Since restrictions have lifted, I have had the chance to do an escape room with a few of my friends. If you haven’t heard of an escape room before, you are in a room, and need to find your way out. Stopping you from getting out is a sequence of puzzles and locked boxes, each leading to the next. Some puzzles require you to work as a team, some are straightforward, and some are borderline impossible. But one thing always seems true: more challenging problems are always more satisfying to solve.
Of course, this satisfaction from problem solving isn’t just found in escape rooms. The thrill of making it to the top of a climb after working at it for weeks is a big part of why I’m a rock climber, and seeing your code run properly after hours of debugging it is a big part of why I study computer science. Working at a problem for ages and then finally cracking it grants huge satisfaction, and mathematics is no exception.
However, mathematics takes this one step further for me. In rock climbing and programming, sometimes you can cheat the problem. Here when I say cheat, I don’t mean that you are breaking the rules, rather you are skipping steps or solving it inelegantly. In rock climbing you might skip past some of the difficult hand holds, and in programming sometimes the problem is small enough that you can use brute force to solve it. In both of those cases, the task has been solved, and there is no need to pursue a better solution. In mathematics, however, there is something particularly rewarding about finding a concise and elegant proof. To me it is no surprise that many mathematicians seek to find the shortest, or the most elegant proof, even if an equivalent proof already exists.
So I chose to study mathematics because it makes my life more problematic. Of course I don’t seek problems that will make my life torturous, rather I seek elegant problems, in attempt to develop elegant solutions.