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First off, while I have the platform I would like to sincerely thank John Baez, David Spivak and Brendan Fong for their efforts in bringing Category Theory to the non-working mathematician. Without them, I certainly wouldn't be writing a post introducing myself to this class. So, who am I and why am I here?
I am currently completing my Masters in Interdisciplinary Sciences (basically double major in Biology & Chemistry) at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland. I have specialized myself in Bioorganic Chemistry (particularly mechanistic enzymology) as well as Immunology. While I was born in the States, I grew up in Switzerland for the most part. Aside from trying to teach myself Category Theory, I also read, write, run and play the guitar among other things. That concludes the easy part. On to why I'm here...
The first time I came across Category Theory was around a year ago, while I was looking into mathematical structures that might serve as frameworks for thinking about cognition. Up until that point, the most structured mathematical object I had come across in my studies had been graphs (presented somewhat half-heartedly in Systems Biology). Obviously, I was also required to take basic courses in analysis, partial differential equations and linear algebra in my Bachelors, but these were taught in a very pragmatic (and thus boring) fashion. In any case, the little Graph Theory I'd seen led me to learn more, which was my first encounter with pure maths. A month later I discovered Categories and became convinced (somehow?) that knowing a bunch about them would be a good idea. Fortunately, this ended up proving true.
However, teaching oneself one of the most abstract branches of mathematics with close to no prerequisites proved difficult. Luckily, David Spivak's "Category Theory for the Sciences" attempts to build from the ground up. Nonetheless, I remember struggling with basic notions such as \(f: \mathbb R \times \mathbb R \rightarrow \mathbb R\) at the start. Eventually, I managed to work through most of the book, although I think I haven't managed to extract even half of what's in there. I've since worked through Lawvere and Schanuel's "Conceptual Mathematics", which helped me think about maps in general and am currently going through Steve Awodey's textbook in an attempt to cement the basics in a more rigorous fashion. There's still a ton to learn, but I now have some solid foundations.
I'm being this detailed because I hope to convince people who may have trouble initially in understanding some of the concepts to keep at it. Personally, thinking about this stuff has completely changed the way I look at the world. There's much to be said about where I think this new view might be useful - but I will leave that for another day. Regardless, it would be a waste if these cool ideas would remain reserved for mathematicians and a few computer scientists. To that end I wish everyone participating in the course the best of luck!