Essay Prompt: College of Arts and Sciences – What work of art, music, science, mathematics, literature, or other media has surprised, unsettled, or inspired you, and in what way?

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Sarah Williams

Gazing at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night reminded me of the first time I truly saw the night sky: Captivated in my driveway, absorbing the deep, enriching hues and soaking in the sweet strokes of the spring breeze, I felt suspended in time. As the stars gazed back, a twinkle in their eyes, I felt all my pent-up tension release and my stress dissolve away into the bedazzled abyss. I remember reaching for them—in a literal sense—longing to touch the intangible, feel their illusory warmth. I wished to preserve and admire each star in a jar, like the fascinating fireflies they were.

Abruptly, the air of tranquility dissipated as the vast complexity of the beautiful void swallowed me whole. I pondered the constellations and their emanations, acknowledging that the mesmerizing patterns and all my senses, were simply oversimplifications, interpretations, of reality. But, what is reality? Why do we yearn to define it and thereby, control it? Why do we seek an ultimate truth when Truth is ultimately what we make of it? More so, what is beauty? This intricate, incomprehensible actuality? Our systematic phantasm? In other words, is our reality and its beauty and objective truth, or a subjective illusion? I stumbled along this intriguing, yet inconclusive train of thought as the pansophical stars winked at me, mocking my ignorance. Little did they know, in igniting their midnight-blue backdrop, transforming an ominous cloak into a miraculous vision, these catalysts sparked and set ablaze my flourishing fascination for anything and all things “beautiful”. In that seemingly meager moment, I unearthed my curiosity.

Starry Night’s reminiscent beauty unlocked my ability to wholly appreciate the intricate layers of depth in everyday perception. However, my true inspiration in recognizing value stems from my struggles. For better or worse, I have been a victim of chronic depression. Suffocated by abnormally obsessive thoughts and my own hyper-sensitivity, introspective meditation was a necessity. This required me to objectively scrutinize and challenge my thoughts, continuously persevere through the highs and lows of my psychological distress, and connect with even the most minute aspects of myself and my environment. Through this experience, my petals of tolerance, patience, and authenticity have bountifully blossomed into the beauty of self-discovery. I now understand that life wasn’t meant to be easy; it was meant to be lived. Ever since I have overcome my trauma, I have been passionately exploring our cognitive abilities and potential, meditating on the beauty of intrinsic complexities such as sensation and perception in my ultimate pursuit to comprehensively experience and understand. However, to optimally decipher the ever-evolving, extrinsic unknowns—the nature of reality, the nature of the universe, etc.—we must first decipher ourselves. This is why I am particularly interested in studying philosophy and psychology—specifically, experimental psychology. Through philosophy, I wish to develop critical-thinking skills to apply to both myself and my environment, i.e. attempting to understand the mental, emotional, and social complexities of myself and others. I have also taken a concrete step towards fulfilling that wish by joining my school’s Utilitarian Philosophy Club. Within it, we expose ourselves to diverse insights by expressing and challenging each other’s perceptions. Nevertheless, although I would be fulfilled with simply exploring the emanations of my ideas, thought-processes, perceptions, and such, I would like to take it a step further by studying experimental psychology and indulging in the thrill of discovery—the awe of being directly involved in expanding the horizons of collective knowledge itself. Vincent Van Gogh said it best, “For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

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