by Brian Tomasik
Written in spring 2005
When I was in high school, one of my friends was assigned a biography project for his English class. He decided to write about me. For the project, he asked me a series of questions. This document contains some of my answers. Certain of my views have changed since high school, including about environmentalism.
- 1 What religion do you practice?
- 2 Have you ever held a job?
- 3 Have you ever participated in any sports?
- 4 What are your hobbies and interests?
- 5 How do you hope to influence others?
- 6 What moods have characterized your life?
- 7 What are your plans for the future?
- 8 Some things I've done
- 9 Growing up surrounded by nature
- 10 Interesting stories
- 11 Some people I've seen speak in person
- 12 Other memorable events
- 13 Footnotes
What religion do you practice?
I have no religion and do not wish to, for, to me, religion implies faith without thought and belief without reason. I am guided instead by science—not necessarily the specific theories that scientists have developed (as those could be wrong) but by the scientific process, which recognizes that no knowledge is certain while at the same time making use of empiricism to found conceptions of the world. All opinions and beliefs should originate from demonstrable evidence. This is what makes science unique in contrast to all other forms of belief: it is not absolute, it is founded on rationality, and disputes can be resolved by further study (rather than by futile arguments over one’s personal beliefs).
I do not deny that religion might be true; with the limited nature of human knowledge, anything is possible. But because there are infinite possible forms of the universe, and Christianity presents only one, I consider the probability that Christian doctrine is true to be one over infinity.a
Have you ever held a job?
I have never held a paying job, but I have been involved with many community-service activities:
- Habitat for Humanity
- Tutoring ESL students at school
- Food bank
- Soup kitchen
- Guilderland Public Library: book reshelving and display preparation
- Albany Pine Bush: aspen girdling and lupine-seed collection
- Guilderland Study Circles: took notes on a community discussion about ways to improve Guilderland drinking-water quality.
Have you ever participated in any sports?
I have never formally played on a sports team. However, I frequently play tennis during the summer. I also have a ping-pong table and darts board in my basement. I enjoy jogging in the woodsb behind my house, and—when it is too cold outside—riding on my exercise bicycle.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I enjoy solving math puzzles and deriving formulas on my personal blackboard (and at Math Club), as well as studying the patterns of grammar. I occasionally play chess with my father (and at Chess Club). Especially when I was younger, I made movies with my video camera; these ranged from puppet shows to live action to stop-motion animation with clay figures. I enjoy baking. The only television shows that I watch are NOW and The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, both on PBS. I often write advocacy letters to members of Congress and other decision-makers, and I occasionally go to protests (including the 15 February 2003 peace protest in New York City). I mostly read nonfiction, particularly books and articles about politics. Doing homework, also, is one of my favorite hobbies.
How do you hope to influence others?
I hope to show people the value of understanding rather than memorizing, of learning for the sake of learning, of enjoying and marveling at life, of working hard for what is most important, and of striving to make life better for posterity.
What moods have characterized your life?
I have always been generally happy and found life fun. But I remember that when I was younger, I used to get upset, frustrated, and angry more easily. However, as I grew older and was influenced by positive role models, I found this happening less and less; at the same time, I gained a deeper realization of how amazing and precious life is. I now consider myself to be equanimous, rational, and calm but also joyful, optimistic, and positive. I rarely get angry or distraught, and when I do, I find a healthy way to deal with the emotion.
What are your plans for the future?
The best answer to this is that I am not yet sure.
I have applied “regular decision” to four colleges/universities: Swarthmore, Bates, Bowdoin, and Princeton. I have not yet made up my mind, but I am strongly leaning toward Swarthmore.
I have also applied for a Congress-Bundestag scholarship, which would pay all of the costs for living for a year in Germany. I don’t consider it likely that I will win this, but if I do, I’ll defer admission to college for a year.
At college, I plan to take courses in lots of different subject areas (math, chemistry, physics, political science, history, economics, linguistics, philosophy). I’m not sure what my major will be, but the natural sciences or social sciences are most likely.
I intend to continue on to graduate school, though I don’t know what kind. One possibility is to study law and become a lawyer with an environmental organization. I don’t know what my career will be, but I do know that it will deal with environmental and economic problems.
Some things I've done
From my earliest childhood to when I was in second or third grade, I took an active interest in dinosaurs. I owned a dozen or two books on the subject, and the dinosaur section was usually the first one I visited at the library. Eventually I could give the name and geologic period for probably twenty or thirty different species, as well as copious additional information. When I was in second grade, I wrote by hand a paper of about fifteen pages in length describing various attributes of different types of dinosaurs, all from memory.
I memorized pi to 231 digits (including the "3" before the decimal point). I began in sixth grade and slowly learned groups of five numbers up through about eighth grade. Thereafter, I continued to memorize a few more here and there.
Since the middle of elementary school, I have made home movies with the family video camera. Many of these employed stop-motion animation (sometimes with clay and sometimes with small toys). I also recorded our cat, birds in the sky, frogs in the pond, and interesting domino set-ups. Soon I began to make puppet-based movies in the style of Jim Henson. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I made a series of movies entitled “If You Ever Thought You Had a Bad Morning”; they were silent movies (without dialogue but with music) that were in some ways modeled on Jackie Chan’s action scenes. In the first episode, the protagonist met his evil twin and ran away from himself (he and the twin obviously never appeared together in the same shot). In addition, I wrote several movie scripts, one of which was actually made into a forty-minute film, “Ragtime: A Fishy Tale”, in which the same actor played all of the characters. At the same time that I was making these movies, I read two books on the topic of how to shoot high-quality amateur films.
When I was in eighth grade, I began making “quizzes” for my Earth Science teacher that consisted of problems that I had contrived. For example, one question read approximately as follows: “In the Tomasik temperature system, absolute zero lies at 0°T and the boiling point of water lies at 1000°T. At what temperature in degrees Tomasik does water freeze?”
For one of my English classes, I wrote a 19-page research paper on agricultural subsidies, with specific focus on the 2002 Farm Bill; my teacher was so impressed with it that he encouraged me to submit a shortened version for publication. I sent my article to the Albany Times Union, The Nation, The Progressive, The Progressive Populist, TomPaine.com, and other publications, but none accepted it.
Growing up surrounded by nature
Growing up on a farm in the country gave me an appreciation for the wonder of nature and its capacity for rejuvenation (a sentiment well expressed in a quote from Rachel Carson that I found recently: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”).
Being able to wander practically anywhere I wanted on the farm property, I learned independence and exploration. Spending time in the serenity of the outdoors instead of watching fast-paced television may have contributed to my patience and ability to concentrate for long periods of time.
- When I was very young (probably no more than six years old), I was playing with a friend on the swing set in the yard. It had a blue slide, two regular chain-held swings, and one metallic swing in which two people could sit facing each other. My friend was swinging alone in the two-seated swing, while I was climbing on the upper horizontal bar that held the parts of the swing set together. I decided to hang upside down on the bar over the two-seated swing, but in doing so, I apparently lost my grip and fell off. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the swing across from my friend, presumably having fallen in such a way that I landed in the perfect position at the perfect time to avoid being hurt. It was almost as if I had not fallen at all, for my body didn’t even feel the impact of hitting the swing.
- When I was quite young, a friend and I were on a suburban street in upstate New York. We both remember seeing a man across the street standing in his paved driveway holding a hose, with which he was “watering” two living alligators that were lying on his lawn. I now suspect that my friend and I somehow imagined or misinterpreted what we saw, especially since none of the nearby adults seemed to pay an attention to it, but I still find it strange that both my friend and I can clearly remember this incident as if it really happened. My best guess now is that maybe the man had plastic alligators on his lawn, which we mistook for real alligators?
Some people I've seen speak in person
- Ralph Nader several times: Orpheum Theater in Boston in 2001; Hamilton College, NY in 2004; Hampshire College, MA in 2004 (debating U.S. Representative Ron Paul); at a peace event in Albany, NY in 2005; at a screening of An Unreasonable Man around 2006; to Congressional interns in the Capitol in 2006. I talked with him briefly during book signings at Hamilton College and after the documentary screening.
- Granny D at a local bookstore in 2001, promoting her book Granny D: Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year.
- Amory Lovins and John Todd at the Twenty-First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures at Amherst College, MA in 2001.
- Eric Schlosser at Siena College, NY in 2001.
- Amy Goodman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NY in 2001 and again in 2003.
- Winona LaDuke at Siena College, NY in 2002.
- Howard Zinn at Siena College, NY in 2003.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at Union College, NY in 2004.
- Lester Brown at Union College, NY in 2005.
Other memorable events
- Took part in peace protests: in Albany, NY in Oct. 2002; in Albany, NY in Jan. 2003; in NYC on 15 Feb. 2003; in New Paltz, NY in Mar. 2005.
- 22 Jan. 2005: Selection-committee interview for Congress-Bundestag scholarship.
- 15 Feb. 2005: My district's Board of Education rejected my proposal to have the district buy recycled paper.
- Mar. 2005: I attended five meetings of the school district’s Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee as a participant. (I was the only non-adult participant.) At the last meeting, we each gave brief comments on the budget, which were broadcast on local public-access television. I made a plea against the proposal to increase work requirements on English teachers in order to save money.
- 19 Mar. 2005: I won first place in the first round of a Chemistry Olympiad at Albany College of Pharmacy. (I did miserably on the later second round of the competition, which required experimental rather than theoretical acumen.)
- Note from 2017: This reasoning by itself is poor. The same argument could be applied to any worldview, since any worldview is only one out of infinitely many possibilities. (back)
- Note from 2017: I now discourage jogging on non-paved land because doing so crushes tons of invertebrates and occasionally even some small vertebrates like salamanders. (back)