It’s been two months since my last post. I still haven’t fully adapted to the COVID-19 situation. Prior to shutdown, I had a productive routine built around going to the office every day. I haven’t been able to replicate it at home. I estimate that on average I’m about 2/3 as productive at home as I was at the office.

I go for a walk a couple times a day and run a couple times a week. Once a week, if the weather is nice, I go for a bike ride. My 35-lb kettlebell now has a 50-pounder to keep it company. If anything, my diet is healthier than it was two months ago. All in all, I’m feeling pretty physically healthy.

I’m torn: solitary isolation is getting old, but I also suspect roommates could have been worse. My social interactions consist of assorted video calls and text messages. I occasionally make eye contact and smile when I pass strangers on my walks.

The past week has been particularly unproductive. I’ve gotten hardly anything done. I blame part of this on exhaustion from months of sustained effort in my research (see below). Another part of it results from psychological effects of months of limited human contact (or so I tell myself). I wake up; distract myself with walks, podcasts, exercise, cooking and reading; and then fall asleep.

An additional phenomenon explains my lack of productivity this week. When I think back over the years I notice a pattern – a periodicity on the scale of weeks. Roughly, there’s a cycle between (i) two weeks of “mania” and (ii) two weeks of “depression”. I wouldn’t call myself clinically bipolar: my highs and lows are mild and my external behavior remains pretty consistent. The cycle affects me primarily at the level of attitude, outlook, emotion, drive. Perhaps everyone is bipolar to varying degrees.

In my “manic” periods I get a lot done and feel very positive about what I’m doing. My work feels meaningful; my mind feels quick and elastic. Ideas flow from my brain. The world abounds with possibility, movement, music.

In my “depressive” episodes I feel an overpowering apathy. Everything seems difficult or impossible. It strikes me as an improbable miracle that anything works at all. Introspection reveals I’m an idiot and my ideas are half-baked. I don’t apply myself, and I feel bad about it.

A quick diversion into machine learning/statistics: I think of the tension between precision and recall as a fundamental part of the human condition. The universe constantly calls on us to discern, distinguish, classify, categorize. Different minds manage this in different ways. Some err on the side of precision, others on the side of recall. There’s a notion of Pareto efficiency: minds are diverse, but they are not all equal. There’s a frontier of efficient minds, making different trades between precision and recall.

Anyway, I mention this because I view my mild “manic-depressive” cycle through the precision/recall lens. Mania maps into the region of high recall and low precision. Depression might map into the region of high precision and low recall. Or, for all I know, it could map into a region of low precision and low recall. It’s difficult to see anything redeeming about the “depressive” episodes, especially when I’m in one.

From a 10,000-foot perspective I’m happy that my brain works this way. I’m a big fan of ensemble-thinking. Having access to both manic and depressive modes of thought is kind of like having complementary models available to me. If I wait long enough my manic mind will propose ideas and my depressive mind will prune them down, leaving the good ones behind.

$$\blacksquare$$