Instead of attempting the daunting task of writing about myself (I am perennially unhappy with the results), here is a collection of things I want to associate myself with. They are things I like, things I think about, things that have influenced me. You can interpolate the rest.

Research disposition

My views on artifical intelligence are pretty fluid. The best snapshot of what I think at the time is in my annual reflection: 2023, 2022.

But everyone curious about research should see (in order of increasing commitment to consume):

How I thought about college was more relevant when I was there. But that wasn’t so long ago, and I’m still doing research, so the influence is there. I found Violence and the Sacred: College as an incubator of Girardian terror accurate. We were competing in a lot of meaningless ways. But it wasn’t all bad. I formed a lot of opinions about human nature. I also believe that the world really needs people who are intensely mimetic. One activity I participated in—debate—some would say is the prime example of meaningless competition. I loved it. Sally Rooney wrote an essay about how stupid debate is (it’s socially insular, it promotes big egos and toxic idolization, etc.). But by the end of the essay we are both ready to win just to prove we can again.

Once, my naive self told a research advisor that I thought physics was the purest, highest tier of knowledge. My advisor (probably after rolling his eyes) told me I’m not special in a nice way: “Zhengdong, you’ll be able to find interesting problems in every field.” They turned out to be right. But the course of my love-disappointment relationship with physics left several traces in how I think about academic motivation. Bob Henderson writes about the Sisyphean chase for the holy grail of knowledge in What Does Any of This Have To Do with Physics?. During high school space camp, I met Nicholas Suntzeff. He talked about walking home after a dinner in Chile celebrating his Nobel-winning research, running into a girl begging on the street. Why spend one centavo on cosmology when little girls are crouching in subway stairwells, begging? I don’t think the answer is always that we shouldn’t, but topics labeled make the starkest contrast. Finally, physics supplies some of the most visceral motivations for research. Who wouldn’t want to discover true facts about doomed neutron stars, the timelapse of our universe, how every light in this video is not a star but a galaxy, orbital rendezvous, megamasers, or black hole star shredders? Terrifying.

Fun fact: I have an Erdös number of at most four, from Paul Erdös to Vasek Chvátal to Yori Zwols to Thomas Keck to me. Crazy how that’s only one more than the median Fields Medalist. Anyway, this is surely a very scientific measure of my progress as a researcher, can’t wait for it to go down as I reach my final form.

Maximum fun

Where I give you fun recommendations.

Reading is so great. You learn so much. And it takes as much time as you want. And it can be free, if you want. My favorite books are:

My favorite poem is I died for beauty, but was scarce by Emily Dickinson.

My favorite movies are:

My favorite music would take too long to explain and the explanations are a bit personal. I usually list some albums I enjoyed annually though: 2022, 2021. And without explanation, here is one playlist: These Songs Do Not Have Flaws.

My favorite games are Twilight Struggle and StarCraft II. Eventually I want to make a game. Right now I have no experience and am not serious about getting any. But it seems like one of the best ways to practice many skills—designing human agency, implementing the code, writing the story, drawing the art, and composing the music. The peak exercise of renaissance ability. You’re creating a whole experience for people to enjoy. Watch Jenova Chen talk about designing Journey. I really admire people who did everything or almost everything for really great games:

The summer before college I switched to using Dvorak. My keyboard when I’m not on a laptop is the Leopold FC750R PD, yes, that color, with brown switches. If it’s good enough for The Machine, it’s good enough for me.

I subscribe to the friendship theory of everything.