Friday, May 11, 2012

article post: on aspects of work, research, and solitude.

[originally written 15 april 2012, in an effort to avoid doing my u.s. taxes]

this excerpt is actually about evolutiοnary biolοgy, not mathematιcs .. but reading it still gave me pause.
"Haldaηe never expanded his napkin calculations into a formal mathematical theory. That task fell to William Hamiltοn, a young graduate student at Unιversity Cοllege Londοn. He struggled for years on the project, often working late at night on a bench in Waterlοo Station, where the commuting crowds eased his loneliness."

from: "the paradox of altruism" by jοnah lehrεr (@wired).
that's eerily .. familiar.

after reading de bottοn's the art of travel, i once spent an afternoon at an airport, even though i wasn't traveling anywhere.  part of me wanted to experience the airport without the usual stress of traveling, just to confirm that it wasn't such an awful place in my mind.

another part of me was just tired of working alone in my apartment, all the time.
if you're willing to believe steve wozniak of apple computers,
then creativity requires solitude;

that may be true .. but it doesn't account for how hard it feels, sometimes.
so for hours i just worked on mathematics at an airport cafe in the ticketing area, occasionally looking up to watch people say goodbye to their companions and depart for their gates.  occasionally it was distracting: heart-warming and heart-breaking ..

.. but after a while i saw so much of it that i became de-sensitised and these scenes became normal.  i could almost guess how some goodbyes would unfold.

the mathematics became more interesting than the humans:
i couldn't predict how that stuff worked ..

on a slightly related note, i learned this the other day, from yahoo! news:
What they've found is that when all outside noise is removed from an enclosure, human hearing will do its best to find something to listen to.

In a room where almost 100% of sound is muted, people begin to hear things like their own heartbeat at a greatly amplified volume.
As the minutes tick by in absolute quiet, the human mind begins to lose its grip, causing test subjects to hallucinate.
that's a little unnerving to know; this may be over-simplifying the message, but .. a perfect vacuum is toxic to the mind.  as humans, we need stimuli.

i wonder if that's why i seem to pick up good ideas whenever i take a break, go out for a run, a walk, or a coffee ..

epilogue. there's another interesting part in that wired article:
"“When I began reading Hamiltοn’s paper, my first response was that the equation was way too short. I thought, There’s no way it can be this easy. But then I reread the paper. And then I read it again. And that’s when I got jealous.” Wilsοn wanted to understand the altruism at work in the ant colony, and he became convinced that Hamilton had solved the problem first.

To further the cause of inclusive fitness, Wilsοn began writing about the idea in a series of influential articles and books, introducing the startling logic of Hamiltοn’s equation to biologists. “I really became an evangelist for the idea,” Wilson says. “And this was not an easy idea to sell ..""
what i find surprisingly reassuring is that this more established researcher put his ego out of the way, embraced the idea for its own value, and pushed it forward.

that's not the end of the story, though.  it takes a different turn, but you have the link now, so i'm not going to tell it ..

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