.

You are driving down the highway. As your gaze moves between cars and trees and open sky a filtering thought hits the periphery of your conscious mind. It feels fresh yet somehow part of a thought pattern you’ve had before. A new version, perhaps, of a past obsession. Or a new obsession, emerging from years of exploration in seemingly unrelated fields. How many of us can identify with this feeling of being gently entranced by a sequence of thoughts that had seemingly faded into the past? Perhaps they encourage us to call an old friend who has been out of touch, or to dig into a textbook from yesteryear.

I suppose you could call it nostalgia, but that word has a connotation of sadness and loss that does not properly fit here. We don’t understand much about how the brain truly functions, let alone the intricacies of consciousness. But perhaps we can think of these ebbing and waning thought cycles as waves, even curves, on a two dimensional plane that I would like to call a Mind Map.

In discussing this abstraction with my friend @openmylab in Sydney, we have been drawing 10 year Mind Maps of our own brains in order to identify areas of intellectual passion as well as intersections between seemingly disparate curves that have become inflection points in our lives. In both cases we started with a few rules to make the map visibly appealing and uncluttered. First, it would only have 3 mind curves - that is 3 major thought patterns or areas of engagement. Second, these curves had to be somewhat sinusoidal in that they couldn’t be everyday thoughts, but rather major epochs of intellectual pursuit that reached a peak, declined and once again reemergence in a surprising way. In doing this exercise we learned quite a bit about our own mind and the territory it has charted over the last ten years.

Let’s start with @openmylab’s mind map:

￼Focus on curves 2 and 4 in the year 2000. We see a clear focus on learning programming languages and operating systems in 2 - some front end web development, some UNIX, a bit of Java, even dreamweaver and the ubiquitous SQL and C#. Now look at 4 - here is a clear statistical computing route, perhaps it would be called data science now, with all the usual suspects - Python, R, SPSS, Matlab. Between the two curves we have the makings of a rare gem of a software engineer. Seems clear enough right? This person should develop statistical apps and deploy them on front end environments? Maybe.

But don’t forget these are SEPARATE mind curves. They don’t represent an encapsulated and refined goal or objective. These are distinct areas of interest and if they intersect and yield a common product -that’s great - but certainly not required. Tracing these curves we see how they transform into current areas of interest: quantum computing and the Internet of things. It would have been quite difficult to trace the origins of these current intellectual pursuits without tracing their mental predecessors.

Now let’s explore my own mind map, keeping in mind it’s points of commonality and distinction from @openmylab’s map:

My map starts with two core academic pursuits: general relativity/quantum mechanics at the top and analytic number theory at the bottom. In addition there is another curve that starts out weak but gains steam as the years go by. This last curve is technology and all of it’s fascinating applications. So how does this play out? The first intersection occurs in 2007 - here is where I discover that back when Einstein and Montgomery where roaming the halls of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, a chance encounter led to an unexpected revelation. It turns out that the zeros of the zeta function bear a striking similarity to the eigenvalues of a random hermitician matrix. Did I lose you? I did.

Ok let’s move ahead. By 2012 my obsession with Riemann intersects with my technological pursuits and I discover computational number theory. Unfortunately computers cannot prove the Riemann hypothesis, which is almost certainly true. But they could Dis-prove it! (In the very unlikely case that it isn’t true) And finally, as with @openmylab, there is a shift to applications of technology in the modern world - Big Data,IoT, fintech,machine learning. A possible point of intersection with the physics curve seems a few years away with the advent of quantum computing.

In both cases we see a current interest in so called “hot” or “trending” technologies with a long (10 to 15 year) history of predecessor interests and an amalgamation of distinct intellectual flows. Yet the two maps are quite different - one is the story of a software engineer who loves statistics and eventually finds himself enthralled in the world of robotics, data science, and quantum computing. The other is a physics nerd who realizes that computational methods can help bring concepts to life and dives into the visualization and practical application of abstract concepts.

And of course the most critical intersection, the one between the two mind maps, occurs in an area that isn’t even present on the maps: social media. It is on Twitter that the concept is exposed, developed, shared, refined, and discussed. Between Miami and Sydney, in real time. The mind map of the world has come along way to make this interaction possible. I encourage you to create your own mind map and explore the hidden mind curves of your intellectual past. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share s picture with me @namenode5 and with @openmylab on Twitter. Happy exploring!!

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Posted 24 June 2021

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