Andreas

Do you have to make a difference in the world?

12 posts in this topic

Is it unethical to not do something ethical? 

I want to do research in pure math but I feel like I can't or shouldn't because it's better to focus on ending slavery or climate change or something like that. It feels like anything other than working on fixing the most horrible problems (like child slavery or terrorism) is unethical. This is very limiting for me because I really want to do research but I don't really know what I feel about it. Anything else I just don't find interesting. It's like I either feel bad for not making a difference or I feel bad because I don't find my job entertaining. This makes it really hard to know what to do in life. Any thoughts?

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Dear @Andreas

Here is how I see it:

Everybody, by default, makes a difference in the world. S/he turns O2 into CO2, water into urine and food into crap.

However, the difference I make is to be in line with the principles that I have.

I ask myself: (i) Am I being a blessing or a burden to the people around me? (ii) Am I being satisfied by doing what I am doing?

Keeping this in mind, I try to do whatever is possible by me, even if its a small thing. For instance, I keep a bunch of fruits in my backpack so that I can lend it to any hungry people on the street if I ever come across them. I also try to pick up unattended garbage at the park/footpath and give it at the upcycling center. I know its not a significant difference but still, its the least that I can. If a 100 others like me do similar things, a lot of objectives can be met even without government's support.

If your core research interests are in pure math, but would like to contribute to ending slavery or climate change then you might want to bridge them. You can explore on how pure maths can be applied to climate science. I've taken courses where non-linear dynamics was extensively used in climate science to understand the "tipping-points" in our climate system. Similarly for slavery, you could delve into economics and statistics for designing an economy where slavery is not required. I don't have that much of an expertise with slavery/economics, so, this was just a wild guess. But I think you got my point here.

So essentially, make your job "entertaining" by bridging your concerns (ending slavery or climate change) with your job. If you think your job clearly isn't going to help you as much with your concerns, then plan on changing your job.

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Posted (edited)

@Andreas 

I'd explore this feeling of "unethical". Where did you get these beliefs? When did you first feel the guilt?

Is there an authentic core in your motivation to contribute to the worlds largest problems?

Do you have to do this now?

If you're doing the life purpose course, maybe return to the "negative values release" exercise.

My thoughts regarding research more specifically:

In math and other fundamental research, you have to come to term with the fact that you may never know if your research is useful or not. 

The timescales are different. Some, if not most, of the mathematics which got applied in physics and elsewhere, was only applied decades later. You won't see your immediate contribution to climate change, but you can still do valid math.  Einstein could only give shape to his theories because the mathematics of curved spacetime was already available, and it took physicist's 50 years to correctly interpret Kerr-Newmann's metric as a description of a rotating black hole. 

Or maybe it doesn't get used. You can view your math as an artwork. Even if only you and a few of your closes colleagues can appreciate it ... was it futile? 

Third thing, even if you genuinely want to make a difference in the world, you don't have to know now how you'll contribute and go the direct route. It's perfectly fine to go do research in mathematics, and maybe (actually, likely) somewhere along the road you'll recognize a case more worthy. 

Lastly, on a more personal note (I notice you have my thread bookmarked): IMHO if math is your authentic motivation, I feel strongly it's totally worth doing it. Don't miss out on the beauty. You may however find that academia is not what you want, and that you'll have to choose anyway. And/or you may even get fed up with math. Then you'll have to figure out a way forward at that point, and it will be a painful decision to make. But maybe then you'll remember to apply your skills to climate change.

Just curious: How old/ in which stage of your studies are you?

Edited by Elisabeth

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1. We are where we are because of what great minds contributed in maths, physics, philosophy etc. 

2. Anything that you do out of guilt cannot be a noble choice. 

3. What if you did something related to terrorism and as a result, it became much worse? 

Quote

 It's like I either feel bad for not making a difference or I feel bad because I don't find my job entertaining. 

When you remember your calling, it will be entertaining and it will make a difference. The biggest difference you need to make is on yourself. Let go of the idea that you need to make a difference in the outer world. 

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13 hours ago, Andreas said:

Is it unethical to not do something ethical? 

Any thoughts?

It's your choice. I always thought, why not help? No one wants to suffer. If you were the one suffering, what would you do to get help? How would you get out of the situation? If you're not suffering, you cannot just live and then retire. Life gets dull. What will you create so that someone who is in need could find and discover a way out?

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16 hours ago, Elisabeth said:

@Andreas 

I'd explore this feeling of "unethical". Where did you get these beliefs? When did you first feel the guilt?

Is there an authentic core in your motivation to contribute to the worlds largest problems?

Do you have to do this now?

If you're doing the life purpose course, maybe return to the "negative values release" exercise.

My thoughts regarding research more specifically:

In math and other fundamental research, you have to come to term with the fact that you may never know if your research is useful or not. 

The timescales are different. Some, if not most, of the mathematics which got applied in physics and elsewhere, was only applied decades later. You won't see your immediate contribution to climate change, but you can still do valid math.  Einstein could only give shape to his theories because the mathematics of curved spacetime was already available, and it took physicist's 50 years to correctly interpret Kerr-Newmann's metric as a description of a rotating black hole. 

Or maybe it doesn't get used. You can view your math as an artwork. Even if only you and a few of your closes colleagues can appreciate it ... was it futile? 

Third thing, even if you genuinely want to make a difference in the world, you don't have to know now how you'll contribute and go the direct route. It's perfectly fine to go do research in mathematics, and maybe (actually, likely) somewhere along the road you'll recognize a case more worthy. 

Lastly, on a more personal note (I notice you have my thread bookmarked): IMHO if math is your authentic motivation, I feel strongly it's totally worth doing it. Don't miss out on the beauty. You may however find that academia is not what you want, and that you'll have to choose anyway. And/or you may even get fed up with math. Then you'll have to figure out a way forward at that point, and it will be a painful decision to make. But maybe then you'll remember to apply your skills to climate change.

Just curious: How old/ in which stage of your studies are you?

Im just a 16 year old kid in high school. Total noob in school but im good at math and I like it. Im just trying to figure out what to spend my time doing and what skills to develop. 

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12 hours ago, Key Elements said:

It's your choice. I always thought, why not help? No one wants to suffer. If you were the one suffering, what would you do to get help? How would you get out of the situation? If you're not suffering, you cannot just live and then retire. Life gets dull. What will you create so that someone who is in need could find and discover a way out?

Because it will all be out of guilt as that guy over your reply said. It’s like there is a big mess in someones house and he needs help cleaning it. You don’t want to do it you would rather just continue doing what you love (for example playing piano) but you have to because otherwise you feel bad. I still don’t know though. Maybe you are right.. 

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1 hour ago, Andreas said:

Im just a 16 year old kid in high school. Total noob in school but im good at math and I like it. Im just trying to figure out what to spend my time doing and what skills to develop. 

Well then what I've written may go over your head, sorry about that :)

"Good at math" at age 16 just means you're a bright mind and an abstract conceptual thinker. You can use that in any field. (Although you could recognize it as a lifelong passion at this age. The best mathematicians ... they often made their contributions while in college, meaning they had to learn a ton of advanced stuff on their own in high school already.)

Go do the math competitions available, they are a fun challenge ;) Also, talk to someone who does study math at university. See what they learn there in first year. You'll be surprised. 

Edited by Elisabeth

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2 hours ago, Andreas said:

Because it will all be out of guilt as that guy over your reply said. It’s like there is a big mess in someones house and he needs help cleaning it. You don’t want to do it you would rather just continue doing what you love (for example playing piano) but you have to because otherwise you feel bad. I still don’t know though. Maybe you are right.. 

The guy who needs to clean his house needs to do it himself, just like everyone else. There is a saying, "Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for life." I'm talking about teaching someone how to clean his house rather than doing it for him all the time and spoiling him. I'm not talking about feeling guilty. Everyone has to overcome this obstacle in life.

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@AndreasIs it unethical to not do something ethical?  Yes it is.

The question is the consequences.


Interested in the unconscious mind as a living reality and positive psychology.

Good Of Interest: Aristotle, Carl Jung, Peter Ralston, Thomas Aquinas, Jainism?, Buddhism, Leibniz, Issac Newton (Panentheism)

Evil: Plato (Ideal forms), John Stuart Mill (Utilitarianism), William James (Pragmatism), Leibniz (Trinitarianism) 

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33 minutes ago, RichardY said:

@AndreasIs it unethical to not do something ethical?  Yes it is.

The question is the consequences.

Does that mean it is wrong to do research instead of doing work on other problems?

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@Andreas No. Sometimes there maybe 2 poor options, and be required to choose the lesser evil.

I think the point is the imperative to try and do good. Was always a bit frustrated in the past with discussions with Ancaps. Where someone could be drowning in the lake. And they'd not see any obligation theoretically to help. If cautiously.


Interested in the unconscious mind as a living reality and positive psychology.

Good Of Interest: Aristotle, Carl Jung, Peter Ralston, Thomas Aquinas, Jainism?, Buddhism, Leibniz, Issac Newton (Panentheism)

Evil: Plato (Ideal forms), John Stuart Mill (Utilitarianism), William James (Pragmatism), Leibniz (Trinitarianism) 

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