The Eye, Spectator’s weekly arts and features magazine, concluded another semester of production last Thursday with “Finding Bollinger,” a 7,000-word account and analysis of University President Lee Bollinger and his leadership of Columbia. In its sheer scope, the lead story was a brilliant culmination to our academic year. It showed us where Bollinger came from and where he is going, where Columbia came from and where it is going, and perhaps, as a result, even where each of us came from and where we’re going.
It was because of this context of comings and goings that what was seemingly a minor, tangential point in the story stuck with me well after I put the magazine down. Joy Resmovits and Jacob Schneider, the story’s authors, quote Bollinger from an interview he gave to Runner’s World: “I think one of the least understood things about thinking is the relationship between movement and ideas,” Bollinger mused.
Bollinger was speaking in a specific context. Exploring the physical act of moving and its effects on cognition, he goes on to cite an anecdote about how Adam Smith “would walk 17 miles a day … and that was how he would come up with these incredible ideas.” But Bollinger’s words suggest broader significances beyond the narrow world of the runner. And they are significances about which I cannot help but think on this final day of classes.
It blew my jejune mind to learn about kinetic theory in my 10th-grade chemistry class. Thinking of apparently stationary things as fundamentally and essentially in constant motion incited in my little 14-year-old frame a revolution, a minor existential crisis. And while perhaps my ostentatious present-day self likes to describe its history a bit more hyperbolically than it ought to (even referring to itself in third-person), the fact that everything is in constant random motion continues to boggle my mind. Somehow, despite the ostensible haphazardness of our microscopic world, things work themselves out and create order, or at least the semblance of it.
I feel a visceral need, especially today, looking back on the academic year, to enlarge this model of the world several orders of magnitude and modify it a bit. So often, everything that happens here in our Columbian lives seems so random, so disordered. It’s so easy to get lost, to get disoriented, in the hyperactive torpor of quotidian college life. But then again, so often, everything just works itself out, or I succeed in deluding myself into thinking this is the case. Everything that happens is moving me somewhere. I just don’t know where.
Is it presumptuous of me to impose, with my typical bombast, this sort of teleological model on something as trivial as just one of almost seven billion lives? Probably. But notions of progress and of time have been sitting (or moving around) in the back of my mind all semester, largely thanks to Contemporary Civilization. CC is supposed to be the hallmark of a Columbia education, and it has certainly played that role in mine (although, admittedly, mine is still only half done). The teleology of history, complete with both its advocates and its dissidents, has been a recurring motif in CC.
From Isaiah prophesying a day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” to Marx promising the ultimate and inevitable ascendancy of the working class, so many have added together the vicissitudes of history and come up with a sum apparently greater than its individual parts. Is it wrong of me to seek to do the same with respect to my life?
I need to believe that it isn’t wrong, that there is, as Bollinger suggests, a relationship between movement and ideas beyond what I see right now. After all, the University is, by nature, an institution that demands movement—each of us left home and came here to Columbia, some of us from a couple of blocks away, others of us from a couple of continents away. This movement to Columbia thrusts ideas and people into one another, causing them to react together as if they were molecules. And I think that, in this way, the act of getting up and coming to this strange and often perplexing place in itself engenders something greater and better.
I don’t venture to claim an understanding of what Bollinger actually meant when he said that movement is an inadequately understood element of our lives. But I do venture to say that I agree. At this literal midpoint in my college life, it’s hard to see where I’m going or where I’m coming from. But I think that I am going, that I am moving.
Amin Ghadimi is a Columbia College sophomore. He is the former Spectator editorial page editor. He is also a senior editor of Columbia East Asia Review and the secretary of the Bahá’í Club of Columbia University. The Way That Can Be Told runs alternate Mondays.