I’ve joined this mailing list called What I Learned Today. Hopefully it will encourage me to put more of my scatter-brained thoughts into words. This is my first one. Took me like an hour and a half to write it. Not used to spending that much time writing any more. Hopefully I’ll get back into the habit of blogging, too.
Hi all, long time wiltee first time wilter, hope you find these thoughts somewhat interesting.
So, as other wilts have brought up, Larisa, Alec and me had dinner (crepes !) a few nights ago. Alec mentioned something during dinner that I’ve been thinking some about. It’s his personal opinion that there is an imbalance of roles in science: that the culture places too much emphasis (and reward) on chasing the “new” rather than making sense of the existing… Basically– too many explorers and not enough cartographers. (hope i’m not mis-representing)
I’ve long had an unhappy sense about the scientific community, I’m not sure that that’s it exactly, I think that there is still great reward and respect to be earned by “re-mapping” an existing theory (otherwise Feynman wouldn’t have a PhD) as long as some new kind of understanding (again, new) can be gained. Which is ok, because I think it’s natural for scientists to be disproportionately concerned with the new. After all, if science were to adopt a central doctrine, it would have to be that the universe is made up of a collection of truths, and these truths though they may be infinite can be determined by a finite set of laws.
As a result scientists tend to see the world as incomplete: as this dark object with only some parts lit up. The lit up parts are nice to look at and all but it just makes them crazy what’s going on beyond. Because to them this thing has a definite shape- it’s just hidden by all the dark, and until we have it all what’s the point of spinning it around and turning it over? It’s the job of artists to elevate, to attribute “meaning”, to look at it from an infinite number of angles.
But that actually brings me to the thing that does bother me about the scientific culture: not, why aren’t scientists artists, but why can’t artists be scientists? When I looked around at MIT, there were a great number of artists (ppl with artistic inclinations, I mean) studying science. Now I look around in grad school: there are fewer. Post-docs, even fewer, and so on and so on. It’s like… science weeds for not only interest, ability, but somehow most strongly: personality. Implicit in every test, every class, every communication you have, is this notion that science is NOT FOR THE SENSITIVE NOT FOR THE INSECURE NOT FOR THE AIR-HEADED NOT FOR THE HANDS-ON NOT FOR THE PRACTICAL-MINDED not for people who need a minute-or-two, not for you if you have to ask, not for that guy or that guy or that other guy. As if the fact that those folks are not in science now is proof that they shouldn’t be in science ever.
Maybe that’s where your people went, Alec. The people who would otherwise have the scientific expertise to do the re-imagining and re-drawing and re-inventing. Who could raise this world up, spin it around in their hands, and know what they’re looking at. That’s probably where all the girls went, anyhow.
What I learned Today: The smell of cinnamaldehyde sure stays on your hands for a long time.
I leave you all with a haiku I read:
in this world
we walk on the roof of hell
gazing at flowers
—Kobayashi Issa (1763–1828)