Joining the Cargo Cult

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

– CARGO CULT SCIENCE by Richard Feynman
Adapted from the Caltech commencement address given in 1974.

Whenever I feel my life is spiraling out of control (which happens once every few months), I go back to reading the great masters. Osler. Feynman. Shakespeare. Vivekananda. Rabindranath. There is a playlist of go-to authors that I have, depending upon the crisis that is upon me at the moment.

So, what is the crisis today? Well, the results of an important examination that I took a couple of weeks ago is due tomorrow and apparently, people have managed to get a sneak peek at the scoresheets today only. And you’ve guessed it: I have totally bombed in it. Not that the exam went well for me, it didn’t. On the contrary, it was pretty bad. So, I have no reason to feel all heartbroken over it. But I am. As I see my comrades in arms from my medical school days whiz past beside me, while I stay more or less rooted at the same spot I was a year ago, I feel dizzyingly unnerved.

I have never been a bad student. In fact, I have always been able to beat the mean and stay in the top percentiles. However, things have been changing over the last year and a half. Somehow, I feel a little demotivated now. And easily discouraged. Like now. A couple of years ago, I would have gallantly dusted myself after a fall, to get up and challenge the new obstacle ahead, completely forgetting the failure that just struck me down. Tonight, I just cannot do that. I just cannot shrug off the feeling of being weighed down by a million pounds of failure bearing down upon me. And add to that the financial uncertainty, the messed up personal life, the flagging confidence… well, it isn’t a pretty picture.

I know I need to bounce back from this. Somehow. Anyhow. A lot depends on how I plan my work over the next few months so that I may have a decent shot at it the coming year. And as one of my seniors always used to say, I cannot just plan the work, I also have to work the plan. And the bit about working the plan is what puts me off.

I am not averse to the hard work. NO. Never. Do not get me wrong. But the method of working is what puts me off. Apparently, the best way of acing the exams is by cramming in the last decade’s questions and answers with sketchy explanations. They say, no matter what, there will be repeats that one cannot answer just through”text book knowledge”. Ten years’ worth of papers means at least 30 papers. Each with 200-300 questions. Adding a few here and there, one may just round it off to 10,000 questions overall. It is not much actually. And given the time, I think I can get through all of them, with adequate time left for revision.

However, what I strongly object against is such deconstruction of the knowledge evaluation process. Call me arrogant, but I have always believed in getting “wholesome” knowledge, and now, that is getting me nowhere. So, the only option left is to change gears and shift into the cargo cult mode, where I make so many runways, light so many fires and put up so many sham-controllers, that sooner or later an airplane is bound to land in one of the runways. Even as I type this out, I feel sick to the guts. I never thought I would have to succumb to the minimalist school of examination-cracking conmen. Yes, I think this is a bit of a con.

But reality is a bitch. The results are due tomorrow and the guys who have managed a peek at the list say my name figures nowhere. I know until and unless the official list is released, I still have fair chance and all, but a small voice inside me keeps reminding me that the horrid exam I took does not deserve a place on the merit list. A year-long wait is on the cards, and I do not like the looks of that.

I feel so numbed right now that I cannot even feel the disappointment sink in. I guess it will hit me tomorrow when I actually manage to see the list and see myself nowhere on it. But for now, I have decided to sacrifice all my sass and get down and dirty.

It is time for some serious changes in my life and time to make a move on past this mistakes. I know I am being whiny and pathetic, but…

House: “We’re all pathetic. It’s what makes everything interesting.”
– House MD, Season 6, Episode 1, Broken

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