The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

Striving for Change

The reason why men have nipples and the desire to quit drinking coffee are related.

Why would anyone want to quit drinking coffee? Isn’t it great to caffeinate the brain in the morning to open the senses and to promote bowel movements? I have been a coffee drinker for years, and I no longer remember what it was like to live without drinking four cups a day. This is why I quit: I want to see if coffee has any impact on productivity, I want to know if I am less grumpy in the morning after being free of the substance. I have to experience what changes it brings in the long run.

Male members of our species have nipples for the same reason. Men like nipples so much, we were curious to find out what it was like to actually have them, so we evolved a pair on our very chests. We strive for knowledge, we are universal knowledge accumulators, and to gain knowledge, we must expose ourselves to change.

House in Masaai village

Some things never change: the Maasai cow dung houses are already perfect.

Most of the accumulated knowledge is useless. I know that if I repeatedly get hammered by mescal, the chances decrease that I can read mathematical formulas in the morning. I also learned that obtaining a bunch of degrees does not make me smarter; I am rather sour about this one.

On the other hand, some bits of knowledge prove useful. I learned by experimentation that smelling bad will reduce the number of girls in my vicinity. This bit of information is crucial if we ever start space colonization. Apart from sustainable food sources, oxygen and water recyclers, space colonizers must also take antiperspirants and eau de toilette with them. In fact, they should take so much of these that will be sufficient for a few generations, until they can build a factory at the target planet. Schools should teach this.

The human brain is surprisingly reluctant to change, despite being fully aware that change is the best thing that can happen to the brain’s owner. If we leave the brain in its natural idle state, it will make us watch TV shows indiscriminately, consume junk food without measure, and abandon personal hygiene. It will also permanently embed our behind on the couch, and prevent us from exercising. Our brain is an enemy: it is a device to demotivate us, and lead us to certain death by ennui.

The brain must be tricked into changes and learning. The key is to lower the perceived barrier of change. First and foremost, do one change at a time. Do not quit smoking, boozing, coffee, change to vegan diet, and start exercising at the same time. Your brain will riot. Pick just one: coffee is a good start. It is the source of many evils.

A monkey mooting

Even this monkey is mooting the option of change.

Then you must pretend there is a temporal limit. The brain will shy away from any change that threatens with being permanent. If you pledge that you will never watch TV again, your brain will sabotage your intentions. Say that you will not watch TV for a month. It is all about changing habits, and a habit will change if you give it at least two weeks. Anything done for less then two weeks will unlikely to have longer term results, and any promise made for longer term will be boycotted by the brain.

Unfortunately, even with careful planning, there are boundaries to changes. We cannot explore everything in life. For instance, getting addicted to heroin appears to be a one-way street, albeit there is a lot to learn from that change. If I went down that road, I would have even less money and even bleaker prospects. Although it is hard to imagine that you can have less money and bleaker prospects than a struggling academic. Keep pushing the boundaries, though. We have to die in something anyway, and one form of death is as good as the other.

The next skyscraper is being craned together in Singapore

Singapore, where only change is constant.

Seeking knowledge is pain. Seeking knowledge means making daily sacrifices on the altar of change. Change is a god, and it is a god that hates you: it repeatedly pushes you out of your comfort zone. Yet, if you miss the worship, you are no longer a human, but an ape that accidentally wears pants.

My next task is to break the habit of breaking the habit. It does not matter what humans do, sooner or later we reach a paradox.


  1. Kathleen says:

    “The human brain is surprisingly reluctant to change, despite being fully aware that change is the best thing that can happen to the brain’s owner.”

    Eloquently put!

    I am currently trying to give up smoking. Have switched to an electronic cigarette. For the first few weeks, it felt like a miracle. Now it’s more of a struggle. But I’ll persevere!

    No way I could give up coffee though! 😮

    1. Peter Peter says:

      I have been eyeing those electronic cigarettes. Not that I smoke anymore, I don’t, but electronic cigarettes would be a great avenue to restart a bad habit.

      Yet, quitting smoking is nothing compared to the pain and suffering that await the unfortunate souls who decide to quit coffee. I have been in a torpor for ten days, and my condition is not improving. Add migraine to it, aching joints, and generic apathy. It is as if I am going through menopause.

      1. Kathleen says:

        The menopause! Oh dear. So what have you replaced the coffee with? I think you always need some kind of “methadone”. LOL.

        I made sure to get a top-quality e-cig, imported from the States, to improve my chances of success. It involves a whole new set of rituals like refilling cartridges and testing different flavours. You need to remember to always carry a USB charger/charging case rather than a lighter, and stay more sober at the pub because losing an expensive e-cigarette kit is a bit more problematic than leaving behind a packet of fags. But all in all, an interesting experiment!

        1. Peter Peter says:

          Coffee is not replaced yet, but my mind is desperately looking for something to get addicted to.

          With e-cigs, technology enters the picture. Can you hack how the thing works through USB? That would be awesome. Or is it just for charging? I want to be able to log in to my future e-cig, and recompile the kernel.