Recently, I searched for "math" on the OkCupid search engine and found someone with a username named after the $$$$$$$ sequence. So I messaged her,
Do you know the ultimate $$$$$ identity?
There is a obscure identity about the $$$$$$ sequence. It's a really cute and simple argument, and in fact, one can prove a ton of more difficult theorems using this seemingly innocuous fact. To my students, I dub it the "$$$$$$$$ God Identity."
In response, she emailed me a crude picture of someone vomiting. I will spare you the visual.
In response, I replied,
Sorry. I mistook you for someone who enjoyed proofs. My mistake.
To this, she immediately snapped:
You just put your dick out there and was waving it around like "LOOK AT ME, I KNOW THINGS WOW," and then you fell back on the only way you know how to talk to other females in the mathematical field and that is to compete with them, and assuming you go to MIT I don't doubt your level of competitiveness with others in your field. And that makes me vomit, and it's pathetic because we both know math is not going to get us shit in life so who fucking cares. "
I understand $$$$$$'s anger: women are constantly harassed on OkCupid. Because some men think they have the right to message with impunity. That they can cower behind some virtual wall. There's even an entire tumblr based on how crappy men treat women: http://okcsucks.tumblr.com/
I apologize on behalf of my gender.
But what bothered me was not how she perceived me. We study the same field. We fight in the same trenches. I know mathematics is competitive. I know how awful we treat each other. Why? Because we're insecure. We will recite some proof off wikipedia just to convince others (or really ourselves) that we're smarter than them. And this facade makes the true students, the ones who have yet to learn the proofs and sincerely want to learn, feel like their brains aren't fast enough. That they don't belong. It's awful, and this is exactly what I've dedicated my life to fighting against.
What really bothered me, however, was the line
math is not going to get us shit in life so who fucking cares
It bothered me because it reminded me of my upbringing. In my culture, there is a mentality that success and happiness is measured by GPA, income, and status. You are nothing unless you have all three. I hate this mentality. And other than Horace Slughorn's memory of Voldemort, it's the biggest lie ever told.
If you study math, chances are you are not going to be the next Einstein. You're not going to solve the greatest unsolved problem. Getting into graduate school is tough. And getting a faculty position is near impossible. And it's not just math. Chances are, if you study the classics, art, feminism, music, literature, philosophy, etc. you are not going to be rich and famous. Instead of some lucrative job, you may end up being a tutor, coffee shop barista, or at best, a coder.
So why pursue something that does not guarantee us financial security and a special place in the history of the world? Why go after something that causes you nothing but misery and pain?
We do so because we believe that these fields are worth studying. That they are worth devoting our lives to. Because to us, they are beautiful. Even though no one else gets it. Even though the world would rather value Honeybooboo over Heraclitus, or a Miley over a Monet.
And that's why we're here on OkCupid. We want to find other people with the same interests. To transcend the bars, drunken night club, frat parties and search the entire universe for that one person, that one speck of light who gets it. Who gets you. That one unobtainable soul that actually sees what you see. The one person who sees the mathematics, and is rapt in awe.
So if I do message you because you have a mathematical name, and I email you a question, please do not misconstrue my intentions. I like to discuss proofs. Why? Because I believe that when you completely understand a beautiful proof and are teeming with excitement, you have to teach it to other people. Not to make yourself look smarter. But because you want to shout it out to the world so that everyone can know it’s beautiful. Because to me, that’s what it means to love.
Thanks for listening.