The difference between a good career and a good hobby...

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biostructure
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05 Jun 2021, 3:16 am

(particularly for aspies)...is being fully willing to work with/learn from others? Do you agree or disagree with this statement? I wanted to put the whole statement in the subject but couldn't because of space.

I'm thinking more and more this is so. As an aspie, I find that when I approach math/theoretical science problems, I have a strong desire/tendency to approach them as though I am the first person in human history to explore them. Rather than spend lots of time learning about all the ways that others have approached the same problem before me, I like to just play around with ways of thinking about things.

It's like that line from A Beautiful Mind where John Nash says something to the effect of "I don't find classes interesting because they are all about what we already know". Learning other people's ways of thinking about things has two drawbacks--firstly it requires learning to read other people's notation and use their conventions, which I can find very tedious, and secondly it can be really depressing to think of how much is already known to the point where it stifles the creativity that leads to new insights.

On the other hand, learning other people's conventions and tools, once you get over that barrier, can really boost creativity, relative to having to reinvent every wheel. Respecting conventions and having shared language allows people to work in teams, which also gets more done. Also, knowing what's already out there can point you quickly toward what isn't known. In the business world especially, but even in the academic research world, this can be very important.

So I think it's very important for people like myself to always have at least one or two of the first kind of project in our lives--ones where we can happily ignore everything that came before us and just tinker as if we were inventing everything for the first time, and have no pressure to do anything in a standard sort of way. But this may--regardless of the field of inquiry--lend itself poorly to a profession. One aspie I knew said "your career should be one of your lesser passions", but I think this may be less the issue than "your career should be an area where your ego needs don't get in the way of learning from others".

To give an example, when approaching coding a game as a hobbyist, I would want to take the time to work out all the math for the collisions, gravity, lighting, etc. myself, and then spend lots of time thinking of clever math tricks on how to approximate these things so I can work them into my code. Any kind of rendering trick I thought up, I wouldn't know or care if it already had a term for it, and I would focus less about the game being polished than I would about the algorithms. Whereas doing it as a career, I would probably look to see if there were an existing game engine that already does a lot of these things, and then maybe modify it slightly if I needed to do something new. Even if I were one of the people who gets to actually write game engines, I'd probably spend more time studying and re-implementing established techniques than inventing new ones.

So, maybe for a neurotypical, the decision of how to spend life looks like "learn from others the 'normal' way of doing lots of things, then focus for a career on the one you want to 'make your own' by going deeper"--whereas for aspies, it's more like "Invent your own way of doing everything, then make a career out of the area where you are OK accepting the idea you may not be the smartest and that sometimes following others will make you more productive". You still might make hobby projects out of things related to your career, and if you DO end up inventing something there's no reason not to incorporate it into a professional product, but the need to do that probably should not be the "driving force".

Do people here agree? Who else deals with the tension between the impulse to re-invent everything vs. the need to build on others' work if you want to get things done?



QuantumChemist
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06 Jun 2021, 10:40 am

When I am working on my theoretical quantum physics research projects, I approach it differently than others. Most physicists get buried in the math to the point that their models do not resemble reality. I approach it from a chemist’s viewpoint instead. I look at the physical information that we have accumulated over the eons and use those pieces to find solutions to questions about the universe. I see it as a jigsaw puzzle that others could not visualize the picture in the pieces that they held because they were looking with mathematical eyes only.

I am at a stage that I learn more about the universe daily from my own research than what a book can tell me. For example, many different possibilities open up if you look at light energy as a 3-D vector array in a coil formation rather than a flat 2-D wave that is commonly taught to undergrads. If you look at it from the side, the light energy has the same wave shape that is described in books. However, it is not the same when viewed from other angles. This information is important to be able to understand how this energy can be used to form particles of matter or anti-matter.

Textbooks are great reference material for ideas, but they will not teach you anything past the point that they were written. If you want to push science further than what is known, you have to be willing to step out on the edge of knowledge. It can be scary at times, as there is nothing that you can reference against past the edge.

As for picking a career, I picked the thing that I am third best at. The other two choices would not pay enough to justify the education needed for the job or I would tire of them too easily. I wanted to be able to enjoy those in my time off from work.



biostructure
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06 Jun 2021, 1:23 pm

I hope that what you're doing is actual quantum chemistry research, not some kind of "unlimited free energy" scam or "quantum healing" type stuff. I don't like to pre-judge people's work, but when people say they study quantum mechanics "free from the limitations of math" and don't provide further explanation of what they are actually researching, I tend to suspect that kind of pseudoscientific whackery. Actual quantum mechanics has to involve math somehow, if only to compare your predictions to what we know to be true. Even if you have some sort of novel shortcut that is much faster than actually solving the Schrodinger equation, unless you compare your result to the solutions/predictions of that equation, you have no idea whether it's consistent.

There are times when I have found it sort of interesting to think about "weird" implications of quantum mechanics, like multiple universes and whether consciousness could be some sort of field, but I certainly wouldn't call this "research", it's really philosophy. And this is totally unrelated to the topic of this thread, which was about how people approach actual math and algorithms.

In a nutshell, the topic of this thread is whether the limiting thing for some of us in picking a career is willingness to accept work from others that we may not fully understand the details of, rather than feeling the need to reinvent every "wheel" we want to use.



QuantumChemist
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06 Jun 2021, 5:30 pm

biostructure wrote:
I hope that what you're doing is actual quantum chemistry research, not some kind of "unlimited free energy" scam or "quantum healing" type stuff. I don't like to pre-judge people's work, but when people say they study quantum mechanics "free from the limitations of math" and don't provide further explanation of what they are actually researching, I tend to suspect that kind of pseudoscientific whackery. Actual quantum mechanics has to involve math somehow, if only to compare your predictions to what we know to be true. Even if you have some sort of novel shortcut that is much faster than actually solving the Schrodinger equation, unless you compare your result to the solutions/predictions of that equation, you have no idea whether it's consistent.

There are times when I have found it sort of interesting to think about "weird" implications of quantum mechanics, like multiple universes and whether consciousness could be some sort of field, but I certainly wouldn't call this "research", it's really philosophy. And this is totally unrelated to the topic of this thread, which was about how people approach actual math and algorithms.


I am working on figuring out the substructure of particles and how that relates to their properties. We know light energy is transformed into these particles, but I want to know exactly how this is done physically. The clues are there in annihilation events and pair production. From my own work, I can understand why anti-matter acts as it does, yet is rare to find in the universe. Richard Feynman was not wrong to look at anti-matter particles as if they were matter particles going back in time. If no one cares about the results that I find with my research, I am ok with that.



biostructure
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07 Jun 2021, 12:30 am

Ok, good, that doesn't sound like "quantum woo" type stuff.

It's not about how many people care about the results that determines whether I think it's "real" physics research or not, it's whether the work actually tries to explain real phenomena in a way that can then be used to predict things. Like coding your own software that can plot orbitals or find the transition state of a chemical reaction is definitely real physics. People who do "quantum pseudoscience" don't care about visualizing the transition state in some enzyme or something, all they see is "quantum mechanics predicts weird counterintuitive stuff, so miracles are possible". Of course that doesn't follow but there are way more people into that than wonder about how to plot orbitals.



starkid
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03 Aug 2021, 10:31 pm

The difference between the two depends on individual abilities, preferences, and circumstances. Some people do not even have hobbies that could be careers.