I think I’m so smitten by this story — with its mix of deep curiosity into seemingly pointless subjects, followed by the discovery that this “pointless” material is wildly useful in a new domain — because it dovetails with my interest in “rewilding” one’s attention.
I’ve written a bunch about “rewilding” (essays here), which is basically the art of reclaiming one’s attention from all the forces that are trying to get you to obsess over the same stuff that millions of other people are obsessing over. Mass media tries to corral your attention this way; so do the sorting-for-popularity algorithms of social media.
Now, sometimes that’s good! It’s obviously valuable, and socially and politically responsible, to know what’s going on in the world. But our media and technological environment encourages endless perseveration on The Hot Topic of Today, in a way that can be kind of deadening intellectually and spiritually. It is, as I’ve written, a bit like “monocropping” your attention. And so I’ve been arguing that it’s good to gently fight this monocropping — by actively hunting around and foraging for stuff to look at, read, and see that’s far afield, quirkier, and more niche.