Reflections on ten years of blogging and math

Ten years have passed since I started this blog, Aleph Zero Categorical. I thought this might be a good time to reflect on how things have changed since then. Ten years ago, I just started my PhD. Five years ago, I completed that PhD, did one postdoc, and left academia. Leaving academia incidentally was not by choice, but rather due to a lack of jobs. Or perhaps, more accurately, due to my not knowing the right people to get those jobs.

Regardless of this, I still have a great appreciation for mathematics as an art. I still work on pure mathematics from time to time, even though I don’t have as much time for it as I used to. I still think it was very much worthwhile to get a PhD in mathematics, because it was one of my personal goals to reach a certain level of mathematical understanding to satiate my own curiosity. This goal included reaching the level at which I could do independent research, and that feeling of being able to investigate mathematical questions is important to me. I know I would have enjoyed a permanent academic position, not only because I like research, but because I also enjoy explaining mathematics. Readers of this blog don’t need to be told that.

It might also be good that I am taking a break from research mathematics. At least in pure math, even though I had ideas for projects, I was feeling a bit unenthusiastic about the current state of research. I am attracted to fundamental, basic problems and I feel like most of those have been solved already in math. Mainly the money goes to very specialised problems that just aren’t my style, although I am happy other people can enjoy them.

I will also say that my experience for applying for jobs has been rather depressing. Outside of academia, most jobs are about developing more advanced technology. Now, I don’t think all technology is bad. However, I believe that as a human race, we are playing with fire with a lot of it. Much of the time we are simply adding more conveniences for ourselves, hiding in the cocoon of safety of advanced knowledge, and the byproduct of all of that is destruction of the natural world by finding more efficient ways to expand ourselves and crush everything else around us.

Something happened while I was in Australia for two years for my postdoctoral position. My eyes became open to this environmental disaster caused by our existence on earth. Because I saw so many beautiful plants and animals, I felt like I was exploring the world for the first time and I think that awakened some longing inside me to do work on protecting the environment. It’s hard to look into the eyes of breathing animals and at the same time watch endless new roads being built for human invasion. The biologist E. O. Wilson in his book Half-Earth proposed that if we could just set aside half our planet as protected habitat then we might prevent many mass extinctions. Hopefully we can accomplish something like this, and at the same time we can reduce our carbon dioxide output.

So, my perspective has shifted somewhat since I started my PhD. When I started, I was only really focused on doing math. Now, although I still like math, the importance of that to me is only secondary to figuring out how I can help protect animals and plants. I haven’t figured out completely how I can best do that. I have started working on some modelling projects using bird surveys and I started a YouTube channel to raise some awareness about wildlife. That is only a start and I am sure I will figure out more things I can do.

What does this mean for this blog? I will continue to write on it. Most of the posts will become more applied. Some of them might be random thoughts about my new endeavours. Unfortunately, the posting rate will slow down a little as I have less time for just figuring out cool math and explaining it, and somehow I don’t think I could get funding to give up my day job and blog all day.

I also want to thank all my readers over the years for their comments and support. It is wonderful to find someone has enjoyed one of my posts or even provided a correction. Please don’t think this blog is going to vanish. As I gain momentum in new technical projects, the underlying math of those will certainly appear here.

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