Highly biased views I

#1: ‘Whatever, nothing matters.’
#2: ‘If nothing matters why are you so into things?’
#1: ‘To avoid realising things don’t matter at all, call it denial.’

Recently I read that over 40% of graduate students in Berkeley University had reported feelings of depression, 10% thoughts of suicide [1]. This is not very surprising. I further recall reading a couple months about the suicide rates per occupation: in 5th there are the engineers, in 8th the mathematicians, computer scientists and statisticians. [2]

Empirically I notice a lot of my friends, extremely smart people, are extremely depressed.

Last week I ended up, during lunch, in a conversation about the toll that can academia take in personal life and mental health – in particular, the need to move from country to country to get the perfect CV, coupled with the realisation that, after 5 or 10 years, you have been swimming in a tiny, drying up puddle instead of an oasis, plus the impossibility of truly disconnecting from work. These reasons sounded reasonable.

There’s another hypothesis I discussed with a good friend of mine in the past: that people with high analytical intelligence tend to be bad at dealing emotions. This is because they might prioritize rational thought over emotional one, even in areas where rationality might not be the most appropriate tool (talk about tastes or volitions).

Combine the unwillingness to accept emotions as real inputs for decision making or action orienting with the pressure of needing to have a CV that is as competitive as possible, containing reputable institutions and plenty of first author papers, no half-a-year gaps or deviation from your academic career, and you start understanding that mental hygiene might not come off as a priority in academia.

I think the impact is real. Books tailored towards leadership will tell you, tongue in the cheek, that any decision is better than no decision. Imagine that, taking a decision without any proof or evidence, without analyzing every possible scenario – how ridiculous! Yet, the very stupid, nonsensical actions and decisions I have seen came from smart people. Somehow, empirically, I observe that extremely ‘rational’ people* don’t seem to make good life choices in their personal lives, if you don’t hold the fact that in real life there’s no reproducibility, model reduction nor a control experiment running on parallel.

It’s counter intuitive, on the one hand, I spend so much time attempting to perfect my analytical skills to make predictive models of reality, while it appears that more and more, I forget how to actively participate and interact with reality.

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/04/22/berkeley-study-finds-high-levels-depression-among-graduate-students

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6525a1.htm

*: Observational biases.


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