Why I do math

Lately I’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time doing math. From sun-up to sun-down it sometimes seems, learning and understanding and deriving. Why am I compelled to do this? I ask myself that a lot. It takes a more explicit form: why am I doing that instead of meditating?

I think the answer is that math is easy and rewarding. Not as rewarding as meditation, but quite a bit easier. Math easy? Esoteric graduate-level math, easy? Compared to meditation, yes. Meditation makes abstract algebra and topology seem like child’s play.

With the qualifier, of course, “for me.” I don’t think there’s some absolute scale of task-difficulty, where meditation is six levels higher than abstract algebra. I’m sure there are lots of people more enlightened than me, but less intellectually adroit, for whom abstract algebra would be quite a lot harder than meditation.

But still, for me abstract algebra is child’s play compared to meditation. And I don’t think this is just a fact about me. I feel comfortable saying that, in some general sense, meditation is immensely harder than math. It’s not just that I happen to find math really easy. Sure, I’m better at math than most people. But I’m also better at meditation than most people. It’s gotta balance out somewhat.

What makes math easier than meditation? No doubt a complex question, but I think the biggest factor is this: meditation is lonelier.

Let’s think about math. When I do math, nobody will tell me I’m wrong. (Except when I occasionally am. But that doesn’t upset me; they’re just bringing me back to the truth.) There are people I know who will actually talk about it with me, and we can actually understand each other, and actually agree with each other. I can ask them questions, and they’re delighted to teach me. I can teach them things, and they’ll learn something. And they’re impressed as hell with me because I’m so damn good at math.

I can even make a god damn career out of talking to people about math! I can get paid money to do this thing I love! There’s a shortage of me! I’m in huge demand!

Compare to meditation. It’s “weird” to be a mystic. It’s not socially accepted. I can’t share my experiences with anybody. Nobody will recognize my achievements. Nobody will appreciate my work. Nobody will even *know* what I achieved. I can have the most earth shattering mystical experience ever, and nobody will ever see that. Nobody will ever pat me on the back. And you can bet your ass that nobody will pay me to do it! Being a mystic is a lonely, lonely, lonely experience.

And I think that’s the reason I spent three hours doing math today, instead of spending three hours meditating. And this aching empty void is still sitting inside me because I didn’t spend enough time with God today.

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