Episode Six – Questions About Dwayne, Ashna And The Show


As well as increase production quality and to be able to create a broader range of content, such as maybe video content.

Great, that brings us to the end of questions for Dwayne. Now, time for me to have a go at some questions as well.

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Yes, so let’s start with your background. What did you study and why?

I studied mathematics and physics at the undergraduate level in college. I went on to complete a Master’s degree in applied mathematics in Fiji.

Then, after spending about three and a half years doing a Ph.D. program in astrophysics in New Zealand, I decided it was time to move on from the academic life about which I had been growing less and less keen, over the years

. So I submitted whatever research I had done up until then to be examined for a potential Master of Philosophy in physics. And alarmingly, this thesis, which was submitted in November last year and is still pending examination! Hah, no comments!

As to why, well, the two great passions of my life are science and fiction writing. Since at an early age, I couldn’t imagine making a living as a writer, I turned to science as my chosen career path.

If you had asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up I would have said, a scientist or researcher. Of course, if you ask me now, what I want to be when I grow up, I will say, a novelist but that’s a story for another time!

I was attracted to physics because I saw it as the more fundamental of the sciences that I was interested in. It was the subject to study if you wanted to know how everything works in the universe.

Later on, astrophysics was what I was specifically interested in. Why? Well, who doesn’t feel a sense of wonder at the achievement of man when they look up at the stars and contemplate the heights that have been reached in understanding our universe. I certainly do.

As for mathematics, it was a package deal, kind of, it just went together with physics. You had to be good at mathematics if you wanted to be good at physics.

What has your journey like in academia? Why did you decide to do a Ph.D.? And why did you decide to quit?

I did my Bachelors study at the University of the South Pacific. This was the largest university in Fiji and yet the physics department was small and the astrophysics department non-existent.

And I was interested in astrophysics which made things difficult. A great many projects being funded were in environmental physics and climate change. No comments on that! It was frustrating, to say the least.

I was able to find a project remotely related to particle physics and I spent the next few months being sent back and forth between the co-supervisors.

So then I marched up to the Dean of Science to say that I wanted out of my scholarship and program. Skip the details and I was persuaded to choose another project if I wanted, instead of unenrolling.

By that time I had learned the lesson of the importance of choosing the supervisor when it comes to doing postgraduate work. So that way I ended up choosing a topic in applied mathematics and completing my Masters degree in 8 months.

After that, perhaps because I still had the astrophysics itch and for personal reasons for wanting to be in New Zealand, I applied to do a Ph.D. in astrophysics, in New Zealand. I liked the research topic and the supervisor who was offering the project.

The supervisor had a certain passion for teaching that I have found rare in my years of schooling.

Since I knew by this time the state of modern physics when dealing with theories and their interpretations, I was glad to have found a research project that offered a semblance of rationality. It involved the improvement of the methodology of data modeling and analysis.

Crab Nebula
Astronomers get to study neat stuff like the Crab Nebula, the remains of a dead star.

Why did I quit then? My most personal reason would be that my passion for writing had far beyond caught up with me. But then, it was not like I had lost my passion for science suddenly. And it may have been possible for the two passions to co-exist if I could isolate the research problem I was working on from the problems of the world of academia and the irrationality rampant in the field of physics in general.

But being in an environment that made me feel helpless about the irrationalities of modern physics and the consequential depression that would follow, which was also detrimental to my writing, made it so that physics research could not coexist with my writing pursuits.

However, being involved in Metaphysics of Physics provides an environment that doesn’t make me feel helpless about the irrationalities in the philosophy of science and physics since that is what the show is all about, doing something about it. So in a way, it worked out for the best for me.

Not to say that every rational mind should feel helpless in academia. Just be prepared to be an outcast in the community for having radically different ideas, and perhaps get inspired by the great figures of history who faced similar problems for their radical ideas and triumphed.

What other specific things from personal experience did you not like about academia?

We used to have an astrophysics journal club every week where everybody had a turn to read and review a research paper and discuss it with the group.

Now, if you had told me when I was younger that I was not going to enjoy an astrophysics club, I would not have believed you! Alas, I would have been wrong! The discussions were always so abstract.

You would think that essentially, experts should be able to read a research paper, analyze the abstractions and bring it down to concretes of our physical world and explain it to the non-specialized in the group. That would have made the club so much more interesting.

But then, of course, that was only remotely possible to some people in the group whose area of expertise allowed this kind of sanity. I didn’t expect this at all of the theoretical cosmologists in the group, for instance.

Nope, not with their discussions about cosmological implications of string theory and multiverses and so on. It is not even possible to talk about these topics in such a way, to relate it to the physical world. You can’t do that with floating abstractions.
Oh no, you definitely can’t. To be fair, there must have been some things you liked being in academia, to have stuck it out for years?

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