DecayingOrganic a month ago

Although this article is well-written, I'm not convinced that he was "lost," or that he didn't really like math, based only on a few anecdotal stories. Furthermore, the article says that "he dropped out of high school to become a poet," but please note that, a number of students drop out of high school in South Korea to fully focus on the college entrance exam, in hopes of getting into better universities. This is not uncommon at all. And sure enough, he got accepted into the best university in South Korea, majoring in astronomy and physics. One of his classes was even taught by a Fields Medalist. If this is his definition of "being lost," I'm not sure if I'll ever be found.

  • ken47 a month ago

    I can't say whether he disliked math, but I think it's clear that he didn't want to pursue it initially, for practical reasons if nothing else. As you can find in his bio on Wikipedia, he performed poorly on mathematical aptitude tests in elementary school, and so he thought he wouldn't be particularly good at it. If these are the kinds of math tests that I encountered as a kid (multiply, divide, solve single-variable equations, etc. as fast as humanly possible), it's unsurprising that he could still be good at abstract math, because these 2 skillsets have almost nothing in common.

    • javajosh a month ago

      >these 2 skillsets have almost nothing in common

      Are you sure about that? I know at least some number theory can help with quick mental calculations. For example, I remember that if the digits of a number add to 9 the number itself is divisible by 9. I'm sure there are lots of other relationships like that.

      • timkam a month ago

        Of course there is some correlation between the two skillsets (with respect to ability): people who can abstract well can also understand the underlying ideas that are useful for fast calculation, and for both one needs to have a reasonably good memory (to rely on in an exam and when developing a mathematical intuition, respectively). But to be the best in high school 'math' (calculation) requires a degree of extrinsically-driven, dull discipline. One can probably be best in class without taking this degree to the extreme, but among the best in class, many excel at exactly this (and not at abstract thinking), which I find a bit troubling.

        • jacobr1 a month ago

          The bigger tragedy is how widespread the belief that calculation _is_ math. Even for the university educated, the capstone mathematical course of often some version of calculus ... it is even in the name!

          Personally, my first introduction into the more abstract mathematical concepts was a trigonometry class in high-school and later was fortunate enough to take more theoretical classes at university. It would be wonderful to introduce some of the more accessible, elegant concepts to kids at an earlier age.

          • mmmpop a month ago

            Limits are taught in a way that gives the learner a taste of higher math, but when I took university calculus at 18 I wasn't really enthused about the "beauty". 15 years later I finally get it and am working my way into some coursework that will require upward of real analysis, but I wonder what changed in my brain to care all of a sudden? How can I have been inspired earlier in my life/career?

            • javajosh a month ago

              This has happened to me several times over the years, where some topic only half-understood in college suddenly becomes clear. It feels as if some part of my mind was slowly chewing on it all this time, and finally finished its work.

  • muh_gradle a month ago

    No even by Korean high school standards, he definitely had an unconventional path. Huh landing in Seoul National University is definitely a result of his pure, raw talent. But while it's not uncommon to graduate in 6 years in South Korea, I doubt anyone would have anticipated a Fields medal when he was rejected by all the US doctoral programs save UIUC. He is obviously beyond gifted, but he didn't take a conventional path to math.

    • adamsmith143 a month ago

      It just points to faults in the University system. If no University in the US could adequately judge his talent, how many other potential Fields level Mathematicians were also missed?

      • Hydraulix989 a month ago

        It has to be a small number, given the rarity of the honor.

        • adamsmith143 a month ago

          Fields level, meaning good enough to possibly win one. Not necessarily actual winners.

      • BeetleB a month ago

        Kinda similar to the fault in interviewing for SW jobs as well, right?

      • jjtheblunt a month ago

        It's interesting UIUC recognized it early

      • geodel a month ago

        It would be a fault if there are examples of other systems where there are zero chances of something like this occurring.

        • adamsmith143 a month ago

          So this system has no faults because other systems have faults?

  • zahllos a month ago

    I can believe he wasn't sure mathematics was his calling during high school. I wasn't sure I would do a degree in mathematics until near the end, then I did (am no way near a fields medalist). But this is time up to 18-19. There's a lot of time after that.

    However he took a course high in mathematical content and it sounds like he must have switched to mathematics for grad school, I.e. after his undergraduate or masters. In other words, he did the preparation. If it is anything like physics courses I have seen they feature a lot of mathematics courses anyway.

    Some people have a lot of natural ability in mathematics but this is not enough to do good research. There's no way around hard work.

    Also, dropping out of high school in many places significantly reduces your chances of going to university because you do the qualifications you need at the high school equivalent.

  • sicp-enjoyer a month ago

    > One of his classes was even taught by a Fields Medalist.

    Yeah, you don't "happen into" a course on algebraic geometry. He must have dedicated a large amount of undergraduate courses to math, or demonstrated aptitude in another way.

    • tooltalk a month ago

      that's but the article also says "he had to retake several courses." It's no fun "retaking classes."

  • spoonjim a month ago

    Yes, this is a weird romantic retcon of a highly accomplished mathematician as some kind of artist-drifter. He was not a tip top performer as an undergraduate but this is more like a sixth round NFL draft pick winning the Super Bowl, not some couch potato accidentally stumbling onto the field and winning the Super Bowl.

  • Dracophoenix a month ago

    Can one officially drop out of a South Korean high school before going to university? I would think that SNU would have required a transcript and not just rely on CSAT scores given its really low acceptance rate.

    • sanxiyn a month ago

      South Korean dropout here. Yes you can. You take a test granting something legally equivalent to high school diploma (as I understand, GED in US is something similar?) and there is a legally mandated conversion table from test score to transcript which is accepted by all universities.

      • Dracophoenix a month ago

        So a 14 year-old (western age) can just take a test, graduate from high school in a year, go ronin for another and matriculate by 16? That sounds incredibly interesting. I'd love to hear your story, even if its a short summary.

        Yes, in the United States, you can take a GED to graduate but that's usually reserved for adult high school students. I've never heard of it being used to skip high school and go straight to college admissions.

        The closest parallel that I know of is Early Bird/Junior Admission. Essentially, one must first obtain all the credits required to graduate, and then as a high school junior apply to a college/university (although that only seems to be an available option for a few colleges) but it isn't exactly the same as what you're describing.

        • syntheweave a month ago

          There was a stoner kid in my US magnet school who, to the best of my understanding, did the GED to graduate at 15, then went on to the local community college. As far as I know they've always taken high schoolers for credit courses so this route would ultimately result(if aiming for a four-year bachelor's) in transferring with a pile of course credits at 18.

  • nsxwolf a month ago

    Nothing could have made me feel more mediocre or small than reading this article. Was it supposed to inspire me?

    • strikelaserclaw a month ago

      Why? From the article you can tell that he wasn't one of those whiz kids who wins the IMO with a perfect score at age 14. He seems like one of those guys who really thinks deeply about something because they love the subject and not just to arrive at an answer.

    • paulpauper a month ago

      it is called Quanta Magazine

ken47 a month ago

This passage caught my attention:

He proceeds just as deliberately when doing mathematics. Wang was shocked when he first witnessed it. “I have this math competition experience, that as a mathematician you have to be clever, you have to be fast,” he said. “But June is the opposite. … If you talk to him for five minutes about some calculus problem, you’d think this guy wouldn’t pass a qualifying exam. He’s very slow.” So slow, in fact, that at first Wang thought they were wasting a lot of time on easy problems they already understood. But then he realized that Huh was learning even seemingly simple concepts in a much deeper way — and in precisely the way that would later prove useful.

Having gone through the American education system, I felt like I was in a factory being evaluated as a potential end product. Steamroll through as much material as quickly as possible. Optimize behavioral patterns for the next performance metric. Rinse and repeat. Is this really the best system we can come up with? Can the pace of mathematical and scientific advancement be optimized by steamrollers? I wonder how much potential we've missed as a society because the education system has been trying to force everyone through the same hole, and destroying intellectual curiosity in the process.

Personally, my experience with this educational system turned me off from "math." It was only much later in life when I learnt that the mindless algorithms that I had to personally execute for years on end to get into university could barely be considered math at all. Only then could I begin to appreciate how elegant real math could be. And I doubt I'm alone in my experience.

  • rfrey a month ago

    My kid was enamored by math from the earliest age, and pretty good at it too. He read proofs for fun at about age 6, and was writing them for fun by 7. Calculation seemed to come pretty easy to him as well.

    But he is slow! He did a bunch of cognitive tests where he was testing 3rd std deviation on most tasks. Except processing speed, where he was in the 2nd percentile. You'd present him with his times tables, and he would take 15 seconds to get "8x7"... but he didn't slow down as as the psychiatrist progressed through the test. He'd get to some 6th grade problem, and it'd be the same 15 seconds and blank look before the solution came out. He was an O(1) machine with a huge constant.

    And school utterly killed his interest in math. From grade 2 onwards it was speed competitions and public humiliation in front of his class. After grade 3 he refused to do anything related to math outside of what's required because he was "way to stupid for that".

    • Agingcoder a month ago

      Laurent Schwartz (former fields medallist) states in his autobiography (which I do recommend) that he was particularly slow - however being slow doesn't mean you're bad. It just means that you're slow, but this has no implication as to how far you'll go!

    • ryloric a month ago

      How long ago was this? Did he get back into it later?

      My school had this thing called mental math, learning to do arithmetic really fast as a large portion of my 4th or 5th grade material. I absolutely sucked at it and I lost interest in any kind of math. My dad who teaches college math for a living was very disappointed when that happened.

      Around 8th grade, I started doing some plane geometry and it sort of opened up my mind in a way that's hard to explain. I remember spending a lot of evenings working my way through several geometry books and problem sets. I sort of branched out into other areas and developed enough skill to make it to national olympiads and other such competitions. I don't do math now, but I think it had a reasonable amount of influence of my eventual path through life.

      Who knows, maybe he'll pick it back up again in a few years.

    • colineartheta a month ago

      I'm curious why you didn't get involved as the parent and possibly engage his interest outside of the classroom, or even put him in a different school or situation where he wouldn't be humiliated? I'm sorry for how this is going to sound, but your anecdote reads to me more that you killed his interest in math through your own (in)actions; the school simply serves as a useful copout.

      • kshahkshah a month ago

        I don’t think the 6 year old was getting access to proofs to read on their own. It sounds like OP very much did encourage his interest.

      • rfrey a month ago

        Thanks for your helpful parenting advice.

  • buchoo a month ago

    That passage reminded me of a remark by the 2002 French Fields Medalist Laurent Lafforgue:

    "My specificity today among French mathematicians is not to know more mathematics than others, I can even admit that I know less mathematics than most French and foreign mathematicians. It's not about being 'great' either, I'm not great at all, on the contrary I have a rather slow mind. When I listen to a seminar, I'm probably one of those who understand the least what is being said: an idea in an hour, for me, that's already a lot. No, the only explanation for the successes that I have been able to obtain in mathematics is my being imbued by the reading of the great classics."

    As for your experience, you are indeed very far from alone.

    • ask_b123 a month ago

      I wonder which great classics would those be.

      • buchoo a month ago

        Not very specific, but he says:

        "In my parents' house, there were a lot of books: all the great authors of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, translated foreign authors. I spent my youth, and still today I spend most of my time, reading literary works, and particularly those of French literature."

        • adamsmith143 a month ago

          He totally learned Abstract Algebra from Dumas.

          • Viliam1234 a month ago

            The Three Musketeers -- Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan

            If this doesn't make you think about math, nothing will.

          • Agingcoder a month ago

            Thanks, this made made laugh :-)

            • ttonelli a month ago

              Thanks, this made me re-read parent more carefully, which then made me laugh :)

  • jebarker a month ago

    I am both a slow thinker and forgetful, but I've learned that those are not required skills for being good at maths.

    When I started my undergrad in maths (in the UK) they gave us a day 1 test to check we could recall certain pre-requisites from school. I did poorly because I had forgotten all the tricks for those particular exam questions and was put in an additional "catch up" class. It was a real gut punch and I questioned whether I was cut out for maths at all. Fast-forward six years and I ended up with a PhD in pure maths from the same university. Turned out that when given the time to read and think at my own pace and allowed reference to books and my own notes I was pretty good at abstract math.

    Fast-forward another ~15 years and I'm a machine learning researcher for a SV company. The same issue rears it's head now as an inability to contribute usefully in meetings. I can't think fast enough to keep up and don't have anything useful to say when put on the spot. I much prefer to read written communication and take the time to formulate my responses. This is not the company culture though, so I do suffer problems with effective collaboration.

    • lordnacho a month ago

      This thread struck a nerve with me. As a kid I loved math, did all the math contest stuff, even won one at one point, skipped a year in math. I went to visit my old retired math teacher a couple of weeks ago, he's in his 80s.

      In school I never had a problem with speed or understanding, nor at university. But what hit me was the realization that "actual math" is probably not a load of little riddles. I often wondered how I'd ever solve something that someone hadn't contrived to have an elegant solution, something completely new and insightful that nobody had proven before. There's quite a leap from your tricky olympiad problem that you can find a good video for, and proofs of things in higher math.

      The other thing that struck me was that our current system destroys all appreciation for beauty. There's so many beautiful things in math, but we're forced to calculate, quickly. Especially in the engineering side I went into, it ended up becoming very mechanical.

    • filipmrc a month ago

      Your post made me create an account because I'm in a very similar situation. I was not "good" at math until later years of undergrad, where more abstract topics made me fall in love with it. I never could follow courses by going to class and had a much easier time just reading and taking notes. I'm now finishing a robotics PhD where I had the opportunity to do pretty well as a slow thinker by taking the time to understand and apply concepts from computational algebraic geometry.

      Currently I'm doing an ML research internship at a SV company and this problem of "slowness" at meetings is really resonating with me. I have a hard time following quick verbal communication, I just need the time to think in order to contribute. I don't know it's like I just phase out or forget what we were talking about.

      Have you found any useful techniques to do better in this type of environment? Is there any advice you would give your younger self?

      • jebarker a month ago

        Sorry for the delay, I had to think about my response...

        I think I know some good strategies, but I often fail to live by them still. Firstly, encourage written/async communication by setting a good example:

        - Keep up-to-date written descriptions of projects and progress in a wiki that is available to all colleagues.

        - Deliver high quality presentations on your research periodically. These don't have to be reserved for big public conferences.

        - Send regular but concise status update e-mails to a list of likely interested colleagues. Advertise your wiki here.

        - Send out edited meeting notes within a day or two of working meetings.

        General advice I'd give my younger self is pretty cliche, but to trust in my abilities and the value I can provide by working in ways that are comfortable to me. It's more important to take care of my long term mental health than it is to be in the spotlight or maximizing output all the time. Quality work speaks for itself and doesn't need to be continually delivered. Don't get sucked in to false urgency. Delivering a couple of genuinely useful things per year (and publicizing those appropriately) is enough to keep you in people's minds but give you the space to think deeply about the real work.

        I say this from a place of privilege though where, somehow, I've managed to accrue a large amount of experience and ended up in a secure research position. The company (and team) I work for give me a lot of autonomy and I have a very supportive manager.

        Applying computational algebraic geometry to robotics sounds fascinating. What are some highlight papers in that area?

    • pessimizer a month ago

      The modern world wants you to be spontaneously correct. To answer quickly and confidently. To be thoughtful without thinking about it.

  • blabberwocky a month ago

    Curiosity negative feedback loop aside, I wonder if the steamrolling incentive is also why so many people eventually “hit a wall” in their math studies. You can only get so far without a solid base for a cumulative knowledge area like math.

    The bar for SATs and similar college admissions tests is set remarkably low, though, such that one may never run into this problem without going into a mathy field. But it does seem like a slow-and-steady approach taken by a greater number of people could encourage more interest and deep thinking, and possibly a greater contribution to the field and society overall.

    • Viliam1234 a month ago

      > I wonder if the steamrolling incentive is also why so many people eventually “hit a wall” in their math studies. You can only get so far without a solid base for a cumulative knowledge area like math.

      There is a known (but mostly ignored) educational method called -- you should teach kids until they actually get it, and only then move to the next lesson. This method may be slower at the start, but later gains speed because kids with solid background understand the new concepts faster, and do not need to relearn the old concepts all the time.

  • Azrael3000 a month ago

    Well if you look at todays economy what do companies require? Fast and faster is the way. The schools are here to produce fast workers. There's hardly a day a year where you can sit down and work on a project without time pressure.

    • Viliam1234 a month ago

      Ah, the pleasures of agile development! There is never time to implement something properly, but at least we are sure that all developers are kept busy every week.

      If you think about the problem, discuss it, and then implement the solution properly, it's only one ticket. But if you make a half-assed solution, change it twice, and fix seven related bugs, that is ten tickets, with a potential to make even more tickets in the future.

      • kadoban a month ago

        Is that really what agile is in your experience? Who is preventing you from doing tickets that involve the real solution? Can you not write your own tickets? Are you pushed too much to size them too small or something?

        • Viliam1234 a month ago

          Agile is quite different in theory and in practice. In theory, it should be a replacement of management by autonomous developer teams making their own estimates and communicating directly with the customer. In practice, at least in my experience, it is just a buzzword and a set of empty rituals.

          In practice, if I write my own ticket, some manager will give it a priority 2. And the tickets with priority smaller than 1 never get done, because there are always enough tickets with priority 1, i.e. those written by the management. A few years later, when the project is decommissioned, the tickets with priority lower than 1 are still in the backlog. Of course, if having your ticket in the backlog makes you happy, just go ahead and make one.

          It is not how it should be done, in theory. Knowing that does not help much.

          • kadoban a month ago

            That sucks. In my team that's not how it works.

            There's tickets I know we'll never get to, but things we do actually have time for get real attention, with enough focus and resources to do whatever solution is actually correct. There's often tradeoffs for time, but they're ones we have real input in.

  • agumonkey a month ago

    Without school systems failures, there's a value in not rushing. I used to be quick, I'd iterate thousands of times in my head, until I could find an answer. But I didn't grasp the breadth of mathematical beauty, the coherence of abstractions, the various ways to interpret them, play with them. I was obsessed by finding "one answer".

  • nmfisher a month ago

    I felt the same way, but interesting that he grew up in South Korea. From what I gather, it's very similar to the Chinese system over there, particularly when it comes to maths. Endless rote learning and an overwhelming focus on standardized test results, to the exclusion of the type of slow, deep, "playful" learning referred to in the article.

    • sanxiyn a month ago

      As a former South Korean student, I'd say it's focused on standardized test but that doesn't imply rote learning. At some level of test difficulty, it starts to be more efficient to actually understand the material, because you can't memorize all possible questions.

nonrandomstring a month ago

"it feels like you’re grabbing something that’s already there, rather than creating something in your mind."

This is why the conceit of "intellectual property" has always bothered me. I relate to what he describes as "finding things". Those things are are eternally "out there" for all to find. I can put up a signpost or build a road to show you the way, but how can a mere man own what is part of the infinite and eternal?

  • InefficientRed a month ago

    Interestingly, patent law agrees with you — mathematical theorems, for example, cannot be patented.

    In principle, a patent should cover specific machinery/process/material designed for a task rather than the underlying more ephemeral/indefinite concept powering the invention.

    The interesting thing is that, of those, machine and process seem like the least conceited. Composition of matter seems more like sticking a flag in infinite ground. But in practice it’s the former two that power most of what I consider an abuse of the spirit of patent law. But perhaps that’s just my personal bias and the bio or materials people will disagree.

    What can we say? Profit motive is a strong incentive and lawyers/judges are clever.

    Anyways, with 7B people and counting, a term limited right to one idea in the infinite space of ideas seems less harmful than perpetual rights to a piece of land.

    • onedognight a month ago

      > seems less harmful than perpetual rights to a piece of land.

      Interestingly, society agrees with you; for the most part, we don’t grant perpetual rights to a piece of land. Instead we charge property tax to ensure you are doing something productive with it. You have to generate enough free cash flow to pay the taxes or you lose the land.

      • InefficientRed a month ago

        Not really. The property taxes on a piece of land I own are about $200 per year, which can be paid in perpetuity with a low five figure endowment stored in zero risk FDIC-insured CDs. In most counties, property taxes are fairly marginal and come nowhere near necessitating that land is used productively.

    • j-pb a month ago

      Except that they are in the form of software patents.

      We live in this complexity nightmare partly because all the simple and obvious solutions are easily patented.

  • justsomeguy123 a month ago

    But you don't "own" that. You get a temporary rent. The problem is society (and tech) moves so fast it feels like the rent is too long.

    The idea to incentivize public sharing of knowledge for a short term rent is not so stupid.

    • nwah1 a month ago

      In economics there is a concept called "search costs." And those costs need to be compensated if you want to encourage searching. But, of course, as you said, such compensation should not be in perpetuity. A patent, in this sense, is infinitely more reasonable than a land title as currently conceived.

      • andrepd a month ago

        Henry George would agree :p

  • Someone a month ago

    That logic applies as well to minerals and fossils as to inventions. If I stumble upon a lump of gold, how can I own it? After all, it was merely “out there” to find.

    Also, the question whether math is discovered or invented is an old one, with arguments going either way. It’s not like people just stumble upon certain proofs, or that Newton was just lucky., for example, holds that math would still exist if there were no life anywhere in the universe (maybe even if there were no universe)

  • slightwinder a month ago

    Ownership is a legal right. You found/created it, so society gives you the right to rule about it's usage for a certain time. The same applies to physical objects. You own something, because society gives you the permission, not because you have the actual power to protect it with your own muscles.

    And there is nothing wrong with this concept; it encourages people to search and create, and prevents people from being abused by the strong and getting their findings stolen. Generally, this is beneficial for everyone and lets society moving forward and to higher levels of quality.

  • keiferski a month ago

    This assumes that Platonism is the correct model of reality. In mathematics specifically, Platonism is but one of many positions and is not accepted by all philosophers or mathematicians.

    • Koshkin a month ago

      But Platonism is not a model of anything at all. It’s just a philosophical idea which, by the way, has no impact on mathematics proper, either.

      • keiferski a month ago

        Platonism is a metaphysical model of the universe. It’s also one of the most popular approaches to the philosophy of mathematics. This is explained in the link I posted.

        • Koshkin a month ago

          In the link, they only talk about "models of a theory" and the "mathematical/set-theoretical universe," none of which has to do with "a metaphysical model of the universe."

  • gsatic a month ago

    Maybe question could be - what to do about those people who have high loss aversion, status seeking traits, mindless ambition etc baked deep into their code? How to handle these type of people when they stumble upon something useful to everyone.

    • nonrandomstring a month ago

      That's actually a refreshing way of looking at something. The pathologically acquisitive are naturally a small part of the population suffering insecurity, often driven by early deprivation. Our natural instinct is to share intelligence, wrt food, predators, resources.

      I have a theory that the misnomer "intellectual property" is most ardently championed by (perhaps older) intelligent/creative people who fear losing their power. Fear that this may be their last great idea fosters withholding and subtracts from the opportunities of the many.

      This comes up in other contexts. In cybersecurity, if one discovers a new exploit the natural instinct for most people is responsible disclosure, even without a bounty. However, the temptation to privatise that knowledge as a sellable "zero-day" is powerful. But what we see is that it's the mediocre who do that more. Top 0.1% hackers are so confident in their ability to find more and deadlier exploits at will, they don't hoard as it's beneath them.

      • Dracophoenix a month ago

        > Top 0.1% hackers are so confident in their ability to find more and deadlier exploits at will, they don't hoard as it's beneath them.

        Or they probably see it as leverage for a job with a company at some point in the future. Or an achievement they can put on their resume or show the world.

        I might be wrong in assuming this, but I take it that you believe the disclosures of these top tier hackers are a result of an altruistic benevolence. If so, I think you're describing a soul rarer than the Loch Ness Monster. The best hackers do zero-day work because they love it and it pays (in cash, achievement, fame, etc.). If it doesn't pay, they'll probably find some other way of getting their kick upto and including trading exploits or data for cash.

        Even the hacker who saved the net from Mirai all those years ago sold exploits.

        • nonrandomstring a month ago

          > of an altruistic benevolence.

          I'm not sure I believe in that. Or rather, I think the idea of altruistic benevolence as a simple exclusive categorical is naive. Humans have super complex motives, often quite unconscious, multi-faceted and even in contradiction.

          What I would say is that very high performing people think and behave in different ways. In political science (I'm thinking of Nicomachean Ethics but it's a recurring theme in modernity too) is the conceit of the "Great/Noble Man", whose competence places him "above" everyday perspectives and rituals. They're rare not because apparent altruism is rare, but because people of that calibre are rare.

      • gsatic a month ago

        Interesting theory. Do you think Wikipedia is an example of a work around?

  • bluecalm a month ago

    It's hard to say a novel you can write or a computer program is "out there" for everyone to find though. I find this argument very compelling against patents but not against copyright in general.

zuzuleinen a month ago

"He found the writing process too focused on the self — and for him, that exploration was often painful and depressing. Moreover, as he later realized, “I wanted to be someone who writes great poetry,” he said. “I didn’t want to write great poetry.” Now he sees that version of himself as almost a complete stranger."

That's the reason I deleted my personal blog. I felt that when I was writing publicly about my life/thoughts I was focusing too much on my ego.

  • chronofar a month ago

    This is also why I never started a blog, and don’t maintain any social media accounts. Participating in forums like this already drives some self-obsessive behavior (watching for upvotes and proverbial nodding heads), but a pulpit I fear would drive near incessant “audience awareness,” a constant reflection of my ego’s shape as perceived by others. Our social proclivities are to easily supercharged to neuroses with modern technology.

    Or maybe I’m just lazy.

    • mgfist a month ago

      That's funny, my reasoning comes from the opposite end of the ego spectrum - creating a blog or any other kind of social media presence means putting myself out there and inviting attacks on my ego. So I avoid doing so to protect my ego. Anytime I think of doing a writeup of something and sharing online, my subconscious starts thinking about how people will perceive and judge my work and I scram back into my ego shelter. I won't have to face feedback and criticism if no one hears about me or my work :D

    • mmmpop a month ago

      > Or maybe I’m just lazy.

      Hit me up if you figure this one out. I can't be bothered to get my personal website back up and it's just an nginx configuration away for about a year now.

    • zuzuleinen a month ago

      Indeed, everytime I take a break from sharing posts on social media I feel much better

      • shreyshnaccount a month ago

        and i announce that by sharing a post that I'll be taking a break. its kinda like toasting to that I'll stop drinking the next morning. on a serious note tho, I don't really get why he says that poetry places importance on the ego- maybe it's a cultural difference, but a lot of great poems I'm familiar with are about nature and made up characters etc. tho i see how so many really really good poems throughout history are an overblown retelling of what I can only assume is the product of faith and mushrooms (looking at you, Dante)

  • scotty79 a month ago

    > Moreover, as he later realized, “I wanted to be someone who writes great poetry,” he said. “I didn’t want to write great poetry.”

    I absolutely love this distinction.

    In Polish there's a saying "Chcę, ale mi się nie chce." which is hard to translate but it's something along the lines:

    I want ... but I don't want to.

    • corrral a month ago

      How strange to see

      That I'm exactly the person that I want to be

      - Amanda Palmer, "In My Mind"

    • shreyshnaccount a month ago

      thats seems like a very delightful phrase, can you share a more in depth meaning?

      • lupire a month ago

        I want to write a book, But I don't want to write the words.

        I want to win the World Cup, but I'm not getting out of bed to go to the gym.

        I want to be rich and famous, but I don't want to do the work.

        I want to be a bride, but I don't want to build a relationship.

        I buy books but don't read them.

        I buy tools and supplies but don't build.

        I read books but don't do exercise.

        I want to be a person who does great things, but in each moment I don't do the work.

        • shreyshnaccount a month ago

          just that? felt it's a bit deeper

          • svnt a month ago

            Here’s an alternative: I wanted to be a magician, but when started to learn how to cast spells I realized that to become one I would have to embody the disenchantment of my world.

  • kkleindev a month ago

    > I felt that when I was writing publicly about my life/thoughts I was focusing too much on my ego.

    Why do you want to avoid that?

    • zuzuleinen a month ago

      I felt I got into this point where everything was revolving around me. It was all about "me, me, me". And at that time, I suspected that most of my problems were generated by putting my opinions/ego on a pedestal.

      I still write sometimes when I want to clear things for myself in a notebook nobody will see. I think it can be therapeutic at times.

      But I'm in a point in my life where I think I need to get myself out of the way, be humble and enjoy everything else out there.

      • pqs a month ago

        I'm glad you found this problem. I also had this problem (me, me, me) and realizing this has improved my life and the life of people surrounding me, a lot.

        Our ego is not our friend.

    • noisy_boy a month ago

      To avoid over-feeding the beast known as ego?

    • Agamus a month ago

      Because ego is the enemy.

  • dubeux a month ago

    I think it's quite obvious we're working hard to build an ego-centered, self-destructive society. While I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of realising it, and trying not to endorse it, I wonder if it wouldn't be healthier, more effective and fulfilling to look for ways to make one's thoughts, ideas, questions, epiphanies, ramblings somehow public, so that one could eventually connect with like-minded, develop deeper thoughts, relationships, actions, towards gathering some meaning in life.

BigglesB a month ago

Don’t want to “diagnose at a distance”, but it’s difficult to read this and not see a lot of the guy’s quirks as being quite typical of someone incredibly smart who also has ADHD.

Also don’t want to diminish his quite remarkable achievements in any way, either!

  • user_7832 a month ago

    Yes! I literally ctr-F'ed the comment section for ADHD to see if someone had mentioned it already. I wonder if June himself knows, because and ADHD diagnosis and treatment can majorly help quality of life. Fortunately he seems to be already doing decently.

  • ramraj07 a month ago

    It’s clear the article wanted to convey that as well (esp. given the photo of his lecture notes).

gfd a month ago

“Good, he did not have enough imagination to become a mathematician.

[Upon hearing that one of his students had dropped out to study poetry]”

― David Hilbert

amelius a month ago

Good thing. If he had dropped out to become a programmer, be probably would have ended up addicted like the rest of us :)

  • rrishi a month ago

    need a clarification ... addicted to what?

    • rizzaxc a month ago

      to money and a lazy life I assume

astrange a month ago

He has very good handwriting.

  • tarentel a month ago

    It's really quite beautiful. All but one of my math professors had terrible handwriting.

paulpauper a month ago

This shows the power of IQ. Having a sufficiently high IQ means you can become a world-class master at a hard subject quickly, easily surpassing others who have decades of experience. It's the ultimate cheat code or power-up in life, second to have rich and well-connected parents, I suppose. Freddie Deboer is right that parents consider IQ to be very important, as much as society may try to downplay its importance or predictive value.

  • strikelaserclaw a month ago

    perhaps not, perhaps "deeply loving" something with a decent IQ is a better way to go. A lot of great discoveries come from people who have an independence of spirit and a strong love for a subject and not just raw IQ.

    • paulpauper a month ago

      you realize though that having a high IQ is the necessary condition. plenty of people are passionate about math , how many prove important stuff?

  • burntoutfire a month ago

    Jordan Peterson always says that, when it comes to predicting success in life, IQ has the highest predictive value of all the traits that we can currently measure.

    • astrange a month ago

      Koreans might be discouraged there because their national example didn't do anything with his IQ.

      The other problem being that "high IQ explains everything" people don't actually go around personally going around giving people IQ tests. They just read somewhere that X guy has IQ Y and then decide that's evidence for something.

gtsnexp a month ago

Interesting article highlighting the relevance of a having a good mentor on early stages. However, I feel there is a slight issue with the "he is a genius and geniuses don't have to work hard" tone.

evermore99 a month ago

The new Norma Cenva. Time travel beginning. Folding space. Butlerian Jihad -Frank Herbert

evermore99 a month ago

The new Norma Cenva - Butlerian Jihad Fank Herbert. The beginning of time travel

jdcampolargo a month ago

Why did he leave UIUC?

  • foldedcornice a month ago

    His full reasoning wasn't reported on by Quanta, but an article in 2017 noted that faculty from the University of Michigan invited him to transfer after hearing his talk on his proof of Read's conjecture.

    From the older article [0]: "Soon after he posted his proof of Read’s conjecture, the University of Michigan invited Huh to give a talk on his result. On December 3, 2010, he addressed a room full of many of the same mathematicians who had rejected his graduate school application a year earlier. By this point Huh’s talent was becoming evident to other mathematicians. Jesse Kass was a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics at Michigan at the time. Just before Huh’s visit, a senior faculty member encouraged Kass to watch the talk because '30 years from now you can tell your grandchildren you saw Huh speak before he got famous,' recalled Kass, who’s now a professor at the University of South Carolina.

    "Huh’s lecture did not disappoint.

    "'The talk was somehow very polished and very clear; it just went to the right points. It’s a bit unusual for a beginning graduate student to give such clean talks,' said Mircea Mustaţă, a mathematician at Michigan.

    "Following his talk, the Michigan faculty invited Huh to transfer, which he did in 2011. By that point he’d learned that Read’s conjecture was a special case of a larger and more significant problem — the Rota conjecture.""


amoghs a month ago

lol "later that year, Kim gave birth to their first son, Dan. While in labor, she caught Huh doing math."

  • BeetleB a month ago

    Labor for the first kid is often long - over 24 hours is common. There's nothing exceptional in what Huh did.

  • astrange a month ago

    It's actually best practice to make the dad do something pointless. It's not like he has anything better to do.

    Traditionally this would be the midwife making him go out to fetch hot water repeatedly.

sam_lowry_ a month ago
  • FreakLegion a month ago

    "'Poet' must be used cautiously; it names an aspiration, not an occupation. In other words: not a noun for a passport." -- Louise Glück

    Your statement is too short to read much into, but I'm amused at the negative response given its similarity to Glück's. For anyone who doesn't know, Glück is a former US Poet Laureate and won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature.

    • astrange a month ago

      There was also a Twitter incident where a poetry magazine editor got cancelled and lost their job for saying that most people don't read poetry.

      • seoaeu a month ago

        > I want to be very explicit that I didn't get 'cancelled'. Everyone made a series of decisions and those decisions have consequences. That's it. It is merely consequential.

        • astrange a month ago

          I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder, but that seems like a situation where they’d want to be careful not to hurt their industry relationships, or end up right-wing-coded by becoming “cancelled”.

      • FreakLegion a month ago

        > I wish poets understood that the general population has no interest in what we do, so when we speak we are speaking only to each other.

        I think to some extent the second part is responsible for the first: Poetry took a hard turn with Modernism and has become increasingly academic and bound up with academia ever since*. It's barely meant for other people anymore, and when it is, academics are often dismissive or outright hostile. Strange that anyone could disagree with Dani Rose's comment, let alone attack her over it.

        * I'm a lapsed academic and my field was Modernism. Love the stuff, but am under no illusions about the readership of, say, Ezra Pound.

  • vivegi a month ago

    At least in the Indian film industry, we have songs and lyricists. Popular music may call them songwriters. Many lyricists are published poets and identify their vocation as a poet/writer.

  • Veen a month ago

    Nor is "developer" if we go by the traditional definition of the professions.

  • aqme28 a month ago

    If you can get paid to do it, is it not a profession?

    • circlefavshape a month ago

      I'd have thought a profession was something you made a living from, not something you sometimes got some money for - I sometimes get paid to play music in bars, but music is not my profession. Neither Philip Larkin nor Seamus Heaney made a living from poetry, so I'd guess nobody else does either

    • martyvis a month ago

      Depends on how you think about the act of professing. Taking it literally it would be those that profess - articulate, exude, demonstrate, apply - their knowledge, skill and experience. Remuneration could be seen as irrelevant in this context.

  • spaceman_2020 a month ago

    I come to HN for such nuanced insight /s

  • cinntaile a month ago

    If you get paid for it, it is.

Markoff a month ago

Ah yeah, everyone quickly drop out to be successful... /facepalm

  • ktownsend a month ago

    I can empathize with the gut reaction, and the title is clickbait-y, but the article does elaborate that it's not the same tired trope of privileged kid drops out of Stanford/MIT/Harvard to become startup billionaire:

    > he dropped out of high school to become a poet. It would take a chance encounter during his university years — and many moments of feeling lost — for him to find that mathematics held what he’d been looking for all along.

    Having taken a similar path myself -- I dropped out of high school due to a combination of factors, but was still able to get into university 6 months later -- I can empathize with mandatory education NOT being something people fit into, and where making the right career choice isn't always clear or easy.

    Not everyone who 'dropped out' did it because of unlimited mom-and-dad-money and boundless professional and social opportunities, nor wears it like a badge of honor.

    I get tired of the trope and survivorship bias as well, but in this case it seems like the author did still put in the hard work of learning his niche the traditional way, if in a round-about manner: through a lot of hours of study, personal investment, natural curiosity, and using the abilities he has to the best of his abilities.

    • tester756 a month ago

      >but was still able to get into university 6 months later

      How does that even work?

      • astrange a month ago

        Some countries' systems rely on entrance exams, not your high school transcripts. I've seen it claimed it's common to drop out of high school in Korea to focus on the exams, though I don't really understand the details.

  • bsaul a month ago

    I must say after reading the article that i don’t even understand the title.. He seemed to have done a regular maths curriculum at university.