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Moral dilemma

  1. Jun 24, 2009 #1
    Hey everyone,

    I've been having a moral dilemma lately. I'm not sure if moral dilemma is the exact word. Anyway, I like doing math and delving into physics, but there is something inside of me, urging me to do something more important. While I do enjoy math, physics, I do not believe they are some of the more socially relevant things to pursue.

    I feel like I should be doing something more important. During my time as a math student, I have degenerated into an extremely competitive shell of myself. I have sold my soul for success. When did I become such a mercenary?

    Has anyone ever felt this way? I don't want the feeling to go away, I'm not asking what I should do, I'm just wondering if anyone can relate to this. I see so many horrible things in this world and I have a tough time just accepting it. While I also do see so many truly kind and decent things, the horrible acts get to me more naturally.

    One thing that always resonated with me was when I met some of the people who graciously awarded me scholarships in college and they always told me "Give back." I think it's time I start doing that. I have not had an easy road, but I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I have been given some good opportunities and I am very grateful for all this.

    Thank you in advance for reading this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2009 #2
    Yeah, I think I've felt exactly that way, and still do often. As a physics student, I can probably "give back" to society in some pretty relevant ways, but they're pretty far removed from their ultimate impact.

    I actually joined my school's chapter of engineers without borders, but I don't know if I'll get a chance to go on a trip. Still, I definitely want to do something that would benefit those less fortunate than me in a very direct way...
  4. Jun 25, 2009 #3


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    I think we all have to find our own paths to one extent or another. It sounds like you're looking to add a little more personal fulfillment to what you do. Most people experience this to one extent or another. If the work a person does had little or no meaning, that person is unlikely to remain in that position for long, unless constrained by other (eg. financial) factors.

    Personally, I see work in physics as extremely important. In fact, any work that advances the whole of human knowledge has a certain, self-evident value, in my opinion. Hence I get a lot of personal satisfaction from research - even when the research is not ground-breaking, Nobel-worthy stuff.
  5. Jun 25, 2009 #4
    "Giving back" can be about more than working in a soup kitchen for two evenings a week. I believe discharging ones duties at work in a professional manner, mentoring less experienced colleagues, being a team player and the like are all ways of 'giving back'. This is true whether one is a shoe salesman or a Nobel Laureate.
  6. Jun 27, 2009 #5
    Read Atlas Shrugged.
  7. Jun 27, 2009 #6


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    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Jun 27, 2009 #7
    The intent of this comment is contingent upon your view of Atlas Shrugged and in particular its philosophy. In the absence of any clue as to your intent the semantic content of your post reduces to zero.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2009
  9. Jun 27, 2009 #8


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    I think it's very obvious, given the philosophy in Atlas Shrugged that you seem to be aware of, why lagwagon suggested reading it. Anybody who takes the time to find a summary of the book on Wikipedia should understand the intent of the post immediately.
  10. Jun 27, 2009 #9
    I think this is the first time I've ever heard of anyone going into mathematics for the money.
  11. Jun 27, 2009 #10
    I'm sorry, but it is not obvious to me.
    Is lagwagon's comment directed to me or to the op? That is not clear.

    If it is directed to geometrick is lagwagon suggesting that the very notion of giving something back is wrong, which would be consistent with Atlas Shrugged. Or is he suggesting that making a professional commitment, to do the best one can, is the way to go. That is also consistent with Rand's philosophy.

    If it is directed to me, the same ambiguity applies. You may have taken an interpretation that is consistent with your worldview. I can assure you that based on three words that is risky.
  12. Jun 27, 2009 #11


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    Offer to tutor some kids - sometimes, they need more attention than a classroom environment provides. Contact Habitat for Humanity, and spend a few weekends swinging a hammer. You'll learn some basic construction skills while helping someone get a house of their own. Offer to give rides to older people to do their grocery shopping, etc. Often, older people are competent and capable of living alone, but don't drive or don't own a car. Hiring a taxi to take you to the supermarket (generally located on the outskirts of towns, these days) is expensive if you are trying to get by on social security checks.

    If you want to make a bigger difference, team up with a community organizer and get out the volunteers - compile lists of people with specific needs such as these, and people who are willing to volunteer and help fill those needs, and match them up.
  13. Jun 27, 2009 #12
    geometrick, you don't need to read atlas shugged (it's a big fat book anyway and unlikely to enhance your understanding of math or physics).

    you merely need to understand that there are many ways to give back and that you don't have to work in the social justice arena to contribute to it. in fact, i'd go as far as saying we need more people with skills in math and physics involved in social justice because they bring a different perspective. some of the most 'giving back' people i recall were my physics profs. they were involved in nuclear disarmament, environmental campaigns, animal rights, human rights, third world solutions etc. their abilities added to the always present non-scientific activists and made the effort more effective.

    so you can do it all! and it's likely a really good idea!

    in friendship,
  14. Jul 8, 2009 #13
    Yeah. I've felt this way since I was 12. The only thing I know now that I didn't then, is a better way to understand the question (I don't have the answer). I get a lot of personal satisfaction from maths and physics- I feel good when I do it. I feel guilty when I'm NOT acting on the human rights scene- I feel bad when I'm NOT doing it. One is personal and, in a way, selfish. One is born out of conscience.

    I lose myself when I do math, and its the only time I can forget my guilty conscience. So I could be selfish and forget about the world and be happy, or I could immerse myself in the world, and try to change it.

    I don't know, but there are definitely two sides to me, one that wants to ignore the world and do physics, and one that's hurting because of the way the world is.

    Maybe in ten, twenty years I'll figure out my path.

    But I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.
  15. Jul 10, 2009 #14
    Two thoughts:

    1. "Doing math/physics" and "giving back to society" are not mutually exclusive ideas. My father used his math degree to teach at a community college, and over the course of his career has helped hundreds of students find their way in life and become successful, confident people. I also view doing pure research as one of the most important things for humanity, not because of any technological advances, but rather because understanding the universe is such a fundamentally human thing to do. These are just two personal examples; maybe you agree, maybe you dont. There are certainly other examples of "giving back" with physics/math, maybe someone else can give help brainstorm.

    2. That being said, maybe you are passionate about eliminating poverty, or saving the environment, or who knows what. If you are passionate about something you should do it. I think at the end of a career (or life for that matter) you want to be able to look back and be proud that you did something worthwhile. What is defined as "worthwhile" is totally up to you.

    (and also, Atlas Shrugged is a great book, even though I'm not sure I agree with all of objectivism. Its probably a good book to read for the other side of the argument)
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