I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between magic and science, as I attempt to simultaneously write fiction and become a neuroscientist. Many people who are undoubtedly smarter than I am have their intricate reductive opinions. Nonetheless, I’d like to share mine, as it relates to my four years here at Stanford.
I have always found something really mystical about reflection. Reflection, for the most part, has dominated much of my writing. So let’s reflect: I am currently living in the same place that I did before I came to Stanford for my freshman year, back in 2016. Externally, not much has changed here in Barrie, Ontario. We still get snow blizzards in May and thick, sticky heat waves in September. My house looks the same. My childhood bedroom looks the same. I look the same (maybe plus a few pounds of muscle, thanks to basketball). The conversation about mental illness, or lack thereof, is the same.
But I am not the same person. Fresh streams of thought, of which I probably have too many, run clear and warm over the pebbles in my mind. This clear water, narrowing from the white caps of an ocean of thoughts I once thought I couldn’t control, has recently allowed me to see just how profoundly I have changed internally. I see, through and down this stream, how we can change by altering the way we see a structurally static object, system, schematic or belief in the world, between time A and time B. In four years, my external circumstances have not changed — how I think about them, in the context of myself, has changed.
Ted Chiang — an American science-fiction writer whose novel, “Story of Your Life,” was brought to life in the film “Arrival” — explained in a recent talk that magic exists in a personalized universe, as opposed to the mechanistic one of science that we are all taught.
Scientifically, my life exists in a four-year ripple of students at Stanford — a network of butterfly effects. Systemically, change demands time and effort, as we have seen recently. Racism still exists. Stigma about mental health still exists. Stigma about the capabilities of athletes still exists. Oppression still exists. Fearing what we do not understand still exists. The list is endless, and the further I educate myself, the lengthier it becomes.
But I look at myself, and some of my teammates, especially my fellow seniors. Amid how much hasn’t changed, somehow we have learned that, well, bluntly put, we don’t take shit anymore.
Stated by many, this quote, “the absence of proof is not the proof of absence,” has left footprints on the banks of the stream in my mind. On the surface, I equated this to my research and studies — to keep looking. Yet, before Stanford, there was little proof that I could overcome my mental health battles. Evidently, there was no proof to mark otherwise; my ability to fight was absent. I am still here. I often felt, throughout my collegiate basketball career, that there was little evidence left for my capabilities. In fact, I believed my abilities to be gone, erased as a function of my struggles. Only recently have I entertained the thought that there is no proof that they aren’t still there. The difference, in these beliefs and labels, is me. How hard am I willing to look?
There are hints of fictive sarcasm, anger and frustration in my writing. They never used to be there. It’s because I believe in something — I’ve learned to believe in it with every fiber of my being using every second of the day. The further I’ve fallen into this separation from Stanford, the more I long to distill the journals I filled with the evolution of my writing and thoughts. But recently I’ve realized that these are my thoughts, not the book’s. I have felt them over the past few years and I feel them now, even if they sit alone at 713 Santa Ynez Street, in Stanford, California.
Many of my thoughts are disordered, but I haven’t learned to speak with them or solve their underlying cause by reducing myself to a disorder. I’ve done the opposite. I am a person who struggles with major depression and OCD. I am not a depressive, or an obsessive-compulsive, defined by a symptomatology. I don’t need my journals to tell me this anymore.
In challenging the systems of the world today to look themselves in the mirror, we must work to understand the root of problems deeply interwoven through our existence — be it personally or systemically. The root of many problems is an ignorance of holistic, inclusive perspectives of a phenomenon.
As I have learned this about myself — seeing my thoughts as manifestations of a stigma about what I can and cannot do — so, too, have I seen how to learn about the world.
Don’t get caught tethering your internal self with the external self you’re supposed to be. I learned how to separate these, and how to relate to both. My external self was driven by a fear of not being like everyone else; who I am, my internal self, is who I am supposed to be. I am not like everyone else, and that is my power in any context.
Each one of us has a voice, in whatever we choose to fight for. Decades down the line of research, I bet we will find out that silence was not a protective factor against anything. The universe, world, countries, provinces, states, cities and towns need everyone’s voice to project wholeheartedly. Believe. Influence. For change, our motivations must be personal — and to me, that’s magic.
In my very last class at Stanford, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, the professor, said, “The more impossible it [seems] to make it go away, the more you must try to do so.”
Mikaela Brewer ’20 is a Senior Staff Writer in Sports.
Contact Mikaela Brewer at mbrewer8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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