It's been a while since I've written. The past few months were productive, but not everything went "my way". It's been a process to accept how little is in my control.
I moved in with Mom in April. I needed a lot of help this summer. I wasn't able to take care of myself; my mental health sunk even lower than it was this spring. Mom was there for me. Along the way, we spent a lot of time together, and really got to know each other as adults. I'm grateful for her presence in my life.
I'm finally making progress at unraveling the mess in my head. I'm excellent at deluding myself (which reminds me of a quote I frequently misattribute to George Orwell):
I'm afraid of smart people; they can convince themselves of anything.
In Sacramento, I allowed myself to really disconnect from the external world. I wouldn't talk to people for days. I worked; all the time. I avoided any activity that might stress me out. I reminded myself: This is the best I can do right now.
The summer was studded with good moments. My cousins visited; Sho and Beti brought me around downtown; Surina came back from Guatemala. Parsa got married. Ashley always called. I met my research collaborators in person for the first time; and saw friends and family on the same trip. I am so lucky for the people I have in my life.
In August, Mom sold her house and moved to Napa. I got to experience first-hand how much work this is. Eventually, she found the perfect place – walkable, green, and comfortable. I’m excited for her next chapter in life.
My next chapter is in Chicago. I got here in September: the deep dish is great; the campus is pretty; my apartment-mates are kind. (And they stay up late…) I’ll be in Chicago for at least five years, so I’m buying nice furniture and taking my time to get comfortable. There’s no rush.
My goals have shifted. I want to be a world-class researcher. Dealing with decision paralysis is easier; I just ask: will this make me a better researcher? I find my work beautiful and challenging. I’ve quickly transitioned from a “wannabe” to someone who is known and respected within my subfield. The hard work (plus privilege) paid off. This summer, I interned with NASA’s quantum computing team and met many full-time researchers: adults with 9-to-5 jobs who do science all day.
My advisor at UChicago is really bright. Every Friday afternoon, I get a master class in his research topics and a personal view on what it’s like to be a young professor. He gives rapid, gentle guidance; but it’s up to me to decide my career. I could “make it” as a professor – but do I want to? (How much stress do I want in my life?)
I think I made the right choice to come here. It’s exhilarating to chase down math problems – the kind of fun that puts you in a trance until you realize how much time has gone by. I’m not asleep, I remind myself: this is the long dream.
I’ve been growing out of the California aesthetic. I eat more meat; I fly more often; I virtue signal much less. One way to describe this is the loss (or change) of “meme”. “What is right” gets conflated with “what makes me feel accepted”.
I think it’s natural for our morals to come from our loved ones. But this can so easily go wrong. A friend told me of their family member who won’t get vaccinated, not because they hate the vaccine, but because they’ll lose approval in their social group. They live in a “meme”: a palpable feeling (a vibe?) of ignoring mask mandates and laughing at cartoons about authoritarian leftist politicians. This is the stuff that binds people together! (Jesus would say they have a common enemy.)
I think this is what people mean when they say “think for yourself” – can you exit the “meme” you’re sitting in, and take on a different perspective? Can you see the flaws in your own “memes” (not just others’)? This trait is a mark of a great scientist – able to question, adjust their priors, and stay curious. The trick is to do it without pissing off everyone around you.
Berkeley’s “meme” is well-known. Well-meaning woke white people; PC culture; activists acting out their anger issues; extremely high rent (= landlords bad); death to “the system”. I bought in, at least for awhile. I’m drawn to persuasive arguments – and Berkeley is a place where new ideas on the world are amplified. But I lost track of my brain in the “meme”. What mattered to me became secondary to every problem of the world. I let myself feel ashamed of my high status in life.
Berkeley will always be special to me; but in many ways, I’m happy to be moving on.
By now, my friends and family are all across the country. Can you send me a digital photo of yourself? I will print it 2”x2” for a project I’m working on.
And to any scientist out there: What’s your biggest problem? Send me your thoughts.
What’s on your mind?
Some things I’ve liked recently:
people still write classical music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cSbur3UKO0
The future of flushing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJklHwoYgBQ
pokemon-style olympics: https://www.google.com/doodles/doodle-champion-island-games-july-24
currently my favorite song (thanks Kate!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbDjTSUxHyg
free online tutoring: https://schoolhouse.world/
make online games, simply (watch the video): https://replit.com/kaboom
a new kind of search engine: https://search.marginalia.nu/
good stuff to know about: https://www.domesticshelters.org
I’ve had this idea for a long time: https://blog.google/technology/research/project-starline/
The old internet: http://cyber.dabamos.de/88x31/
this (beautiful) fish does not exist: https://fishdraw.glitch.me/
programmers have feelings too: https://blog.sidebits.tech/programmers-emotions/
timeline of math: https://mathigon.org/timeline
this game is so good I had to block it from my computer: https://slither.io/
just let go: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/ambition
tech loop: https://xkcd.com/1411/
virus vs world: https://xkcd.com/2287/
trust me, I’m rational: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/bayesian
what’s going on with muons? (physics): https://physics.aps.org/articles/v14/47
in all seriousness: https://poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/get-serious/
y’all aren’t southern: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/second-strike
good day, human: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/good-day-human
uncomfortable truthasaurus: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2010-11-30
war and peace: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2012-03-03
can’t forget: https://xkcd.com/379/
my first paper got published: https://quantum-journal.org/papers/q-2021-04-20-437/
my next one (with Boaz Barak) is online: https://arxiv.org/abs/2106.05900
another one (with Sandia) is online: https://arxiv.org/abs/2108.12477
the NASA one came out: https://arxiv.org/abs/2109.10833
and a software one: https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.05555
and one with Google: https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.14206
what’s your life purpose? https://markmanson.net/life-purpose
how do I ask questions and actually get to an answer? https://jvns.ca/blog/2021/10/21/how-to-get-useful-answers-to-your-questions/
“I love to be alone but hate to be lonely, and I haven’t found a balance of “what am I supposed to do” yet”: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28538038
“Creationism is true if it will keep my kids off oxycontin”: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28649377
the animal is tired: http://www.robinhobb.com/blog/posts/38429