musicandmath111

Should I become a mathematician?

30 posts in this topic

Hello. I'm a 20 year old guy who's studying math at university. The only thing that I currently imagine heading towards is becoming a reasercher and professor in pure mathematics. And the reasons for it are pretty shallow. I just like doing math and its fun for me. Math is my comfort zone when compared with other human endeavors. I slowly start doubting whether I should give up mathematics entirely, even though I'm naturally gifted at it, to pursue a greater cause. Something that will actually help all of mankind, not just mathematicians. I just think that my motivations for becoming a mathematician are too shallow and selfish. And I have no idea what I should be doing if I decided not to become a mathematician. I've also dreamed about becoming a musician or a philosopher, but neither of them give me that fire of purpose within me. Any advice? And no I have not taken the life purpose course (yet).

Edited by musicandmath111

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1 hour ago, musicandmath111 said:

And the reasons for it are pretty shallow. I just like doing math and its fun for me.

If that's a shallow reason then every other reason is even shallower, you won't find a better reason to do something than that. We love things that go well for us, that's common.

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Why should it be shallow? A life purpose does not need to be a grandiose one such as travelling to the moon or competing at the Olympics. You pursue whatever you choose and that thing becomes your vision & your mission. Becoming a professor and researching and advancing the knowledge in the field of mathematics sounds like a perfect example of a life well lived. 

Maybe you could figure out how to bring math to common dummies like me who never understood it or figure out a way to explain math to those who just can't get it. You could also combine it totally with philosophy. 

You may benefit from the LP course as well and maybe it will just already tell you what you know. 

What you can do is, while staying on this journey, experiment with other things. Make small bets. Read a bunch of philosophy books or speak to a philosophy major and ask about their experience. See if that story resonates with you. 

Or take up a music instrument as a hobby and see how much fulfilment that gives you. Or join a music band or play around with music creation software. You know, as a form of low-stake scenario. Rather than quitting your career just experiment with what else is there and see what feelings and desires it evokes in you. 

Nobody can give you the answer, you will have to figure it out for yourself but there isn't one thing for everyone, you can choose to to whatever you want and that thing will become your purpose

I found Cal Newport's "so good they can't ignore you" useful read in this endeavour, maybe check that out. 

Good luck!

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One key question here is: Will I become the best version of myself if I worked on becoming a mathematician. I'm 90 percent sure that the answer to this question is no. I don't know what being the version of myself would entail. One thing that I do know for sure is that I would have to act selflessly towards improving the world.

Edited by musicandmath111

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Try exploring other domains just to see what else stirs your passions.

At your age what you need most is broader life experience. Do lots of diverse stuff and pay attention to what arouses excitement in you.


You are God. You are Love. You are Infinity. You are Leo.

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@Leo Gura  Thanks for seeing my post and replying. Can you give me some hard core advice on this stance, something that will hurt my ego? Not only do I need passion, but more importantly, I need a vision, and right now that's what I lack the most. I'm not good at trying out different things. I get a lot of mental resistance when I do this, due to my lack of clarity. It always leaves my feel guilty of 'wasting my time'.

Edited by musicandmath111

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What's wrong with being a mathematician?

You're already so deep into it. Why change anything at this point? Execute it. Become enlightened master mathematician. Like ramuman or what's his name.

Edit. Ramanujan

Edited by Salvijus

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29 minutes ago, Salvijus said:

What's wrong with being a mathematician?

Yeah that's actually a good question. My view is that a person is selfish, not only when she causes harm to others, but also when she doesn't proactively work on helping others. In this sense I would see myself as selfish if I was a mathematician. Makes sense?

32 minutes ago, Salvijus said:

Become enlightened master mathematician. Like ramuman or what's his name.

Edit. Ramanujan

Haha thank you. I appreciate that. I'm still just starting out. Even if decided to become a mathematician I will have to do soo much work, both on math of course but also outside of math, to align all of my energy and creative potential to mathematics. Right now, my energies aren't aligned and I can still easily get distracted. That's just because I haven't made that decision yet, to really become a mathematician.

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31 minutes ago, musicandmath111 said:

Yeah that's actually a good question. My view is that a person is selfish, not only when she causes harm to others, but also when she doesn't proactively work on helping others. In this sense I would see myself as selfish if I was a mathematician. Makes sense?

Maybe u can contribute to the world with your mathamatics? Mathematicians are needed in the world also.

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@musicandmath111 I think you can work on math problems that directly relate to our rate of technological advancement. So maybe you can become such a powerful mathematician that you solve these complex problems and therefore accelerate humanities technological development.

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@Raptorsin7 Wow thanks for this idea! Is there something specific you have in mind, like AI?

Edited by musicandmath111

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@musicandmath111

Stop thinking about what is selfish or selfless, because it itself counts as nothing. Even if you gave your whole life to help majority of mankind you'd do that, because that would somehow make you happy. Therefore contemplate towards your deepest values and things you'd like to experience in your life and make your decision of what you're going to do right NOW based on that. Remember that moving ship can always be steered if that's needed, but the one which is rusting in waterfront is way harder task. It just sounds like you are stuck in your confort zone called math. Experience something else and come back if you feel like it.

-joNi-


Who told you that "others" are real?

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4 minutes ago, musicandmath111 said:

@Raptorsin7 Wow thanks for this idea! Is there something specific you have in mind, like AI?

You're welcome. I didn't have anything particular in mind, but yeah I think working on math problems that are bottlenecking AI advancement could be a really interesting niche.

I don't really understand how AI and computation power works, but I believe that part of what limits innovation is the inability to solve coding/computation problems and I think many mathematicians work on these kinds of issues. 

I think it's possible to merge math and computation/AI research, so even if you begin in math you can branch out into more specific issues where you can have a more clear impact on society and progress.

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5 minutes ago, Kksd74628 said:

Therefore contemplate towards your deepest values and things you'd like to experience in your life and make your decision of what you're going to do right NOW based on that.

Yeah that's something I really need to work on, my deepest values. I have almost no idea of what my deepest values are. Are there any tips you can give me for finding my values. Of course I don't expect a quick solution, but some advice for something as important as this is always better than nothing.

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1 minute ago, musicandmath111 said:

Yeah that's something I really need to work on, my deepest values. I have almost no idea of what my deepest values are. Are there any tips you can give me for finding my values. Of course I don't expect a quick solution, but some advice for something as important as this is always better than nothing.

 

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2 hours ago, musicandmath111 said:

But more importantly, I need a vision, and right now that's what I lack the most.

You're putting the cart before the horse.

How can you have a vision if you lack the experience necessary to discover what you're passionate about?

You simply need more grist for the mill before a vision can form.

Quote

 I'm not good at trying out different things. I get a lot of mental resistance when I do this, due to my lack of clarity. It always leaves my feel guilty of 'wasting my time'.

Yeah, well, you can't actualize your full potential without pushing your comfort zone and doing things you'd rather not do.

Bite the bullet, gather your balls, and go try out some different things. That's the work of building a great life.

You are wasting your time by not exploring around.


You are God. You are Love. You are Infinity. You are Leo.

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In my humble opinion, the mathematics education at university is a joke.  The vast majority of it involves memorizing a bunch of concepts with very little emphasis put on truly understanding the material being taught.  An example I like to give is the idea of standard deviation.  While I've been taught about standard deviation and how it measures dispersion in a data set since high school, I have yet to have someone explain to me how exactly standard deviation was derived organically.  I understand how it works, but there are other, simpler, and more intuitive measures of dispersion which are never taught in school.  I suspect the main use of standard deviation is it's appearance in the Central Limit Theorem.  While this is an incredibly useful theorem, the vast majority of people won't need to learn it, and so I feel that people shouldn't learn standard deviation unless they also learn the Central Limit Theorem, and those people shouldn't just learn these ideas, but have a deep understanding of what the material is really discussing that memorization just can't offer.  I'd rather that most people learn simpler measures of dispersion such as median deviation from the median and average absolute deviation from the mean, as these would be easier for the majority of the non-math oriented population to understand, and would give people a better understanding of the concept of measuring statistical dispersion, which standard deviation is just one example of.  Hell, I've even come up with my own measure of statistical of dispersion which I feel is more intuitive than standard deviation.

The only mathematics class I ever took that wasn't a waste of my time or tuition cost was a Topology class I took in grad school.  The class utilized the Moore's Method of education, which I highly reccomend you look up yourself.  Unlike other classes, we weren't given any textbook or literature to read, there was no lecture, and we were not allowed to look up anything from the internet or from outside literary sources.  All we had was a pamphlet which stated the axioms of topology, some definitions based off of those definitions, and then questions which were based off of those axioms, definitions, and questions that have been previously answered in the pamphlet.  The only way you could answer these questions is coming up with the answers entirely on your own, as if you were the first person to discover the solution.  The professor would even get upset with you if he suspected you were studying the material.  This style of teaching forced the students to truly learn the material, and understand it at a much deeper level than you could get by just listening to some boring lectures.  It also enforced critical, indipendent, and creative thinking skills which I feel are sorely lacking in this memorization based style of education system that we live in.

Personally, I got more use out of studying mathematics on my own, doing my own research into the topic.  I actually learned calculus more effectively from Khan academy than I did from going to college since I could learn the material at my own pace.  I am learning disabled, so my opinion on the effectiveness of college as well as my preference towards non-lecture based learning styles is clearly biased.  Nevertheless, I still reccomend teaching mathematics to yourself.  I will say the main advantage of getting a mathematics degree isn't to learn mathematics itself (or that bullshit line they use of "to learn how to learn"), it's so you have proof of your mathematical proficiency which will help with job prospects and other endeavours.  However, if a deeper understanding into mathematics is your goal, you're much better off teaching the material to yourself. 

Edited by Null Simplex

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8 hours ago, Null Simplex said:

The only mathematics class I ever took that wasn't a waste of my time or tuition cost was a Topology class I took in grad school.  The class utilized the Moore's Method of education, which I highly reccomend you look up yourself.  Unlike other classes, we weren't given any textbook or literature to read, there was no lecture, and we were not allowed to look up anything from the internet or from outside literary sources.  All we had was a pamphlet which stated the axioms of topology, some definitions based off of those definitions, and then questions which were based off of those axioms, definitions, and questions that have been previously answered in the pamphlet.  The only way you could answer these questions is coming up with the answers entirely on your own, as if you were the first person to discover the solution.  The professor would even get upset with you if he suspected you were studying the material.  This style of teaching forced the students to truly learn the material, and understand it at a much deeper level than you could get by just listening to some boring lectures.  It also enforced critical, indipendent, and creative thinking skills which I feel are sorely lacking in this memorization based style of education system that we live in.

This is really cool. 

Learning equations and how to apply them without understanding anything about them, that's such a classic and brainless way of teaching in today's education. I wish there were more schools like u mentioned.

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On 8/17/2022 at 11:11 PM, Null Simplex said:

In my humble opinion, the mathematics education at university is a joke.

@Null Simplex I completely agree with you on that. I recently got an A on my analysis 2 exam, which was primarily about higher dimensional analysis, and after that I still don't feel like I understand any of it. May I know from which university you graduated, so at least I know where you're coming from? I know university can differ a bit in different parts of the world. I'm studying at the university of Vienna.

On 8/17/2022 at 11:11 PM, Null Simplex said:

All we had was a pamphlet which stated the axioms of topology, some definitions based off of those definitions, and then questions which were based off of those axioms, definitions, and questions that have been previously answered in the pamphlet.

That sounds really cool? Do you still have something left of it, maybe a PDF? I would love to see it. Something like that would definitely be an improvement on our education. But you see even that kind of a thing is a limitation on our learning potential. For example: Where do those axioms come from? Where do the definitions come from? How about finding your own definitions and see whether you're definitions are intelligently chosen, whether they make the theory more or less elegant? What's the history behind the subject? What we're the motivations of the great innovators of this subject? How about finding multiple solutions to a single problem? How about considering the situation starting with slightly different axioms? How does topology relate to other branches of mathematics? Where does topology get applied in science? Can topology be applied in practical real life? This kind of questioning is also something that the students really need to learn, along with the usual math, and that's why I see philosophy of mathematics as an important branch of mathematics and not just of as some random branch of philosophy.

When it comes to pure mathematics, there is always more than one way of interpreting things. That's why working on your imagination is important, so that you don't stay stuck with your naive intutions of the subject. It's not enough to have a solid understanding of the formal technicalities without developing your intuition about that subject, because that is how you push your formal technicalities to the next level. Leo talked about this himself. One thing of what I mean by intution are the visual mental images you associate with mathematical concepts. Those can severely be upgraded. What is your intuitive understanding (we ignore logical stuff now) of axioms, propositions, relations, quantifiers, equivalence, functions, spaces, algorithms and mathematical objects in general? Those can all be upgraded.

On 8/17/2022 at 11:11 PM, Null Simplex said:

It also enforced critical, independent, and creative thinking skills which I feel are sorely lacking in this memorization based style of education system that we live in.

Yeah absolutely. But I believe we can do even more about enhancing our thinking skills. I believe we have to question everything about education and reinvent it from scratch in order to achieve this. And one thing I would definitely focus on as a teacher is to make the student passionate about mathematics, and for this you really need to start thinking about these things on a big picture level.

On 8/17/2022 at 11:11 PM, Null Simplex said:

However, if a deeper understanding into mathematics is your goal, you're much better off teaching the material to yourself. 

Yeah that was something I realised early on. I never get satisfied with what I learn from university, even though I love math. I try to figure out what a true understanding of mathematics even means, because I realize how much we take things for granted, even though we pretend we're always being rigorous. So much of what we think is logical is actually based on our naive intuitions of the concepts. For example, can you explain to me what the logical quantifiers are, on a formal level? How do even define something as fundamental as logical quantifiers? All I have about it are my naive intuitions. They are so important and fundamental, yet in my current point of view, poorly understood. There is a quote by John von Neumann which states: "In mathematics, you don't understand things. You just get used to them." That to me is the perfect description of today's math education.

Edited by musicandmath111

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13 hours ago, Leo Gura said:

Bite the bullet, gather your balls, and go try out some different things. That's the work of building a great life.

You are wasting your time by not exploring around.

Thanks Leo. I have to be strategic about exploring around, because I can easily get distracted. That's basically what I wanted to say. It always feels like distraction more so than a genuine new experience, because I'm not doing this in a high consciousness manner. So that's something I need to work on. Is there a tip you can give me to explore around consciously, so that I don't feel like I'm waisting my time?

Edited by musicandmath111

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