Anna Koop

July 8, 2011

Three encouraging things

Filed under: Research

It is always great fun when you go back to read a document after a break of a month or two and still think it is helpful and makes sense. All that work was worth it after all! Although finding all the typos is less fun. Sorry, committee members. I will try to build in a break and typo hunt on the actual thesis.

As a matter of fact, the first essential in dealing with scientific matters (when one is not inspired by the mission of teaching) is to have some new observation or useful idea to communicate to others. Nothing is more ridiculous than the presumption of writing on a topic without providing any real clarification—simply to exhibit an overly vivid imagination, or to show off pedantic knowledge with data gathered second- or thirdhand.

This has also reinforced the overwhelming importance of actually writing things down, actually doing the experiment. It is much easier to examine something that is physically realized. Tossing and turning over thoughts in your head is not nearly as effective a use of time. Better the imperfect proposal than no proposal at all!

But to speculate continuously—to theorize just for its own sake, without arriving at an objective analysis of phenomena—is to lose oneself in a kind of philosophical idealism without a solid foundation, to turn one’s back on reality.

Also great fun is when you’ve thought long and hard about something and are starting to see it pay off. In particular, I was reading the intro to Human Knowledge: classical and contemporary approaches, which is a philosophy book, and finding that I was understanding it pretty well and it was covering some of the same ground I’ve been working through. This is hardly recently published work, but it is very good to see I am not veering off into personal idiosyncrasies.

… when a beginner’s results turn out to be similar to those published a short time earlier, he should not be discouraged—instead, he should gain confidence in his own worth, and gather encouragement for future undertakings. In the end he will produce original scientific work, providing his financial resources match his good intentions.

And then when I went to outline my talk on the Thesis Board, it fell into place rather quickly, and some sticking points I had anticipated weren’t an issue after all. Because—shocker—I’ve been working on this for long enough that I actually have some coherent things to say.

It is not sufficient to examine; it is also necessary to observe and reflect: we should infuse the things we observe with the intensity of our emotions and with a deep sense of affinity. We should make them our own where the heart is concerned, as well as in an intellectual sense. Only then will they surrender their secrets to us, for enthusiasm heightens and refines our perception. As with the lover who discovers new perfections every day in the woman he adores, he who studies an object with an endless sense of pleasure finally discerns interesting details and unusual properties that escape the thoughtless attention of those who work in a routine way.

All in all, a good day yesterday. I’m looking forward to working on the talk with Rich this afternoon.

Quotes from our last Making Minds reading group book, Advice for a Young Investigator.

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