One of the themes of the movie is the protagonist's obsession with the problem he faces. His inability to concede defeat and his unwillingness to rest until it is solved struck me as an interesting parallel to my conception of the hacker archetype. Assuming the definition of hacker provided by dmorin on Slashdot:
"To hack is to see a problem, determine the resources available to you, and to creatively apply them to the solution. That allows me to say with equal validity 'hack code', 'hack management', or just plain 'hack life'."
Most of the definitions of a hacker or hacking that fall outside of the media's incorporate some aspect of problem-solving as a primary concern and pursuit. However, Pi seems to be cautioning against narrowing one's vision onto a problem to the exclusion of all else. This would seem to fly in the face of the hacker mindset, however and I wonder how difficult it would actually be to simply give up on a problem you were facing because the consequenses were too dire. How many hackers would be willing to do this?
Bill Joy exhibits concern over this in the Why The Future Doesn't Need Us article that ran in Wired a few months back. Mr. Joy, without explicitly stating so, seems to understand the need to solve the problem and the tunnel vision that accompanies those "in the zone", so to speak. He fears that those who are working on finding a solution to a problem (in this case, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence) won't be willing to stop to think about the outcome of that solution or even the effects of the search. How do we convince the very people we encourage to never give up until the solution is found, the individuals who by their nature almost are problem-solvers, to stop solving due to the percieved potential outcome?
How do we see where our actions will take us? While the protagonist of Pi eventually purges himself of the obsession, of more interest to me is his mentor, Saul, who we can assume eventually succumbed to the obsession and paid with his life, yet he warned Max of the fate he himself eventually suffered. Whether the outcome is madness from trying to solve the unsolvable (as in Pi) or an effect that wasn't expected, can we afford to have the attitude of "the means justify the ends?" At what point should a problem be classified as unsolvable, unsolvable by a particular individual or unsolvable for fear of outcome? How do we make these distinctions?
With obsession, according to Pi, comes the potential for destructive failure (witness Saul's demise and the "solution" Max comes to) or, according to Joy, destructive success due to lack of foresight. So here is the question: Assuming Pi's moral holds merit and Joy's fears aren't unfounded, how do we encourage intensity and dedication without breeding destructive obsession?