Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What it is to be a theoretical physicist in Finland

I thought to tell something about about my life as theoretical physicist in Finland. I visited today the employment agency of state which formally tries to get me a job. Actually getting the job outside academic world would be a catastrophe but the criteria about what job I am forced to receive have allowed me to continue serious work as a physicist. Not because I would not like to have a job and enjoy salary and all that brings with it. The problem is that I simply have so much to give to this stupid human kind that I would regard myself as a criminal if I would start to do something just for money and leave my mission. Since the academic powerholders of Finland have for a long time ago made the firm decision that they will not in any imaginable circumstances provide the ridiculously small funding that I would need to continue my work, I am in a difficult situation.

Admittely there are also some comic aspects involved since there are two finnish physicists in the category "Physicists" with Einstein's picture as basic icon: the other one is Norström- a friend and competitor of Einstein- and the second one is me. Finnish academic decision makers do not let this to disturb them and do their best to look determined and intelligent.

In employment agency there has however been a continually increasing tension from the top to improve unemployment statistics by kicking out persons like me out and although individuals that I have met understand perfectly the silly situation but they cannot continue endlessly this formal employment procedure. This statistical tidying up procedure would mean getting money for food and rent from social office and living at the lowest step of the social ladder. The right wing won in the parliament election in the beginning of the year and I guessed correctly that the situation would worsen as a consequence. The inofficial term for the politics applied now is in finnish "panna köyhät kyykkyyn": the free translation is to "put poor people on their knees".

This policy means that I am forced to chose between the following options.

  • I will receive my living expenses from social office just like the people having very bad personal problems. This might mean also a kind of David Star type humiliation: I must show a card telling that social office pays my living when I go to buy my daily food.

  • I can also try to get some 1/2 period of unemployment work funded by government and hope that I could continue my work at least part of the time. I should find an intelligent employer who perhaps realizes that he has opportunity to get into history of science in the country which can be proud of having the silliest scientific decision makers in the known Universe.

  • Then there is the possibility that I get a position as a trainee for some employer. These positions are usually meant for 18 year olds having problems with addictions, suffering from ADHD, or something like that but since I am so called hard-to-employ kind of person I might get it although I am 56 years old. I would not receive any salary except for the minimum unemployment money as hitherto. The purpose of this job would be to teach me the basic skills needed in the working life such as the ability to concentrate for 5 minutes to do one and same thing. Having worked with a unified theory for 28 years and produced 15 books I am optimistic about achieving the required skills during the trainee period. I am however afraid that I cannot be a trainee for the rest of my life so that the lowest step is still waiting there.

I must say that the last option - and why not- also the David Star option looks a fascinating possibility to make my memoirs a best steller. It would be even more wonderful to tell this in Stockholm and conclude with warm thanks to all finnish colleagues without whose generous help this great human comedy would not have been possible!

More seriously: I can blame only myself. I should have chosen politics as a tool to make word better. The people suffering political discrimation have Amnesty but there is nothing like this for scientists who happen to have brains in a wrong country.


Kea said...

but the criteria about what job I am forced to receive have allowed me to continue serious work as a physicist

I have to say that you have been very 'lucky' to be in Finland. I have never succeeded in getting a benefit for more than about a week, and those mostly due to illnesses. I have spent many years selling ice-creams, waitressing, labouring etc. And now I am not elligible for a trainee position because I am too qualified, but I am also not elligible for any benefit because I must be willing to do any kind of work. These days I am finding it hard even to get waitressing work, because people get suspicious when I hide most of my CV from them (my CV is a sure-fire killer of job prospects) and also I am getting older now. It is beginning to look like I will actually starve before I reach retirement age - those lucky baby boomers are doing all right.

Kea said...

And living in the physics building would be more difficult to manage than at Stanford, because there is heavy security and photo id, and not much in the way of free food.

Anonymous said...

One of Feynman's autobiographies is titled "what do you care what other people think", I recall, which suggests that his advice is to do the "on the dole" thing. It's really not much different from a perfect academic job except the requirements, prestige and pay is lower.

I've been out of academia for many years. My buddy lost his job and made millions of dollars by buying and selling junk. In the US, extremely valuable equipment regularly is sold at auction and used as scrap metal. Maybe this doesn't work in Finland, but the people I know who do it (with less intensity than my buddy) are very relaxed and have little worry about money.

So long as you have a roof over your head, access to a library, and internet access, you can continue your physics research. And we expect you to, even if you have to suffer a few slings and arrows along the way. Even if you annoy the church and are placed under house arrest we expect you to continue your work.

I think that ending up in Sweden accepting a Nobel Prize has little to do with it. Each day the things you learn should motivate you to continue on. Who knows what the future will hold.

Kea said...

I was lucky enough to have a rich boyfriend for a few years - I got a lot of study done then. And I tried the 'free food-from mountaineering huts' gig for a while, but then one doesn't have library or internet access, and as Carl says, these things are important.

Matti Pitkänen said...

We must not forget that the basic problem is in my case due to the low ethical and intellectual standards of finnish phycicists as a community. In this harsh reality where we live there are always leaders who are almost-sociopaths and ready to destroy those people they regard as competitors. If the rapid response from the community to this kind of activities is lacking, situation like this can occur.

When I got the basic idea of TGD and tried to get research job but I was kicked out from my temporary university assistance within few weeks. I wrote my thesis without any funding. I believed that after the acceptance of my thesis the situation would change. I was wrong: I realized that I have an academic enemy who would take care that I would find support for my work only over his dead body. Indeed, I have not received a single penny of funding to my research work during these years.

Instead of social office some kind of scientific Amnesty International would be the best cure in this kind situation. Unfortunately, and probably because scientists in general do not have a high interest on ethical problems, there exists no such organization. Minimum salary for every citizen would be second solution. It would liberate enormous amount of creativity. Greens have tried to get this through in Finland for decades but the problem is that average citizen thinks that this would be misused: average citizen is simply unable to imagine that anyone would be ready to do something useful unless he gets a financial compensation for it.

I am grateful for the social system of Finland that it possible to me work in this kind of situation. I have spoken openly with individuals working there and they have understood quite well my difficult situation. The situation becomes however problematic if top physicist is forced to waste his best working hours to do something totally non-related even to his education. This is what mechanized "helping" based on the model of a long term unemployed as a person suffering from a rich repertoire of addictions and in-paired social skills becomes at worst.

About practicalities. I have not had access to library for years since I cannot afford the travel to Helsinki. This is however not a big problem. The minimum requirement is that I can use my best working hours to do physics. At the age of 56 you do not have energy to wash dishes for 8 hours and then return to the computer and start doing new physics: morning hours are for this kind of activities. Periodical jobs come next in mind. For 2 decades ago I tried to work few months developing computer models for a petroleum company and then returning to do TGD for few months. This did not work.

Most people do not quite realize how incredibly intellectually demanding a work creating something genuinely new in theoretical physics is. The idea of century is only the starting point. You must also be able to devote yourself totally to its development since the time interval from becoming conscious of problem to its solution is measured using decade as a unit. The mere application of existing methods to produce nice average papers is of course totally different thing but I leave this to others.

In any case, I think that the best thing to do is to speak openly about what has happened during last 28 years. I dare hope that this might help to develop some moral spine also in the community of finnish physicists. At this moment of course, average academic reader with his social conditioning thinks that I am a miserable crackpot but I am confident that the weight of my life work will change the situation.

Matti Pitkänen said...

Kea mentions the CV problem. When your real interests relate to something totally different from the job you are doing to survive, this creates unavoidably social tensions. People tend to think that you are "better" than them.

With the risk of being labelled as crackpot/social nutcase/etc..., I admit that I happen to have hypersensitive brain (essential for being able to create rapidly new associations) and also the limited social skills of a typical mathematician. With this background the idea about social virtuoso doing this or that to survive is not realistic.

I am happy to say that I do not receive any personal insults. People have very high respect on what I am doing although I tell openly the situation and this is not only due to my age. There are even some individuals in finnish physics community who dare to talk with me;-)! Direct face-to-face communication always kills prejudices.

And I repeat it again: the problem in my case is that the community of physicists in Finland has not been able to act appropriately to the actions of some individuals in this kind of singular situation but has choosen to isolate themselves from a direct interaction with me to be able to keep their prejucices about me and in this manner to justify their actions. Nothing new in the history of collective sociopathologies: remember only what happened in Nazi Germany.

Kea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Matti,
Please put a paypal donation button on your website in case people want to donate to you.
You might consider moving to New Zealand or Australia...contacting theoretical physicists from those countries, and possibly getting work in a theoretical brainstorming and teaching.
When I make some money I will definitely give you some.
Love Jana

Matti Pitkänen said...

Dear Anonymous,

I will consider this option.


Unknown said...

I believe most brilliant minds stand the possibility of ridicule and judgement by the masses including colleagues and peers. The path of knowledge or Jnana, is not an easy one. There are people in this world that have great respect for trailblazers such as yourself. Remember to embody ~SISU~.
-from an undergraduate student majoring in Physics. U.S. California

Matti Pitkanen said...

Dear Zoeanne,

thank for an encouraging comment. Being something more than a mere career builder in the finnish academic world requires a lot of "SISU".

It is not actually the ridicule which matters at this age. Much more practical things make my life difficult. Just one example. My homepage is my basic communication channel since physics journals and archives are strongly censored. My homepage address however ceased for some mysterious reason to work for more almost half year ago. Thanks to the generosity of my supporter I got a new address but no-one in web knows about its existence. One should have forwarding from old links to the new page.

But this turned incredibly difficult to achieve . My supporter has worked for all this time to achieve this: today the links should begin to work . Unless something unexpected happens once again….

It would be very naive to believe that this kind of endless series of strange events would be an accident. There are powerful forces trying to censorship TGD out of net and I have some ideas about their motivations.


Unknown said...

Yes, I feel your "gut feeling" is correct and no, I do not believe it is by coincidence, Matti. Keepers of the hidden knowledge fear loosing control which could cause a mass global awakening to the truth in which their entire system would collapse. I can't say much more here..but I think you catch my drift.