intellectual identity

29Jun08

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the following exercise. I’m going to try it right now:

Take 10 minutes, and write down anything you’ve ever been really fascinated by (something you’ve had the urge to tell someone else about)

it’s 1:23

the Gauss-Bonnet theorem, Visual Complex Analysis, Taylor series, personal autonomy, Burning Man, free education, Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, the fundamental group, PJ Harvey, computational biology, cell biology, algorithms, differential geometry, James Joyce, hands-on science, hands-on science education, childhood development, class structure, Marx’s theory of communism, chess, chess as a way to understand one’s own learning, meditation, Zen Buddhism, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol, laser cutters, breadboarding, welding, soldering, algebraic topology, Camp Kaleidoscope, Goedel Escher Bach, taking machines apart, the German language, learning foreign languages without classes, the twin primes conjecture, divisionplot.com or divisorplot.com, Benham’s disks, microwaving CDs or LEDs or steel wool or fire, mathematics education, early arithmetic development, Paul Farmer and Mountain Beyond Mountains, Thomas Pynchon, transistors, logic, the role of math in society, the role of research-level math in society, developing intuition, video games, giant public art, how to help people feel calm and free, love, my family and the people in it, copyright law, holistic vision therapy, capoeira.

done!

I think I could keep going with that. That leans really heavily on the intellectual and mathematical — probably because ideas are easy to recall being engrossed in than experiences are. I’m really curious as to what kind of cluster or visual representation I could construct that shows all of the things I’ve ever been *really* into. I think the interesting thing about this now is that while most of these things aren’t things I’m engaging with right now (and many of those were just day-long infatuations), I think they’re all the sorts of things that when mentioned to me now, I perk up a little bit more than normal and pay extra attention to There’s still a soft spot in me for all of them. It’s sort of an intellectual history — the ideas that I’ve been passionate about that take me to where I am currently.

I’ve been curious about what questions you can ask people to make them more aware of their own intellectual identities. I see the “3 skills” question as scratching the surface, with a forward-thinking point of view: what are your current intellectual goals, and now that you can see a piece of them, does that make you think about what you’re doing now any differently? I wonder how being aware of the ideas one has been in love can help one understand one’s intellectual goals, dreams, and desires in the present moment.

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2 Responses to “intellectual identity”

  1. 1 camipco

    It would be cool to make an app for this like the one for music which I can’t find the really pretty one right now but is functionally equivalent to music-map.com

    I also suspect that your list would be noticeably changed if you started from a different first item. This might be an interesting exercise to do weekly and track the changes, or something.

  2. 2 Michael Nagle

    That’s a good point! I am sure that where I started or what I was thinking about was hugely influential (the last thing I can recall thinking about before starting this was trying to play with was the Navier-Stokes equations.)

    While writing down that list, I felt like there’s a whole lot I’m missing, and yet while writing struggled to think of more. I’ll try this in a week from now and see what happens.


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