(Text as at 12/08/2007 10:17:46)
While I’m admitting to potential distractions, I must mention another, which is to get an MSc in mathematics by the time I’m 60. While this wouldn’t start until I’d completed my PhD, a fair amount of “warming up” would be required in parallel. I'd like to do some philosophy of mathematics one day, but my handling of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos was a complete disaster, so abject that I'm in need of some rehabilitation (on the grounds that those that can’t do shouldn’t philosophise). I'd been tempted to return to chess and bridge, but these are fundamentally a waste of time, and I'm hopeful that mathematics (pursued at a much more leisurely pace than the cracking one Cambridge required of its unfortunate undergraduates) might press the same buttons. Maybe being good at mathematics (in the "Cambridge" sense), like being able to play the violin in tune, is just a special skill that some people have and others can never acquire; and that if you don't have it, you should just concentrate on the talents you do have. What worries me is that philosophy is much less constrained by the merciless exposure of falsehoods or rewarded by the discovery of certain truths, and that the discipline of mathematics might be a good foil. Yet people who've excelled in both mathematics and philosophy (eg. Pascal, Leibniz, Russell) don’t seem to have treated philosophy as a poor relation. The two disciplines involve, however, completely different ways of thinking - from the narrowest to the widest possible focus.
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