A recent episode of Radiolab, dated August 27, 2019, introduced a large audience (including me) to another podcast, The Memory Palace:
With that strong endorsement I began going through the whole back-catalog of The Memory Palace, and Episode 36, dated January 7, 2011, “six scenes from the life of william james sidis, wonderful boy”, talks about Sidis' obsession with bus tickets. Or maybe more precisely, streetcar transfers.
I think it said he figured out ways to traverse great distances on a single fare by connecting transfers. That kind of graph traversal thinking strikes me as ahead of its time for the age of streetcars, and could plausibly have led to some interesting places.
If this written/possible (is it?) today, no doubt we'd have web pages and youtube channels devoted to "Transfer Surfing".
And I've got a new podcast to listen to!
“sought to provide insight into why people behave as they do, particularly in cases of a mob frenzy or religious mania. With the publication of his book Nervous Ills: Their Cause and Cure in 1922, he summarized much of his previous work in diagnosing, understanding and treating nervous disorders. He saw fear as an underlying cause of much human mental suffering and problematic behavior.”
I think his preference is probably closer to the generality and “interestingness” of the discovery.
Darwin’s theory is obviously very general and applicable in a multitude of domains in addition to the original one he worked on. Although Ramanujan’s series were not obviously general but they imply some deep mathematical patterns that are more general than specific forms. Neither had much economic utility during the discoverer’s lifetime.
Seems to have opted out of society for the most part afterward.
I think future generations will see our inability to provide opportunity to genius to rise up as a criminal waste of potential. I sometimes idly speculate how different human society would be if we raised our offspring communally, with every child given the same (high) opportunity to express their capabilities.
As usual Asimov has a riff on this: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deep_(short_story) - worth reading the original story though...
i think this is true. I think there is a statement that is a bit more crisp, genius focuses intensely on what it must.
I, an average person, can focus or not on whatever. perhaps i'm a genius. I'm not a fool, but i'm also not pushing the boundaries. Your phrasing gives me room to think i'm a genius. (i'm not).
Some folks, on the other hand, get hung up on details. And to those details matter a lot. They don't have a choice, in much the same way i don't have a choice about breathing. I'll do it if i want to or not. Genius is obsession. sometimes that obsession leads somewhere and we all benefit. but usually, it's just crazy guy ranting about squirrels.
My problem lately has been acquiring enough free time to be obsessive. I really miss the days of playing piano for 12 hours straight or tinkering around with reverse engineering the OS of some MP3 player. And my wife is pregnant for the first time, so like PG mentions, I wonder (but suspect) how that is going to change things. I have a very intense dread of losing myself in the necessary mundanity of life; I am more financially comfortable than ever, but I also feel less like myself than I ever have. Going to meetings, making dinner, creating to-do lists — these don’t fit my personality at all, but I have to do them because they need to be done.
I think it is the rare person who literally has no obsessive interests at all. Sounds rather sad and boring.
I think it's rare to be obsessed with any of those things, but common to be superficially interested. For instance many people will just watch a TV show and enjoy it, and maybe even rewatch it a few times, without knowing all of the actors or writers or how the production of the show worked, etc etc, while you would expect an obsessed person to know at least some of these things, because they are compelled to find out at much as they possibly can about the object of their obsession.
What makes people laugh? What entertains them and makes them less lonely? Who are the important people in the business? You could watch TV for years and never ask yourself those questions.
After all there’s no real school for TV. Many people on TV now studied it by simply paying closer attention. There are LA insiders for sure who can watch their parents, but there are also people like Letterman who was from a small town in Indiana.
As another example, a lot of UFC fighters also grew up watching the nascent sport in the 90’s. They learned how it worked simply by paying more attention, practicing, and being more obsessive about it than the millions of other fans. There’s no school for it since it was a rapidly developing martial art. YouTube has apparently permanently changed the state of practice in Jiu-Jitsu.
I find it really refreshing when I discover that someone is passionate about something, no matter what it is.
The possibility exists that I could just be a bad interviewer though.
Making small talk with people I have this thought constantly. Is the format of small talk what's preventing us from having a discussion about what you're passionate about or do they lack a passion?
When I was twenty I could afford an obsessive interest in my studies. Now I’m in my late thirties I simply have too much going on.
On the upside, when I’m sixty (which is peak bus ticket collecting age) I can see how I will, finally free of the constraints of work and children, finally have time to obsess again. I hope I still have the mental agility to do it well, and that I don’t get sucked into some bus ticket vortex.
I am not convinced that this is true. I think a lot more people are really interested or passionate about something than you may realize, but not all of them talk about those things to everyone. Alternatively, their passion might be what they do for a living.
So for instance a case of the former might be someone that has a very niche interest, so they have learned that in most cases talking about that thing does not lead to any interesting conversations.
Another possibility is that they might not view themselves as being particularly good at their area of interest (which may or may not be the case), so they don’t like to talk about it.
So for whatever reason, including the above or other reasons, you end up not learning about these interests that those people have when you just talk casually with them.
And as for the people that do it for a living, it could be that they have no interests outside of work, because work fulfills their passion. For example someone who is a really passionate salesperson, if they already truly derive meaning and joy from doing what they do at work, maybe they don’t need anything outside of work other than to relax and recover.
Lastly, another group of people I can think of are those that have interests that are very costly and they don’t have a high paying job. So most of the year they spend a lot of time at work and on the spare time they sit in front of the TV, or the computer and it sounds like they have no passion for anything but really they are spending a lot of time dreaming about the next trip they can afford to go on in the Himalayas or whatever, and when they sit at home they watch programs about skiing, and they read about skiing online and discuss it with others online, and maybe read magazines about it as well.
I’m not saying that everyone has something that they are deeply interested in, but I believe that more people do than one might realize.
It follows that whenever someone has an obsession, it comes up naturally while they talk about themselves.
I find that talking about them usually leads to a predictable surface-level conversation that I'm bound to find boring.
Usually it's only with other experts that I can have an interesting conversation about the details of something I'm very familiar with.
It has nothing to do with what I find most interesting to talk about. It has to do with me assuming that this is what you want to talk about, since you asked about it.
I also kind of expect the person I talk to make own pronouncements about the topic they started, without having to ask "what about you". When I am asking "what about you", it is usually admission that this is not going well, conversation feels one sided and I am desperately trying to make it two sided so I am not the asshole there.
Nor does what I said imply your assertion.
For people who aren't are so fortunate, I always recommend that they look into Kettlebell Simple & Sinister on Amazon from Pavel Tsatsouline (there's a new version, recently released, easy to read and very dense with information and incredible strength training insights).
Simple & Sinister is essentially a 20 minute, no nonsense, 100% legitimate strength training routine that can be done daily, even in combination with other training programs and workouts. Kettlebells take up essentially no space and if you buy a reputable brand you will have this strength training implement for the rest of your life.
For what it's worth, that means that you're actually at an easier phase than you will be when the kids get older. Infants are time-consuming in many ways, but they also sleep a lot and have few external needs of their own.
When your kids stopping napping and start acquiring their own friends and activities, the time commitment goes up a lot, especially when they are still too young to do much for themselves.
Elementary age sort of plateaus: the amount of activities goes up, but they can take care of more of their own maintainance too. I don't know what middle school is like yet, but my hunch is that the time commitment starts going down when they become old enough to go to activities on their own.
Kettlebells, traditionally, jump in 4kg increments. So, on average, with this program, you start with a single 16kg kettlebell, and then move to a 20kg, on up to 32kg.
I have a lot of kettlebells... 2x12kg, 2x16kg, 2x20kg, 1x24kg, 1x28kg, 1x32kg, 1x36kg, 1x40kg. They have a small footprint. I leave them all in a corner in the garage and they take up very little space, maybe 3 square feet. I'm on a different (non-kettlebell) program right now. But, I am using the 32kg on days that are not my main training days for strength-endurance purposes (I like doing between 300 and 500 heavy swings a week).
Sorry for the brevity, but I wanted to respond. Hope it helps.
It seems to reduce the problem back to what might lead to a useful discovery versus what won't. But piano is likely in the latter category, given that its obsessed about so often over centuries. Maybe the time for OS hacking to lead to discoveries is on its way out, as well.
Obsessive cooking might be more likely to be fruitful, come to think of it. We have changing ideas about food production and nutrition; and more enabling technologies around for new ideas.
(I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with obsessing about things that won't lead to discoveries. They could be useful in a more mundane way, or be useless but still engaging.)
You just articulated my worst fear, occasionally some aspect of it creeps into my life when society demands some "busy work" from me... each time it makes me feel like wanting to retreat into the wilderness to escape from society and enjoy nature and do things I actually find interesting.
Although the child prodigy is a popular image, I don't actually know anyone who's ended up doing the same thing all their life since they were young. People bounce around a lot before they hit something that clicks. Sometimes it's at 15, sometimes it's at 50.
Even people who have obsessive interests today first went through their boring phases, too.
Work part-time? I get 1-2 days off per week for projects (and house stuff) then in the evenings/weekends I actually have time and energy for playing with my child.
Plus, it's better for the environment than more work, more consumption.
Have you ever tried not doing things, and seeing what happens? A lot of things are quite frankly unnecessary in life.
Also, you might be surprised at what having a kid does to you, in a good way. Like PG mentions in his essay, once people have kids they tend to be their focus, and it's satisfying to guide them and see them grow.
The chances are your kid will take all your time when they're young and then probably won't share obsessive interest X when they get older.
Just as much with relationships - you can't be an appealing mate by being successful, well-balanced and well-adjusted. Or you can share interest X with you mate. But latter approach gives one 1/10000th as many people - not impossible but it's something to think about.
I think there are some portion of people who could find hobby X appealing but then, consciously or unconsciously think about these considerations and push themselves back to mainstream.
Then puberty hit. I became more interested in making sure my hair and clothes were cool enough, so I could fit in, so I could attract my crush. I became much more addicted into the mainstream grooves of video games, such as League of Legends. I lost interest in random obsessions, and instead replaced it with a more artificial one governed by Riot Games or Blizzard, and the digital points/levels that I got in game.
Then I grew up. I am now working as a software developer, but don't even have much obsession for programming at all. I just don't see how someone can get excited about the intracacies of a programming language, because its so dry and boring. And I feel a bit ashamed for not being too interested in hacking together a MVP anymore, even though programming presents such a huge realm of possibility available to anyone at no barrier/cost to entry. Nowadays, whenever I have a slight interest in anything, the capitalistic worldview has polluted my thoughts by always triggering the thought: "but is this a viable business idea? Could I get recognition from others and provide value such that the market would compensate me?"
I would trade anything to get my childhood obsessions back, because I am living mostly like the repetitive 9-5er you describe.
You will never be bored :p
He reflects upon his life as a doctor for mostly kids. How interactions with parents work out. How he hates methods and recipies to handle your kids, since that tends to distance yourself from the kid, use your instinct instead.
Another book I was really fascinated by was "Barn som bråkar" (Kids that fight) by Bo Heijskov: https://eng.hejlskov.se/books/
I think most books are a good read there. Mostly about how nothing can be solved by screaming/shouting/distancing. Accept that kids have their own mechanics that you need to appreciate and tend to. Angry kids are good, that means they love you enough to share their emotions. Now it is up to you as a guardian to control the structure around the kid to make it easier to exist and control itself.
Most likely I have missed tons of authors, but I strongly believe that if one follows the pattern of giving love to kids and not shout at them, things will be much easier, for both parent and kids. Reading about it and discussing it with ones partner is something that needs to be tended to all the time.
For me as a bonus dad/bonus grandad and dad I fill a lot of roles, I tend to do deep dives in all areas (tech, music, philosofy etc), reading more about the roles I fill was such a joy and time consuming.
To be fair I started out reading Bo Heilskov and then the site with soundbooks gave me the others.
There should be a site like parenting.com which lists all of these.
Kids is never at fault really, they just try their best with given tooling.
2) Ruthless economizing & prioritizing of what's important to you. Combine activities, e.g. biking to work is commute, exercise, and possibly shower all-in-one.
That seemed an odd thing to include. Making food is a rewarding and intriguing pursuit. It combines aesthetics, science, social benefit and sensual rewards. It has a rich history and tons of controversies to poke at.
I never feel that making dinner is a waste of my time.
Here’s a benchmark question: is it better to be right or be popular?
In the past, science was an eccentric hobby, not particularly valued and certainly not a viable career option. Today it's all of these things - like becoming a doctor. Telling your mother you want to be a scientist is far better than saying you want to be a musician. A hundred years ago that wouldn't have been the case.
The consequence of this is that these fields are filled up with careerists - people who are socially driven rather than curiosity driven. I think this might go some way to explaining the slowdown in scientific progress, because people chase low-risk 'hot' fields to advance their careers, rather than splashing about in the unfashionable backwaters of science for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Faraday had no formal training, but his natural intuition, interest, and tenacity made him standout.
Newton was a brilliant, paranoid asshole.
Instead funding goes to credentialed career scientists whose greatest ability is self-promotion, fund raising, and stringing-along the public.
As an example: The next big particle accelerator sucks up billions; while alternative approaches to QM never get any attention because it’s a guaranteed way to kill a career and become a pariah.
So nobody is available to even try to create the theoretical framework at the investment of a few million.
It's a nice narrative that overgrown institutions are ruthlessly repressing all creativity. And I do believe there is some truth to that. We should work hard to understand why and then improve the situation. However, unfortunately, reality is usually more complex and also more mundane (in some ways) than any nice narratives we can come up with.
A great example is a chemist I knew that love research with selenium (an uncommon element). He was most interested in what role it plays in organic chemistry. That’s it.
But when he wrote up grant proposals it was always about the anti-cancer properties of selenium compounds. Never mind the fact he had zero plans to actually pursues that end.
Working a day job in industry isn't categorically different, except that someone is probably watching your spending more closely. You have to figure out a way to set aside some time to work on your own interest, whether you do it at work or at home.
As for money, you can get technology made for 1/10 of what it costs your employer, by choosing your battles, cutting out all of the overhead, and using free stuff.
Newton and Einstein both hit on some big ideas during lulls (@home to avoid plague for the former; patent office work for the latter).
Now things are much more specialized and require years of formal study just to get a base level of knowledge in one tiny aspect.
We have the luxury of hindsight to know which peculiar schools of thought were rubbish, so we don’t even teach them.
I’m sure there are many, many theorems built up with Euclidean Geometry that we don’t bother teaching anymore.
Because modern methods make the results trivial.
Today, what are we burdening upcoming scientists with unnecessarily?
When you come up with a good question, make sure lots of people hear it.
Then they got ignored, and then they finally got useful.
There is a formula you must fit into, 5 days a week, probably 50 hours, a specific attitude, and everything they can get from you. Try this: in your next offer negotiation, ask to cut your salary by 20% and get one day back.
Can't blame them. It is how Tesla and many other inventive minds have been made subject. It's not slavery but it doesn't honor the contributor acting in good faith.
I think it's worse than this: school and academia is no longer the sole option for the ultra curious. Curiosity is better fed by the internet, which means we end up lacking a social institution which captures and unifies people like this.
I'm not sure being a scientist was that unfashionable 100 years ago anyway: research labs were a thing, academic work was arguably more prestigious than it is today, fortunes were being made from inventions especially in fields where there were low hanging fruit, competitions and societies and exhibitions to celebrate scientific achievement had come into existence and the idea of inventiveness was even tied up in popular contemporaneous notions of national and racial superiority. There might be more subfields and more research to build on nowadays, but the stereotype of scientists being underpaid eccentrics certainly hasn't gone away and nor has the fact a mathematics prodigy can make a lot more money working in financial services than academic research.
I'm also unconvinced scientific progress has slowed because today's geniuses are working on interpreting our genetic code, modelling solutions to climate change and solving scaling problems in computation rather than drawing taxonomy diagrams, inventing new types of consumer electronics and breaking the land speed record.
i.e. exactly the people who were, by far, most likely to be living a comfortable, stress-free life back then. We should not underestimate the sheer amount of material progress and economic growth that has occurred since then. A lot more people can have the luxury of getting playfully obsessed about something than could back then.
I guess I’m a bus ticket collector of HN facts.
That average does put things into perspective though.
As an aside, I recently feel at odds with the language many people are using. The mere word 'hate' seems to have grown weird political connotations, while is suddenly okay to hate 'hate'. Is this not fostering the very emotion you revile, under twisted pretense? I remember 'love thy enemy' to have been the twist of the knife in peaceful protest, not sinking to their level with 'justified hate'. It feels hollow. If we want a change, we need to reach out first. /rant
100 years ago the education and financial support for scientific research by European-descended upper middle class men
was a thing.
50 years ago I wasn't expecting it to come back, it wouldn't have helped me anyway, overall scientific opportunities were far worse by then and the trend has continued. I wasn't waiting around for an uptick, I just started right away putting in the effort to try and compensate.
And I agree with this completely:
>There are certainly many geniuses obsessively researching into areas that stimulate their intellectual interest today that wouldn't have had the opportunity to do so back then.
There is so much brilliance in so many cultures through so many millennia, it can be seen that education and financial support are not even essential for genius, mainly for documenting, recognizing, and leveraging the influence of a very very small percentage of geniuses through history, only those few whose works were preserved and/or applied.
Surviving largely within a system of lesser thinkers whose works were better preserved and/or more stongly applied.
Which is why I think
>inventing new types of consumer electronics
can be a good thing if the consumer is given careful enough consideration.
Really! That's news to me. Are you aware of how much scientists are paid and their general career prospects?
The average scientist outside academia is probably doing grunt work and is paid badly - unless they're working in fintech, or something with an obvious financial upside.
The reality is that the entire research system is optimised for direct and indirect cash accumulation, not for genuine innovation or invention. There's some interest in blue sky funding, but if you're a fresh postgrad no grant body is going to give you a lot of money to go off and design a working warp drive unless you also have the bureaucratic skills to make your project sound like something they want to fund - probably for other reasons.
Researchers with good bureaucratic skills and genius-level scientific insights are exceptionally rare. And the publishing system isn't welcoming to talented semi-outsiders
Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and Ramanujan would really struggle in today's environment. Newton might be okay if he managed to get tenure, but the others not so much.
Are you joking? A small child literally has a better chance of growing up to become a professional athlete than a tenured research professor!
In 2016, American universities hired about 20,000 tenure-track faculty . Adding up the major pro sports leagues, there are very very generously 10,000 American pro athletes, (i.e. people who don’t have day jobs).
I guess things change if you include all the minor league and farm teams, especially for the MLB.
I agree but I think it is driven by academia's incentive structure which promotes and rewards such behavior.
Wikipedia was a huge step in the right direction: making everything easier to understand. With lots of proofs and examples.
I think you could easily become billionaire by improving Wikipedia and the "make science and knowledge easily absorbable" 10X easier
Wikipedia has been a godsend for me, to be able to understand core principles without having to wade through what seems to be obfuscated English in order to hide something relatively trivial at the heart of the document.
The purpose of your thesis is to demonstrate to them (and perhaps the larger scientific community) that you can communicate to other scientist in the language of the field, that you possess the requisite knowledge, and that you are prepared to advance that field.
There is no guild, but there are gate keepers (reviewers of various sorts) and you must be prepared well enough to make convincing cases (for publication, funding, etc.) Your advisors were training you for this role.
Science is first and foremost about understanding, and writing in a way that purposefully obfuscates and makes it harder to understand what is communicated is anathema to true science.
While I fully agree that ability to communicate science to the general public is incredibly important, the thesis is not necessary the place for this. Plenty of other places are (blogs, twitter, etc) and this ability is crucial for a publicly funded scientist. General large conferences that I am aware of often encourage non-technical translations of abstracts.
In that sense, perhaps society has made a little progress, in socially embracing those that seem eccentric, quirky or uncomfortable - maybe not always for the right reasons, but it allows more people to be themselves and be happy.
I' vaguely remember confronting my father over a similar issue during my electrical experimental days as a kid, asking him why our house had no adequate protection (those days simple fuses where still normal).
1. The difference between collecting bus tickets, working on mathematics, and figuring the crystallization patterns of snowflakes is virtually nothing. To the people obsessed with it, it is all-important; to outsiders, all three look indistinguishably pointless. Only in retrospect can anyone say whether the activity led to something society considers important. The truly obsessed don't care.
2. Genius is overrated. We like stories of great individuals changing the world with their genius because we like stories and we dislike chance. But for nearly every invention and idea, history shows that multiple people were working on it at the same time. Civilization's progress is more a sequence of ideas whose time had come, but we prefer stories of great unique geniuses.
There is a virus that can release neurotoxins and it is flipped in very specific parts of the brain with a MRI-like device. This can elicit a state of “Focus” where the person (victim more like) becomes totally obsessed with a particular idea or subject. They devote all energy towards this subject and can make stunning breakthroughs on difficult topics because they are utterly and completely _obssessed_ with whatever topic they are supposed to be.
They are held captives by their own fascination and work as slaves.
I know this is taking the idea a bit far from the point, but it’s an interesting extension of the idea.
Agree and not to mention we don't have any data on people who loved and were obsessive and that did not lead to anything. I am actually surprised in how simplistic PG is when he writes some of what he does. For example he states that Darwin was obsessed (as he was) but ignores that just like the bus ticket collector he most likely did that simply because he was interested or curious for some reason. A hobby or a like is no better than anyone else's. Who is to say watching football matters (it doesn't) or collecting stamps matters (it doesn't) or by the same token if you obsess over mathematics (and it matters and leads to something) that that is why you even did it in the first place?
I would even say that often people are obsessive about what they do not even thinking it will lead to anything. I was an obsessive commenter on a site and most would say I was wasting my time. But that activity has led to over 7 figures of income. But I did it because I enjoyed it (and did it every day). Likewise the same happens here on HN. In one sense you might be wasting your time but if you enjoy it and it leads to something is not genuine to say you did it for another reason.
That's amazing! Can you tell us more?
> But for nearly every invention and idea, history shows that multiple people were working on it at the same time.
Not just "people" - "geniuses". History shows multiple geniuses were working on it at the same time.
I do agree that we give too much credit to a single genius. Had Isaac Newton not lived, we'd still have calculus, physics, etc in some form or another. The same thing with Einstein, Turing, etc. But that doesn't mean genius is overrated. What's overrated is the hero worshiping narrative we build around a single genius due to racial or nationalistic reasons.
But I think we should have as many geniuses working on problems as possible rather than saying that genius is overrated.
Shame on you and your ilk for suggesting Descartes, Newton, Kant etc. were just there picking low hanging fruit. They were doing work no one had the courage to do.
Crossing into personal attack isn't allowed, and we ban accounts the keep doing it, so can you please not do it here? If you'd take a look at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html you'll see how the intended spirit of this site points in the opposite direction. Note that it doesn't depend on how right you are.
Now compare that to the modern day, where I'd say a lot higher percentage of people are hitting their potential as a genius. Therefore, a lot more people are coming up with new novel things, but since a lot of the easy major milestones in sciences have been attained, the impact of those single individual geniuses is much smaller.
Modern age Newton could be just a very good AI researcher from England. It's just impossible for humans to have devolved so much that the genius of the previous generations would be so much different than we have today.
> Shame on you and your ilk for suggesting Descartes, Newton, Kant etc. were just there picking low hanging fruit. They were doing work no one had the courage to do.
There's a lot of passion in your comment, but it's also really antagonistic. The person you replied to was very respectful and cogent in expressing their point of view; you abandoned that civility quite quickly - and for what?
If you're as well read as your references imply, surely you can appreciate an argument which casts aspersion on the "lone hero" ideation of historical progress.
The first few crops of Dota millionaires all had the same backstory: "I played this game 14 hours a day. If there were tournaments at all they didn't really pay anything. My parents said I was wasting my life. I never had a girlfriend. Everyone thought I was a loser, but I just wanted to play and win... and now I know it was all worth it."
And the thing that I couldn't help thinking is: was it? I'm not sure that any rational person would make that decision. Even if you could somehow know that competitive gaming would get big enough, and that your particular game would be popular enough, and that you could become good enough to win – that's just table stakes. You then have to actually play the game obsessively for a decade. There are, frankly, far more comfortable ways to earn a million dollars in exchange for 20,000 to 50,000 hours of your life.
It's kind of hard to take a coherent message away from that. Should you become a competitive gamer for the millions? Certainly not then, and definitely not now. Should you hope that your fringe interest (bus tickets, say) becomes a million-dollar enterprise? No, that's probably even less likely.
Perhaps the message is just that millions are delivered to those with a combination of luck and the freedom to pursue rationally unjustifiable interests. A combination that is increasingly rare in an economic system designed to squeeze out the inefficient. Lest we forget the Bell monopoly; we may never see such inefficiency again.
I have a similar story. I dropped out of school at 16, and spent 14+ hours a day playing Stepmania Online, which was Dance Dance Revolution for your fingers. I was one of the best in the world! Then everyone stopped playing and nothing came of it. So for every DOTA millionaire or whatnot there’s likely thousands of people who are obsessed with something equally niche who haven’t realized any financial gains because of it.
Now I’m a software engineer, it’s working out way better than playing video games all day.
Do you still crack open Stepmania every so often for old times sake? I have no idea if any kind of a community still exists around it.
It also gave me a lesson in hierarchies of competence. Even though I was maybe one of the 20 best people ranked in Stepmania Online, there were people who despite the amount of time I’d put in were significantly better at the game. (The name Nima comes to mind, I think he was a concert pianist whose skills translated into perfect accuracy on Stepmania). Despite being really good, I felt like I’d never be the best.
It was also around that time that I met Day9, the pro Starcraft now relatively famous Twitch streamer at a LAN party and he introduced me to Beatmania, which was like Stepmania only more keys. He was so good at it (and arrogant, hah but isn’t any sixteen year old that can be?) that I sort of gave up on Stepmania because it felt like peanuts in comparison.
Anything competitive is emphatically not a good example of this. If you're in a competition, then by definition you're doing the exact same thing as everyone else. That's a guaranteed recipe for not accomplishing anything meaningful in life.
Competition can be great for cultivating positive character traits and developing certain skills, but at some point you need to move beyond it.
Because you're not pursuing personal advantage, this kind of obsession is incompatible with competition. You're obsessively interested in collecting old bus tickets not because you want to get paid, not because you want to be famous, not because you want to change the world, and not because you want to win.
So it's a bit weird for pg to identify "heuristics you can use to guess whether an obsession might be one that matters". If you care about whether a thing matters, instead about the thing itself, then you're not really disinterested.
As soon as your obsession becomes influenced by thoughts of personal advantage, then it's about garden variety ambition and determination, not the magical property of disinterest that pg describes.
Disinterested obsession may be a powerful source of innovation and progress, but the instant you intentionally try to harness this power in pursuit of progress, you destroy the magic of disinterest.
It's interest in the sense of "conflict of interest", not in the sense of finding something fascinating.
"Disinterest" doesn't work at all in any sense of the term. In the absence of overt mental illness, the bus-ticket collector must see it as being in his best interest to spend his time collecting bus tickets, or he'd do something else instead. ("You are your calendar.") The search for gratification, however externally meaningless, is certainly a valid expression of self-interest.
Put another way, if you would object if you were forcibly stopped from pursuing a goal, then you cannot be described as "disinterested."
"Intrinsic motivation", perhaps?
Maybe "impersonal"? Still weirdly contradictory but closer to the meaning maybe.
"detached" or "impartial"?
The limitations of English are weird.
 I worried a little about using the word "disinterested," since some people mistakenly believe it means not interested. But anyone who expects to be a genius will have to know the meaning of such a basic word, so I figure they may as well start now.
From dictionary.com, the second definition of disinterested is "having no interest in something," but the first is, "not influenced by considerations of personal advantage."
I guess the rebuttal might go something like: Business is inherently competitive. Creating startups, you are usually competing not only with old line businesses but with other startups.
I guess the rebuttal to the rebuttal might sound something like Thiel's startup lectures: Startups should try to be anticompetitive, ideally carving out new niches. You don't want to engage in head-to-head competition.
The 3rd degree rebuttal might be something like: There are plenty of examples of successful startups that began as clones of other businesses (Facebook seems the canonical example).
But then as you say, they moved beyond being a clone of Friendster/Myspace/Tribe/etc... but isn't that the competitive process?
Even if you create or exploit something wildly new that is completely beyond reach for anyone else at that moment – let's say you made time travel viable tomorrow – as soon as you did and started commercialising it, competition would start forming later that day.
For everything else, you will right off the gate be competing with someone over something (at the very least time and money). Airbnb is competing with Hotels/Motels, Uber with Taxis, Facebook with MySpace. MySpace with more specialised communities and GeoCities. The internet was competing with telephones, mail, fax and the yellow pages.
Can you elaborate?
What the above comment is about applies to so much in life, from education to careers because at their core, they are competitions.
> If you're in a competition, the. By definition you're doing the exact same thing as everyone else.
There are people who play competitive, ranked, games 3 hrs a week and are happy with being in the top 50% of players
And there are people who spend 30hrs a week in a game and are profoundly unhappy they're only in the top 5% of players.
Those wind up being two very different paths, and it applies to way more than just gaming, like education, which I can speak from experience to that
From a young age I would spend hours upon hours on computers working on my games and random ideas. Even in school I would skip classes to work on my own projects in a computer lab.
My parents felt it was a complete waste of time (especially since it became a huge drain on my performance at school). I didn't have nearly as many close friends as I should have, didn't form a lot of the bonds people growing up do, it ruined my relationship with my parents.
At the end of the day through luck or something I scraped through high school with a .1 above failing GPA, dropped out of community college after failing 2 semesters and started a career in tech by freelancing.
Now 5 years later and the positions I've taken are consistently higher seniority than my friends who did CS in college, so it worked out, but at what cost?
Those years I lost, not even talking to one of my parents for over a year despite living in the same house, wasn't really worth it.
But it was an obsession, I didn't obsess over programming because I wanted to have a great career one day, it was because I couldn't help it. It was almost like an addiction that I got lucky enough to have double as a marketable skill.
It's crazy how much article really resonates with my experience, almost annoyingly so since I feel like a bus ticket collector sometimes, sure tech is a marketable skill, but you sure build a lot of unimportant stuff
The examples given in the post are not competitions.
The bus ticket collector is interested in old bus tickets, and is not competing with anybody.
Ramanujan obsessed over series, and was not competing with anybody.
But actually I disagree with saying Ramanujan wasn't competing with anyone, he just wasn't trying to compete
Plenty of people would consider any academic field a competition, even if not everyone in the field is there to compete
The competitive nature of the mathematics field easily have to do with why Ramanujan was not taken as seriously as he should have been at first. A "competitor" was coming with claims to grand contributions and that already created friction, which when combined with other factors about his non-traditional presentation became roadblocks.
That's a mistaken conclusion because you didn't follow it properly to the narrowed end: if you're in a large field of competition at a thing and you're among the best in the world at it, then the exact opposite is more likely to be true (you will likely do something meaningful and have extreme success) and your supposed guaranteed recipe collapses.
This premise holds true in eg: business, acting, music, science, traditional sports, games like chess, and numerous other fields.
Right now, around the world, dozens (or hundreds) of scientists are competing to reach the same breakthrough. They may not know who all the competitors are and may not know they're all chasing the same thing, but they are. One or a small group of them will get there before the rest. It is competition and it doesn't exclude you from doing something meaningful: you need to win the competition.
See: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Craig Venter, Garry Kasparov, John Carmack, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos
All had to rise to the top of highly competitive fields with a large supply of competitors. How many other grunge bands were there next to Nirvana? How many other singers did Whitney Houston have to stand apart from? How many other women (frequently younger, a big deal in tennis) has Serena Williams had to competitively outlast over ~20 years to spend so much time on top of her sport and put together one of the greatest sports careers of all-time? It's a never ending supply of younger, highly talented competitors, and yet Williams did what she did.
This is absolutely false and a terrible thing to perpetuate. Work ethic has the highest controllable coefficient to success as an output. Luck exists and the universe is probabilistic, yes, but it is not non-deterministic.
This self-lashing of our community and amongst the populist movement that is growing in popularity in the EU and US is ridiculous, reducing the sum total of human achievement into lucky chance rather than actually understanding the probabilistic universe and knowing that while our actions do not wholly determine our fate, they play the single largest role we have control over, and as such, it would be better to believe the myth that we have full control over our destiny rather than this ridiculous concept that luck controls ~100% of circumstance.
Probability theory needs to be taught in primary school, apparently, because for members of even this community, the fallacy of determinism and binary outcomes run rampant.
Why think in black and white ?
We have a lot impact on our lives, but there's also some luck involved, especially if we want to achieve extreme things.
Not the sum total of achievement, just a single individual's achievement. An individual's achievement can indeed be attributed ~100% to luck. For every Einstein there are hundreds of equally brilliant geniuses who died picking cotton in a field.
The economy of today is so efficient and supply chains are so effective at moving things to people who need them, that it seems incredibly stupid to not use it to provide some kind of basic necessities to every human being, no questions asked.
If the US were to do this today, there would be more innovation, less misery, a supercharged economy as you've increased the purchasing power of millions of people overnight...It a fucking no brainer. And cutting taxes rather than providing more benefits seems like the most stupid way to run a country I've ever seen in my life.
While your friend, who did nothing for 5 years, maintains the same standard of living that you do.
I guess this could work, but to me, the level of "disinterest" required to be okay with this result is even more rare than genius.
No rational person that isn't already well off would take a 1% shot at 1 billion over a 10% shot at 100 million.
Progressive taxation and social safety don't stifle economies, they make them thrive. They act as a negative tax on risk, and create a framework where actors are free to pursue higher EV bets without worrying as much about utility value. Literally the entire point is to create more pie for everyone.
Bludgers getting "free money" is just a side effect. You're not paying for them with your taxes, you're paying into an insurance fund with all the other innovators. Except this fund is +EV, subsidized by all the other countries in the global economy that aren't taking the same gains. You're the one getting the free money, and the leaners are taxing some percentage of that.
The only reason every successful country in the world isn't already doing it is because of this unintuitive "common sense" optic that you (and about a billion others, literally) are propagating: that somehow it breaks the rules of "fairness". The reality is it's got absolutely nothing to do with fairness, it's about maximizing the bottom line, just like in business. Governments don't give a shit about individual people, nor should they (at least not at the expense of society).
Also, I'd guess most first world countries could easily (and do) provide a world class social safety net without going over 50% taxation in any bracket, not even billionaires. Your example only applies if you're talking about taxation in the 70-100% range.
Honestly, is this such a bad thing? Why do we incentivize innovation by promising people a basic standard of living? We reward people who take risks with something better than that anyways, so I see no problem with giving people not willing to take those risks something lesser than that “for free”.
For every "Ronaldo" there are a small amount of moderately successful players playing soccer for a good living.
The myriad is the group of people that are coasting their way through life trying to put in as little effort as possible and naturally they don't succeed.
Ok, you've heard of Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet, have you heard of Dani?
Like Ronaldo he was launched int Sporting Clube de Portugal's first team when he played for the club's U17 team. Unlike Ronaldo, Dani didn't had a heart condition. Unlike Ronaldo, Dani had more appearances in his first year in the first team, and was quickly picked by WestHam and Ajax.
Unlike Ronaldo, Dani had a notoriously poor work ethics. Unlike Ronaldo, Dani's impressive start was squandered and he went nowhere, he achieved nothing and has since been forgotten.
Work ethics is the deciding factor. You may have won the genetic lottery and be a bonafide ubermensch but if your work ethics suck then you'll quickly be surpassed by those lesser talented but more hard working than you.
If the definition of success is wealth or notoriety, there are certainly people who achieve it without those traits.
Have you given thought to whether these are the absolute baseline...or actually the consequences of practices more fundamental?
However, just being "a hard worker" in itself is considered a virtue by many people.
I hesitate to call it the Protestant Work Ethic or the Puritan Work Ethic, as it's far from limited to Protestants or Puritans, but that's really what it is. The harder you work, the more virtuous you are considered to be, and working less is considered sinful or lazy (in other words, unvirtuous and blame-worthy).
And sometimes no matter how hard you work, you're one of those people under the rungs.
Tarn and Zach Adams are also bus ticketers.
I disagree of how you define rationality here. If someone feels it serves them fine to play 14 hours of a game, it seems perfectly rational for me. Especially in the case that you mentioned, where they were playing before any big money was on the table. It means they liked, despite a lot of people judging them with an air of superiority.
edit: I re-read my previous comment and I am not sure I could make it more clear.
if a game does not gives money prizes at all, the ones who are playing it are not playing for the money.
They played the game they loved and they loved to win at it
When money arrived into e-games they were most prepared
I don’t like competitive gaming so even if you tell me there are millions to be made I still won’t do it, it seems something so unattainable
Where do you see that message? No luck was involved in your example, just hard work on behalf of the good players and of the Dota developers, and pursuing a hobby with passion is perfectly rational.
To a point, yes. Though we may disagree on the threshold where it crosses over from rational to unhealthy obsession. And there is certainly luck involved when there are tens who found fortune out of millions participating.
Frankly, back 20 years ago I would have never thought that watching someone play a game would become a form of entertainment.
Then what the hell are NFL, NBA, etc? People have been watching others play a game as a form of entertainment for as long as society can remember:
Even after popular chess matches on TV in the 80's, 90's?
So, did they play these games in the hope to make millions, or because they liked them?
Not everything is about ROI, I'm also not saying playing Dota for your entire life is going to be particularly fulfilling in many other ways thought - after all they are playing out their lives within the very finite confines of someone else's creation.
The author does point this out as a suggested heuristic, if you are obsessed with someone elses creation, it's probably not going to be very fruitful (whether fruitful means money, scientific discovery, or fulfillment ones curiosity etc).
If you told these guys to be a competitive gamer for the millions, they probably would have stuck to competitive fishing or whatever they were doing anyway. Taking a message or leadership from it is kind of the antithesis of the point. The point is that some social pursuits are the birthplace of the next big thing and some people who are focused on socializing need to make the choice on pursuits that have a potential and pursuits that don't like. Dance class is pretty dead as a career, but we're going to need people who can sort quality from quantity in a few years, the people focused on a qualitative pursuit socially need to pick a field where it's obvious that's needed like journalism or the swath of video games sure to flood the market.
It doesn't have much to do with rational decision making in detail and is instead a generalized story about the different directions in life you can choose.
>> it's more promising if you're creating something, rather than just consuming something someone else creates
Gaming consumes the creative efforts of others. It's fun, invigorating and a healthy pass-time. But it's not good ground for growing genius.
You have to weigh your current abilities and their earning potential vs. the costs of venturing into a new field.
Being at the top of Dota is easier than being at the top of Math or Chess or Go, since Dota is a newer field. They aren't really comparable, but you still compare them if you are trying to figure out what you want to put your time into.
Some people just get lucky and find the thing they are good at on the first try. Then they can maximize their hours available for that thing.
Other people (probably the majority) have to try different fields and start later, and ultimately have less time overall to spend.
So it actually seems rational (if maximizing hours-spent is your goal) to go all-in on the first thing that grabs your interest, which could be Dota.
I slightly disagree - neither Chess nor Go have nearly the millions of new players playing it obsessively as they come of age. Math is a bit different, but often times “good at math” isn’t very rewarding except as it pertains to an ancillary job, or if you’re one of the relative few who become a math major.
There’s also a major drop off over time with MOBA players - the average age is 22 or something for professionals. Eventually the reflexes get worse.
As a result, more and more areas of science and technology get stuck near local maxima. The same happened in all ancient civilisations.
I think you are confusing financial success with contributing to artistic/scientific/intellectual progress.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a genius to work in FAANG. It's a lot of luck. You just have to give yourself as many good chances in the interview pipeline as possible.
Nah, millions are delivered to those who already have millions, everything else is noise that is overemphasized to distract the bottom 80+%.