That’s my one-line takeaway from PG’s essay, The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius.
A few excerpts below:
Which leads us to the second feature of this kind of obsession: there is no point. A bus ticket collector’s love is disinterested. They’re not doing it to impress us or to make themselves rich, but for its own sake.
An obsessive interest in a topic is both a proxy for ability and a substitute for determination. Unless you have sufficient mathematical aptitude, you won’t find series interesting. And when you’re obsessively interested in something, you don’t need as much determination: you don’t need to push yourself as hard when curiosity is pulling you.
So what matters? You can never be sure. It’s precisely because no one can tell in advance which paths are promising that you can discover new ideas by working on what you’re interested in.
Even Newton occasionally sensed the degree of his obsessiveness. After computing pi to 15 digits, he wrote in a letter to a friend: I am ashamed to tell you to how many figures I carried these computations, having no other business at the time.
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