is magnetic because not all of its electrons are in matched pairs.

Trivial, maybe, perhaps even something the rest of you learned folk already knew, but new and intensely fascinating for me…I already knew that electrons can be added/removed to elements, and it had never occurred to me that something like iron might not actually be sensitive to magnets in some cases, as simple as adding or removing a couple electrons. So I’m all over that, asking how and when iron gets matched electron pairs so that it’s not magnetic, etc, until the teacher tells me that it’s an advanced topic to be covered later in the class… 🙂

It’s just an amazing difference–my last time in school, I was trusting, unskeptical, ready to accept anything my teachers or textbooks told me. This, I believe, is also precisely why I remained hardcore TBM for so long, because I just as trustingly and unskeptically accepted everything my parents and sunday school teachers told me.

But there’s a bigger difference than just that–by not questioning or challenging the things I was taught, even if they’re correct, I’m just memorizing facts by rote with no real understanding. It’s like, "OK, try to remember that a complete set of paired electrons makes an element diamagnetic…or was it the other way around?" (and that doesn’t work well for me, because I can’t memorize stuff…)

The converse, by questioning everything, by maintaining a skeptical attitude, I get a better understanding of it–I might not remember whether it’s diamagnetic or paramagnetic, but by questioning how it worked, I’m definitely going to remember for awhile that unpaired electrons make an element sensitive to magnetic fields.

And some day, I’m going to figure out how magnetic fields and gravity, and assorted other phenomena really work…and when I do, it’s going to be because I challenged the things my teachers tell me and the things I read in my textbooks, and because I simply don’t accept anything on faith anymore.

And it’s just a really neat way to learn. And even better, it’s an unconscious thing now–it’s something I automatically do…tell me something new, and my immediate response is "Why? How? What for?"

Skepticism rules.