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Ask HN: Will there be fewer mathematicians due to fear of brain fog?
4 points by amichail 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments
If a viral infection could destroy your ability to do math research due to brain fog, then maybe you will avoid this career path?





I think anyone afraid of that will avoid the causes of brain fog (to the extent possible), rather than the enormous list of hobbies or careers that you might no longer be able to do if you did get a bad case of it.

Intellectual hobbies and careers are chosen because life without them is boring, more than because of the money — it doesn’t look like Pratchett was put off writing as a result of her father getting early onset Alzheimer’s, for example.


Is there any reason to believe yourself unusually vulnerable to this virus, or unusually likely to develop brain fog if you did get it? There really isn't any career that can't be wrecked if you acquire a major new disability (through infection, accident, whatever).

Any career path that requires strong cognitive skills is susceptible of being damaged due to brain fog, not just mathematics. Will there be fewer people doing all of them?

Mathematics research requires the most intelligence though.

Mathematician might prove something important, then in case of getting a brain fog to switch for something no-brain like civil servant, in opposite case to keep researching. Why somebody needs to choose being a civil servant if for the time being he has enough skills to be a mathematician?

I do not think that is true at all.

Really? How do we know that?

Why do we know that 1+1=2?

Pretty much because we define it as such.

I.e. in traditional(*) axiomatic setup of the natural number system, "+1" is called the "successor" operation, and apart from "there being 1", we also assume that "there is a successor to 1" and then call that "2". Everything else (remarkably) flows from there: all the other numbers (whole numbers, rational, real, complex numbers), most of the Mathematical Analysis with the infinitesimals, differentiation and integrals and differential equations... After the summation is defined as an operation having a concrete set of properties, it's proven that "+1" is equivalent to "succ(1)".

(*) A more recent approach is to use set cardinality instead of the "successor" approach, but regardless of the approach, even in maths, we simply take some things for granted. I find the successor approach much more approachable for the general public though, since it's so simple, and truly requires not too much (mathematical) intelligence.


You gave a perfect answer, much better than I expected. But I mean, a long time ago, 1+1 meant, "Look, Harry, what that eccentric Pythagoras is talking about again." Some research can be difficult, like how to kill this mammoth, or how to kill any mammoth, or how to make a livestock farm so there is always fresh meat. But mathematical research is the most difficult, because only the most omnipotent knowledge is considered mathematics. That's why OP's point [1] is valid but maybe the definition of "mathematician" word is missing for making the question interesting.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32943723


Wasn’t that “by definition” for a few millennia, then “that’s not good enough, let me invent set theory, oh no there’s an irreconcilable flaw and now I’m depressed” followed by nonchalant whistling by subsequent mathematicians?

Some people who get "brain fog" from a virus have to relearn how to read and do basic math. No point in worrying about "what ifs". Do your best to stay uninfected and make the most of the brain you have today.

That would be like thinking there will be less pilots because you can get a viral conjunctivitis and loss vision, what would invalidate you medical. Wouldn't it?



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