Ever since I was a kid I always felt a sense of loss whenever I lost interest in something I previously enjoyed. I think there is much comfort in a familiar interest. At one point, I wanted to become a chemist but then I became more interested in mathematics.
I recently asked myself whether I have been losing interest in mathematics. I would say the answer is no. When I think back to some of the topics I’ve studied, I still feel like they are very interesting and although I have almost no time for them right now, I would like to devote some time to them in the future.
On the other hand, in life there are interests and there are practical objectives that one can try to achieve in order to support the pursuit of these interests. For example, the I might like math (the interest) and I might try and become a professor (the goal to support that interest). The practical goals are much different than the pursuit of an interest. Practical goals are about securing a niche within society to further interests.
Practical goals often have attached requirements that are very far from a person’s interests. I’ve personally found that to be the case. Often I have found myself pursuing a branch of knowledge without much interest in it, merely because it was a typical requirement of a practical goal.
The classic example I always use for myself is algebraic geometry. I actually spent quite a lot of time studying algebraic geometry because I was doing number-theory applications at one point but after a few years of putting many hours into algebraic geometry, I never made much progress, probably because I found little joy in it.
Although it’s sometimes necessary to do unpleasant things for the sake of a greater cause, there is a clear limit to that and I think it’s healthy to realize one’s limit. To be honest I went over that limit for a long time in various ways and I don’t think I was too aware of it.
When it comes to research, I actually do enjoy mathematics research. However, getting to the right place where I could do the kind of work I wanted was somewhat overwhelming and the realities of the math job market did not make that easy.
So, where does letting go come in? For one, I realized I don’t need to do research to achieve self-actualization in life. So, I let go of that. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a different way in the future if an opportunity presents itself, but maybe not. If not, I can still pursue my interest of mathematics on my own time.
I have also let go of my attachment to practical goals. I will still pursue them in different ways, but I realized that they are not as important as I felt them to be ten years ago. I am an ephemeral being, ready to be swept away by the wind. No doubt society places paramount importance on traditional achievement because it furthers our traditional ideas of progress and innovation. However, innovation to me seems more and more like a euphemism for our world domination and thus more and more senseless.