The Inverted PI Polymath

There’s a war going on in my mind. The Specialists, numbering in their millions, were wielding their sharpened, highly honed spears. The Generalists, a motley group in the dozens, stood fast, holding their battered shields and battleaxes.

“Charge!” shouted a Specialist.

A ripple fragmented the front line of the Specialists. In a strangely beautiful pattern, the Specialists swarmed towards the Generalists, an undulating wave upon wave of clanking moving bodies. “Hold tight!” cried a Generalist, as she levitated effortlessly into the air, and materialised a volley of icicles shooting towards the Specialists. Another Generalist moved forward, forsook his axe and shield, and clapped his hands to unleash a thundering tremor, toppling the front line of the approaching Specialists.

“Archers!” And a sleet of arrows flew into the air, formed a graceful arc, and rained on the Generalists. Just before the the arrows hit, shields faced skywards to deflect most of the arrows. A sudden gust of wind blew to disrupt the flight path of the arrows, sweeping them harmlessly to the side.

Then the clash came.

Spears were thrusted, aiming for the head. Battleaxes were swung, some to break spears, some to bash heads, some to disembowel, some to clear a path for others. The Specialists used everything they knew, which was to thrust a spear unerringly into the head, or shoot an arrow unerringly to the eye. The Generalists used everything they knew, which meant using the flat end of the axe to increase surface contact with the head, or the blunt end to smash spears, or the sharp end to slice.

“NOW! Everyone together!” That Specialist appeared to be the leader. The Specialists moved closer to the leader and started charging in an arrow-like formation, intent on splitting the Generalists.

One Generalist near the point of the formation reversed his battleaxe and thrust it downwards. The ground exploded. Another Generalist took the opportunity to blow the dirt towards the Specialists. Yet another Generalist sliced her hand in the air and formed a fire barrier. The front line of the Generalists held their shields together, propped them on the ground, enlarged them, and directed some of the heat from the fire onto their shields and melded them together.


That war is still waging. Everyone says to specialise. To find a niche. To go ever deeper into something. A part of me agrees. Another part of me also says that something is wrong. If everyone goes into a deep hole, how are they going to talk to each other? If there’s an ambiguous problem, who’s to come forth and solve it?

And ambiguous problems we will have, given the increasing complexity of our problems. I envision problem solving then to start similarly to medical diagnosis. Maybe you feel an erratic inability to breathe. You might want to go directly to a Specialist. Which one then? A lung Specialist? Probably a good choice. What if it’s not your lungs, given that you probably don’t know much about the human body? What if it’s your trachea, or a fungal infection, or the ginseng tonic you drank 3 days ago?

My friend had a compromise. It was originally called “PI expertise” or something like that. I can’t remember what’s the vertical axis, so I’m calling it the inverted PI.

Inverted PI Polymath

Out of the range of topics you know, you master 2 (instead of just 1) topics. For the other topics, you maintain a passable level of knowledge. I’ll leave you to decide what “passable” means, since I believe it’s up to the individual.

It just so happens that I write about maths and programming here on the blog. Ok, I’m topic-wandering lately, but I originally just wrote about those 2 topics.

I will also tell you that I’ve met mathematicians who can’t program for biscuits, and programmers can’t do math logic to save their lives. For me, these 2 topics complement each other. If I didn’t write code, I wouldn’t know that for some maths concepts, a workaround is needed (such as “1/3 cannot be represented exactly with floating point numbers”). If I didn’t do maths, forming complicated if-else statements might be tough (I’ve seen programmers who don’t understand De Morgan’s laws, even if they don’t know the name of the concept).

Maybe I just happen to like 2 topics that can work symbiotically.

I’m also not a master of maths and programming. Far from it. In fact, I feel my skill levels in both diluting. But my interest in both is still there. I just happen to like exploring other topics too.

I don’t think that struggle will go away. I’m neither interested enough to only hone just one skill, nor clever enough to master several skills. It’s like neither the Specialists nor the Generalists can accept me. It’s a war I tell ya.

Now I need to get back to experiencing that war again. Tell me what you think though.