I've included lots of context because I thought it may be useful. If it's too much to read, I've marked the important parts of the question.
I graduated from college last May with a degree in Computer Science and Math and just recently turned 23. I'm in San Francisco now working in tech. The money is nice but I've found it's not quite the life I want. Over the past 7 months, I've developed a near insatiable taste for curiosity that I had never seriously indulged in the past (I was naively focused on getting a lucrative job that might be a stepping stone to maximizing my wealth and "success", not learning for curiosity's sake). I've learned some Statistical Mechanics, Bayesian Statistics, Topology, Logic, Information Theory, Social Psychology, and the list goes on.
I think this part of me came out partly because I feel disillusioned with tech and partly because I feel free from the college->job market rat race and can pursue what I am genuinely interested in.
Important 1 Start
I'm considering switching to a PhD track for 2 reasons:
1) So I can better shape my life by what I'm passionate about. It's frustrating to work knowing that I would rather be learning something else.
2) In learning more I've discovered how little I really know. This smallness not only humbles me but also motivates me to learn more and use what I learn to reshape my worldview. I feel particularly lonely with this feeling and know very few people in my social circle who relate. While I'm aware there may be other social circles that I could join with more people who feel this way, I expect students pursuing PhDs and professors share this feeling as well as they've surely learned more than me.
I am considering a PhD track because it seems like it may satisfy both of the issues I described above.
Important 1 End
I'm setting my potential start age of a PhD to 25 because I want to take the time I have (especially with the current pandemic) to think extremely carefully about this decision before I devote at least 4-7 years of my life. I also want to be mindful of other options that may satisfy both (1) and (2) above. I'm finding over the past 7 months I've begun to understand my emotions and personality much better than I ever thought possible. I see this new understanding as overwhelmingly positive since it helps me make the best decisions I can for myself. I'm willing to take the time now to think about this decision if it will lead to a more fulfilling life 20 years down the line.
The final question I have is how someone decides where it is they want to focus their research. I find that I get easily distracted by new information as I learn. I may have an interesting idea that leads me to explore one path down some material. As I learn more, the material sparks a new question or idea that leads me down a new path. While this feels like a great strategy to self-learn with a constructive and natural progression, it doesn't seem like an effective way to research. How does one decide they're ready to study a very specific question that may close doors to other material and questions in related fields they find interesting?
In my case, I spent a lot of my undergrad time learning about machine learning and working with a startup that explored some research questions related to its business. I find machine learning interesting because of how natural the algorithms can feel to think about. The ideas feel intuitive while my math education helps me wade through the more nuanced derivations and implications. On top of that, both the advancement of computers and my familiarity with them helps me solve seemingly difficult problems. But at the same time, I feel more drawn to questions on causality, truth, logic, observable effects at large scales, and efficient problem-solving. I have found physics fascinating since I was a kid but never started learning anything beyond basic relativity and quantum mechanics until recently. It seems like that opportunity is gone; to pursue physics long-term I would have needed to study it in undergrad. I enjoy math as well, but more so as it comes up as an abstraction to a concrete problem I'm thinking about. I would not like to spend my "passion-time" solving unsolved problems or proving various conjectures simply out of my enjoyment for math. I enjoy having a tether back to our world and the means to produce and use any result I find.
Important 2 Start
In short, I'm not looking for an answer to my life question (I must answer that myself), but rather answers to these 3 gaps in my reasoning:
1) Is it more common at a PhD program to find others who share a humility and sense of wonder at the immense amount of knowledge both discovered and undiscovered?
2) How do PhD candidates decide what question(s) they are interested in pursuing, potentially closing doors on other related fields and questions they find interesting?
3) Am I expected to be set on a question to pursue before I join a program? How flexible is this if I learn something that makes my question seem unsolvable?
Important 2 End
That being said, if you feel that you have life advice to give, I will gladly welcome it. More information will help me make a well-informed decision.