The Tiger Hunts Alone: A Lone Scientist's War to Save the World

Summary: A lone scientist documents his global journey as an itinerant researcher. He details his challenges and hopes for a better tomorrow through citizen science.

"If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them."

-Isaac Asimov

Beyond Comfort

My family was content in comfort and convention, but that was not for me. I grew up as a statistical abnormality, even by the standards of my era and demographic. I was the firstborn in a stable nuclear family in the United States in the late 20th century. Unlike many of my peers, my parents never separated, divorced, or moved throughout my childhood. My father was employed as a civil engineer for all of it, and I was sent to mostly Catholic schools. I knew both my grandparents, and I was always curious about what lay beyond. I had to discover those answers myself.

Since I was a kid, I admired those who faced danger and peril for the sake of knowledge. What use was knowledge if it was given unopposed? What use was there in only accepting the truths that established authorities provided? Those willing and able to stand against the grain were my heroes, both real and fictional. My two favorite fictional role models were Indiana Jones and Alan Grant of Jurassic Park. I proudly went as each for Halloween separate years, although few of my peers recognized them. That was the first time I faced a recurring problem: Unfamiliarity with worlds beyond one's peer group. As I came to learn, that was a universal problem across the world.

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar noted that the number of people that one could maintain relationships with was about 150. He proposed this was the approximate size of early human bands, back in the prehistoric era. Statistically, most people fill this number with those they grow up with, those they went to school with, those they work with, and their immediate family. Those who move or travel frequently have more flexible social circles, but the number remains constant. This is also about the size of a company in military units, the upper limit of individuals an officer might directly know. It is also the size of many small and medium sized businesses, ones where scaling up can be adverse to the core organization. It's a number I had to pay attention to.

I've had the privilege of living, working, teaching, and studying in four countries across three continents. I've lived across the United States, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. Each time, I did as thorough research as I could before moving, to better understand local history, and how it led to the local status quo. While all politics is local, there were alarming trends around the world. My primary worry became the consolidation of wealth, power, and authority among those who created the problems in the first place. Being aware of the local political context helped highlight why. At a time when more people fall through the cracks and old grudges get unearthed, it was a bad time to be an optimist. So how did I do it?

By ignoring those who said I could not. Those who disparaged my ideas were not just strangers or small-minded, but many of those I grew up with. My original Dunbar number was a prison of personal relationships, but I turned it into a springboard. I found support in unexpected places and from unexpected people. I've endured hardship in foreign countries, even being forced to dumpster dive to survive. I've stayed in dormitories of migrant workers and students from the poorest places on Earth. I've traveled to dangerous places, and even almost died a few times. In retrospect, it was worth it to me.

I've been a Stoic my entire life. To Marcus Aurelius, the obstacle was the path. To Teddy Roosevelt, voluntary hardship improved character. In the end, it was the fighter in the arena that mattered, not the caustic critics. I've enjoyed related philosophers, like Miyamoto Musashi. My personal pantheon of heroes expanded to include an eclectic bunch: Ida B. Wells, courageous journalist and writer; Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear US Navy; Dr. Richard Feynman, renegade and skeptical physicist; Yi Sun-shin, the innovative and courageous admiral who saved Joseon Korea; Heron of Alexandria, inventor of the first steam engine; Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore; Marcus Porcius Cato, the Stoic senator that stood against Julius Caesar; Te Ruki Kawiti, the Maori master of fortification; A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, father of the Indian space program; and Su Song, the prolific polymath of Song dynasty China. I plan to detail why each resonated with me, at different points in my life.

Many of those names may be unfamiliar to you, but I suggest reading about them all. I respect intellect, innovation, courage, exploration, and polymathy. Not all are able to balance multiple fields, but I greatly respect those that do. Even without being born into wealth, discipline and determination can be the deciding factors. While there are factors we cannot control, we had best control ourselves first and foremost. Even if we are born into comfort, we cannot depend on remaining there. Even if we are born into hardship, that may change due to external occurrences. In both cases, we must remain open to new possibilities.

In the spring of 2021, a string of personal disasters sent me from sunny Singapore to my parents' house in New Jersey. Fortune flushed me back to the place I spent my life trying to escape. This is not the first time this happened to me, but it was the most crushing. The first time it happened was in 2015, when I came back from finishing grad school in New Zealand to have only my undergraduate student loans waiting for me. This time, I'd almost died abroad in December, been separated from my fiancé in Singapore at a trying time, and been unable to continue several projects of immense personal importance. What saddened me more, though, was the state I found things in.

I remember being yelled at by a relative, someone who shouted I was not as smart as they were. I returned to find this individual as a sad shell of how I remembered them. Instead of expanding their intellect, they sat in front of a television, watching only cable news and being an apologist for a political party that threw them overboard four decades ago. Instead of improving and broadening their dietary habits, they poisoned their innards with alcohol and refused to try new food. I hoped for better, but that was stubbornly rebuffed. To paraphrase William Blake, I expected only poison from standing water.

The sad thing is that such cases are not uncommon, regardless of the country, political platform, social class, or profession. Perhaps it is the curse of complacence and comfort, but smug stagnation is the road to decay. I have accomplished many things I am proud of: the first forensic technique specifically for 3D printed guns, the first artificial cyborg body with integrated life support, a new type of artificial lung for life support, the first English-language weird fiction magazine for Southeast Asian writers, the first systematic reverse-engineering of New Zealand Maori Land Wars militaria, the first low-cost orbital debris removal system for developing countries, and proposals for decentralized atmospheric capture fuel generation, low-cost relativistic spacecraft, technological telepathy, and others. Despite this, some people will never be impressed. Some are content to sit and complain as the world moves on.

That is not a fate I ever want. Many of my peers settled into the patterns of their parents and predecessors. The inventions I describe are not only possible, but in many cases, have been proven in labs for decades. Their implications and applications promise far more than most can comprehend. I have paid of my own savings, my own wages, and my own future to bring them into existence. Unlike many of my peers, I believe in a better tomorrow. I will not succumb to their cynicism. I do not have a career, house, or family like they do. Perhaps there is reason for it.

I was born in 1986, the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese zodiac. Folklore holds Tigers are adventurous, brash, and bold. I've certainly lived up to that, as best I can. I am not one to take the easy path, and I would do it over again. I do not forget those who helped me, and I regret that I could not help them more. However, there are times when an individual must initialize projects, over see them, and ensure they reach fruition. A lone wolf is easy prey, a straggler killed by rival packs. A tiger, however, is built to hunt alone. I tell my story in hopes it might inspire someone looking for reason to keep going. I've taken some creative license, to protect a few names and personal details. No matter where we are, we must hold ourselves up before we help others.

Because in the jungle, the tiger hunts alone.

Notes: This is my first foray into non-fiction in a while. This is a primarily autobiographical piece, and I am happy to provide information on any of the claims here. I will elaborate on these in future chapters.