musings on music and life

July 31, 2016

Birthday reflections

Filed under: Philosophy — sankirnam @ 2:12 pm

No, I’m not dead.

I have been on the receiving end of an intellectual beatdown for the last 7 weeks, and that will only end on Sep 2. So until then, communication will be sparse.

Before I get started, I just wanted to share some not-so-noteworthy news: I’ve finally crossed some milestones on Quora. I’ve been reading and contributing to the community there for the past year or so, and in the last few weeks, crossed 100,000 views on my answers and became a “Most Viewed Writer” on the topic of Organic Chemistry. Why am I doing this? Because in this day and age, it’s important to have an “online presence”; not having one can count against you (people might see you as either a luddite or that you have something to hide), and as can be seen from the infographic below, networking online is becoming an increasingly common way to get a job. Contributing to Quora and writing this blog are both attempts to build up my own “online presence”.


In any case, two days ago I just crossed another milestone in my life – I just turned 30. I’ve always known that this day would eventually come, but now it has come and passed, and I’m still coming to terms with it. When I was younger, I would feel an impending sense of doom at the thought of getting older; I did have a bucket list of things I wanted to do before this age (the most prominent one being performing in the Madras Music Academy), but sadly they have all gone unfulfilled. My 20’s have disappeared and I feel like I do not have much to show for it. I’m behind all my friends in accomplishing the usual things by this stage of life: getting a full-time job, getting married (or being in a long-term relationship), getting a house… “settling down”, if you will. I’m 30 and I’ve never had a full-time job. That realization is a bit frightening and I sincerely hope it doesn’t result in being unemployed for the rest of my life.

I have pretty much been in school my whole life, and my feelings about that are similar to what Chembark describes. Thanks to the largesse of my parents and taxpayers, I have been able to receive an education without crippling debt. That being said, even though I got my PhD funded by taxpayer money, I am more than likely not going to be employed in the area that I got my PhD in…. which means all that taxpayer money was, ultimately, wasted. This represents a colossal market failure, and I know that I am not alone in this regard.

Like Chembark, if I were to drop dead today, there is no doubt that my net impact on society is still negative. I have published a few papers which represent a minute drop in the ocean of scientific publications and may be lost in the deluge, to be cited only a handful of times or not at all. This is the culmination of thousands of man-hours of work which may, or more likely, may not be useful to other people in the future. These anxieties of mine could be dismissed as the cost of scientific progress or of growing up in general, but the question is: is it worth it? A lot of scientists will argue that research is “incremental”, where one person adds a little to the progress of those before him/her. My experience has shown that for 99.999999% of people that is true, but real progress is accomplished by geniuses who come only a handful of times every generation and make startling breakthroughs, drastically pushing the frontiers outward. And no, I am not in the 0.000001%.

Even if I factor in music, I still haven’t accomplished quite as much as some of my peers in India or in the Bay Area. If you don’t do music full time, it is incredibly difficult to practice as much as you would like to or work on improving your teaching methodologies.

Fortunately, I haven’t had the urge (yet) to do anything crazy at this point in my life, as this paper would suggest, so…..there’s that.

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