Sunday, May 8, 2011


"It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us. Purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drive us. It is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us." In the Land of Mordor, where the shadows lie(brary). Sorry, the Agent Smith/Elrond juxtaposition always amuses me, and once you've made one seriously nerdy reference jump, it feels good to make another.

One thing that has been on my mind frequently since starting grad school is purpose. Perhaps it is some cruel biological imperative, but part of me imagines that a family probably gives life fairly immediate purpose. The need to live amicably together, provide for each other, and raise what children you end up stuck with seems like it provides a context of meaning for one's life, a goal, a purpose. At the metaphorical end of the day you have something concrete upon which to look and decide that you have accomplished something.

Having neither close family, nor temporally grounded hopes of one, the question of purpose has weighed upon me the past few years, as those exposed to my feelings about being in grad school may have heard. I don't believe that this was something that bothered me during my K-12 education, perhaps I viewed the idea of "growing up" as sufficient justification, or I didn't take a long enough view of my life to bother justifying it, or I'm idealizing childhood and misremembering it. I am fairly certain I also avoided similar worries as an undergraduate, perhaps the studies seemed sufficiently fulfilling, I don't know.

However, the past few years I have come to wonder if a life dedicated to mathematics is one with which I can be satisfied. Looking back do I want to consider my greatest accomplishment to be a succession of people who understand mathematics slightly better than before they met me? The answer, generally, is no.

So I write in this blog, hoping to remain intellectually alert and do something that seems worthwhile, by which I mean encourage people to think deeply and share in an interchange of serious ideas. Of course, a blog hardly seems like enough purpose to get one through all the multifarious troubles inherent in daily life, so I keep searching.


Aislyn said...

Life has no inherent meaning, nor do we have a purpose. This can be either depressing beyond recovery, or an opportunity to make things up as you go along. Knowing that you have no end point you were meant to reach (and thus no possibility of failure) you can decide everything about your life. And you can decide to be happy, cuz hey, why not? That's how I play. There is nothing to tell me otherwise.

Kenny said...

Perhaps, but even if meaning is something we assign to our own life, I do think we ought have standards when deciding what holds meaning for us. Similarly, there are times when it is appropriate to choose not to be happy, because some things simply should be sad. That said, the decision to be happy seems like a pretty good one most of the time ;)