Every incoming Plan II freshman has heard of the dreaded Plan II physics course usually reserved for third- or fourth-year students, and each one rejoices that they have two or more years until they have to face the beast. After recent rumors of the signature course being cut from the curriculum were thankfully disproved, it is more apparent than ever that the skills learned in this course are more life skills than physics and would be more valuable to students at the earliest possibility.
Plan II prides itself on its renaissance-style multidisciplinary education, but should a student’s second major be heavily science focused, they can usually waive their Plan II physics requirement. So those that take the course are, for the most part, heavily liberal arts-focused students, unaccustomed to difficult left-brained material.
Learning in this course is two-fold. The first level involves applying liberal arts thinking to broader fields, forcing students to re-evaluate their concept of science and math and the relationship between the two. The ensuing bewilderment when students are asked to define the “meaning of thingness” probably best illustrates the critical thinking necessary for the course.
The second level involves the balance between theory and practice. Theoretically, I understand symmetry, but applying it to action and field theory is like running a four-minute mile. Theoretically, homework is a single person’s assignment, but in practice the load is unbearable and students are encouraged to work together, to split up problems in groups, to strategically address problems in terms of what is answerable or unanswerable. It is rare, nigh impossible, for a student to fully comprehend each subject covered using maximum effort, an important lesson for Plan II students who sometimes need to learn that they don’t, and won’t, know everything. But this humbling mechanism makes the moments of clarity and breakthrough that much more sweet in their scarcity.
In short, the course teaches students to how to endure when their best is not enough. While all Plan II courses are challenging, physics is a challenge and an accomplishment in itself. At the risk of overwhelming new students, I implore the Plan II freshmen and their successors to accept the challenge as early as possible in their college career and apply the lessons to subsequent courses and experiences.
Haight is a Plan II and linguistics senior from Austin. She is an Associate Editor.