What makes me tick
As I forced the last piece of LEGO into position with a snap I decided then that I would be an engineer; I was only five at the time and didn’t know what the word meant, nor what they did. The only thing I knew was that making things — crafting intricate constructions from simple, constituent parts — was fun. Really damn fun. You start off with a box of bits and amorphous blobs leftover from previous creations, and you can make anything! Well, almost anything, as defined by the rules and mechanics of LEGO blocks.
It was those rules, those axioms, that interested me the most. My parents will tell you that I was never a huge fan of using my hands — I was never the kind of kid to make rickety tree houses or bird tables — they were just a means to an end: to discover rules! Hands were great at pulling apart and unscrewing video machines, toasters and televisions. I had no idea how things actually worked, but God-damn it was fun trying to work it out! I would look at the parts, at the wreckage of my latest interest, and try to somehow divine the magical rules that made them go.
As I grew up my LEGO bricks turned into Technic cogs and Meccano struts, and thus my education continued: I learnt about physics and the inescapable force of gravity; torque and various structural designs to nullify its effects; the fun that could be had with elastic energy! Most importantly, I learnt about the two forces that dominate our current understanding of the world: chemical and electrical energy. Heating mixtures of chemicals and watching in (pained) awe as they exploded into my face taught me the wonders of cause and effect; reactions. Adding electrical motors to my constructions added life. And that was the key: I’d finally found out how to make things happen.
Enter my first computer at the geriatric age of eight (I was spoilt, some might say). This is probably where the tale should take a dark and oppressive turn for the worse but fortunately… it does not! Unless you consider the abject horror and avoidance of all physical exercise, caused by continued computer use, a bad thing. Actually, that’s a lie: I enjoyed tennis and badminton, but only because my arms were so long that I could reach almost everywhere without moving.
In short, my teenage years were… OK. Not great, and often introverted. I was bullied for being fat and far too intelligent. Fortunately the bullying didn’t impact my thirst for knowledge, but it did culture my antisocial tendencies. I don’t mean I went around throwing bricks through windows (I did this just once, when I fell in with some bad boys), I mean that I’ve been a hermit ever since. My teenage life wasn’t completely devoid of social interaction. I did have friends. But for example, the only parties I would attend would be those I couldn’t skip, lest I become a social outcast. Being social, for the teenage Seb, was an obligation.
Looking back, it was a sad, lonely way of living. I don’t know if it was caused by the bullying, or just my continued interest in learning. Y’see, I would be great company until I realised that I’d actually rather be somewhere else, learning how to make explosives or program a new computer language. The only friends I did keep were ones that had identical interests to mine, or were intelligent enough that they remained interesting to me. A bit of a pragmatic — some would say selfish — view of friendships. Again, I don’t know what caused it, but my thirst for knowledge compelled me to flit about from person to person and from book to book, devouring anything and everything that I stumbled across in my search for more data.
When you’re a teenager, mixing your friends up a little is a common occurrence — so what if one day you’re best friends with John, and Steve the next? Looking back, I guess that’s why no one noticed what I was up to. And I’m still the same today, though my years at university tempered my hermit-like tendencies and almost turned me into a social butterfly! Still, when it comes to friends — relationships that I nuture and tend to regularly — I still only have two close ones. The first, I talk to once a week if I’m lucky, the second I might see once a year, or less (does that make me a bad friend?) It’s not so easy to ‘bounce between friends’ when you’re an adult; when you’re a grown-up you can’t just chew, digest and unceremoniously dump your friends.
That’s why I travel and I guess… why I don’t have friends.
It feels lame to cite Fight Club of all things, but its popularity will help make my point: I like single servings. The people I meet on trains and planes are tasty enough to tantalise my taste buds without the risk of becoming dull or flavourless. I might only spend six hours with a friend made while climbing over ancient ruins in Turkey, but when you’re thrown into a similar situation together and share the same experiences, you learn a lot about each other, and you learn it quickly. Single, intense servings of personality; more than just a passing acquaintance, but less than a friendship. At the end we can both go our own ways; a single serving with no strings attached.
Finally, we’ve arrived at the contemporary Seb, where I understand enough about myself that I can attempt to define my personal philosophy. ‘Attempt’, because it’s hard to name and qualify thoughts that, without scope or definition, have run around my head for 25 years. So bear with me as I try to put it into some clumsy words: I demand rationality, but not in the conventional sense. As humans, we are exceptionally good at being rational, but only within the confines of a working, true set of data. You can only be as rational as your education allows — if you have been told that the world is flat, it’s rational to assume it is indeed flat. But that’s not rationality; at least not for me. Most ’stupidity’, as viewed from an objective point of view, is (unsurprisingly) caused by a lack of education. The stupid person probably doesn’t know he’s being stupid though — in his head he’s just doing as he’s been taught!
Rationality, for me, is an absolute: not simply a given, limited set of truths taught through nurture, dogma or education.
Rationality, for me, is the neverending search for a body of knowledge so vast, so all-encompassing that, one day, will hopefully allow me to understand the workings of the universe, and those that populate it.
There we have it: one of my most secret and character-definining traits laid bare for all to see. I hope it goes some way to explaining how I look at the world, and ultimately what I write about. I am, in essence, trying to get my head around everything; I’m pulling the world apart, screw by screw, hoping to find the answers. As and when I find them, I’ll be sure to share.