I just finished The Dark Fields. It’s a science fiction novel about a designer drug, MDT, that makes your brain work in a super-efficient way. The drug allows you to fully use the intelligence you already had with almost unlimited concentration. The book tells about the effects of this drug on the life of Eddie Spinola, an ex-drug-addict who is currently wrestling with a writersblock while trying to earn a living as an underpaid copywriter. Needless to say, MDT turns Eddie’s life around completely. You might also know this book under the title of the corresponding movie, Limitless. From this and other books, it seems to me that mankind as a species is obsessed with boundaries. Whether it’s our fascination with space, the final frontier, the fine line between Right and Wrong or the limits of human knowledge and skill, the content of our literature exposes our preoccupation with borders — and the act of crossing them.
Limitless was a nice read: I love reading about people doing things they never thought they could do. I don’t think we need a fancy designer drug to do that, mind you. I think we all might already have a superpower of our own.
Some examples: I know teachers that can inspire nihilistic, game-addicted 20-somethings into diving head-first into an obscure research field and subsequently delivering ground-breaking research papers. I know programmers that can spot the one-character-typo in 500 lines of spaghetti code. XKCD-creator Randall Munroe can explain technical things in such a way that anyone and their grandmother can understand then. There are writers and artists that can change your perspective on Life, The Universe and Everything with a painting, a poem, a paragraph. And my mom makes better coffee than the best barrista in town, using only an ten-year-old drip-machine.
Three months ago I broke my own mold. I took a course in Category Theory, for which I didn’t have the listed prerequisites: the mathematical maturity of someone who’s finished undergraduate studies in mathematics. I’m a computer science major, and it was the hardest course I ever took at university.
I worked between 18 and 30 hours each week on the homework problems. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I passed the course. Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t magically turned into a Category Theory expert, but the course has helped me to understand the theory of all the other courses in computer science I have taken since — and it completely changed my view of my own mental boundaries.
Now I know there is a superpower that I think all humans have: given 6 months of concentration and dedication, we can learn anything.