I have failed miserably in one of my unstated underlying objectives in creating this website. I wanted to tame my counter-productive way of thinking and acting towards my objectives. I reasoned that by writing from time to time I could constantly take stock of where I am heading and how much I am actually producing in any given direction. In the process, I would coalesce my thoughts and findings and be obliged to present them in a reasonably coherent way that wouldn’t, at least, embarrass me. Hopefully, these registers would amount to a sort of diary or commonplace book that, looked upon through the god-blessed filtering lenses of time, would resemble something of a path being traveled. I would be able to see patterns emerge from the chaos and respond to them by steering my life towards my goals. Yet, it seems that as soon as I make a decision and commit to it, everything begins to stumble down the road that lead to unfinished projects.
My wild (euphemism for stupid) way of doing things begins by having a glimpse of an idea1. I then become infatuated by that idea and enthusiasm fills me in an ever-consuming way. Suddenly, every other aspect of life becomes shadowed by the apparent importance of the epiphany. Bills, chores, wife, there is simply no time for these details. Instead, I surf the web looking for confirmation of the soundness of my idea. Many rounds of frantic googling reveals “brave new worlds” that I could never have imagined existed. Soon, I have dozens of tabs open in my web browser and Evernote begins to get stuffed with hyperlinks, random notes and pdfs that I’ll never look at again. I create a new Dropbox folder just in case, with a capitalised and eloquent title for my project. Countless scientific articles flood into my hard-drive and I begin wondering once more if I need a better digital reference manager. I begin anticipating the moment I’ll take my wife out to babble about my new eureka moment; I can almost see her distorted face trying to avoid yawning as I attack her with non-stopping fusillades of jargon. She always believes my words and does her best to give support even if reaching just a blurred understanding of the overall theme of what I am saying. When at home, anxiety grows in ways that makes it hard to sit still in front of the computer. I constantly get up, walk back and forth as if trying to carve a trench on the floor, and watch the time to see if it is late enough to open a bottle of wine and silently celebrate my findings. Then, just as I have nothing more to do but to start serious and diligent work, my computer screen finally reveals the terrible truth, like a bell saving me with its toll. I discover that my idea is not new. In fact, I realise it has been written about in countless papers, has already been turned into working software (possibly a commercial app) and, more often than not, is the central theme of an entire field of science I didn’t even know existed. It has websites devoted to it, with its own “fathers” and their seminal works, its own institute(s) and even one or more dedicated scientific journals whose names are almost exact transcriptions of my idea — just better phrased.
My disappointment then stalls me. I not only realise the unoriginality of my thoughts but, most importantly, that I would never pull it off on my own. Countless PhDs are right now trying to solve each and every aspect of the idea, aspects I took for granted as if easily handled by my topnotch programming abilities. I am struck by the obvious fact that while I have nothing but what I optimistically like to call “scientific imagination”, people almost half my age already begin to amass degrees by turning such insights into actual data, facts, scientific hypotheses, methods engineered to test them, and software.
I despair and quit.
Then, almost like the urge to drink that assaults an alcoholic when his emotions reach any minimal threshold, another idea appears in the horizon. It is just an amorphous cloud at first, but if I ignore the hard details and put off googling just for now, I know I can have some comfort. Yes, it can work. That’s a great idea. I doubt anyone has thought of that, wait until wife hears about it. And the cycle reinitiates.
Day science employs reasoning that meshes like gears, and achieve results with the force of certainty.
Night science is a sort of workshop of the possible, where are elaborated what will become the building materials of science. Where hypotheses take the form of vague presentments, of hazy sensations.
While one could argue that night science is a pre-condition for day science (or science proper), just night science is little more than day-dreaming, one’s indulgence in the warm constructs of imagination without concern for the dry-cold edges of reality. Just night science is perfect to be tasted with a nice Chardonnay during a middle-winter night, but it hardly survives to see the light of day — what to say of the heat of summer.
This website was an effort to at least keep the “building materials” of my night science musings in one place, but it is hardly working. The idea was sound, but I am not doing my part.
I guess the problem is the disparity of media. My mind receives ideas and insights in a rate much greater than I can put into words. This should be a good thing, but to the untamed mind it leads to paralysis through analysis. Ideas and insights succeed one another in such a frenzy that not even my thoughts are finished before new ones come and merge with, distort, enhance, contradict or annihilate the first-comers. How am I supposed to cope with that? When does one stop to actually peruse the existing literature and reach grounded conclusions? How to cope with the enthusiasm that these new thoughts and ideas make surface from the uninteresting soup of ordinary half-thoughts half-conditioned reflexes that affect us every day? How not to indulge in them by letting the mind freely wander through the sea of information that we can so easily access just by typing a few words in a query? There must be a discipline to it, I know. But I simply have not reached that level of self-control — I am not even close to it. Academia and my deceased 9-5 job used to force some discipline onto me. But now that I have no commitment but to my personal growth, I can’t move forward. One month has gone by and I’ve not written a single word in this blog. No musings, no conclusions, no nothing. OK, I’ve spent the month traveling, first in the mountains and then with family, but these are only excuses that even I don’t have the guts to use. No, the problem is not the disparity of media — the problem is character, or the lack thereof. “The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent”, wrote Waldo Emerson. I just wish I didn’t know that quote.
All this might sound like a tempest in a teapot — after all, this is just a blog with a handful of readers — but I don’t think so. It is not about the blog at all, it has never been. It is about writing. And about science. Writing is a process that I need to attain to if I am ever to turn night science into day science. Mnemoriam is a huge project. If I can’t establish a disciplined routine of reading and writing, I will get nowhere. This will be just one more unfinished project in my life. If I want to remember it all, I should at least do the basics: read, think and write. If the resulting text will be a perfect display of my poor English or the conclusions anything but minimally cogent, who cares? I am the first to acknowledge I am an ignorant fool. At least, I am a fool in a journey towards enlightenment. Will I ever reach it, you might ask. Hell, probably not! But at least I need to put up a decent fight.
All right, so I haven’t been writing, but have I been thinking? Oh yes. I am way behind in most of my commitments, but I have been faithful to “the idea”. I am not in my “despair-and-quit” modus operandi. Not this time. The problem is that I’ve spent so long trying to find the impossible idea that would save the dying company I used to work for, that I seem to have forgotten it is my soul I want to save now. I don’t need an original idea that others will like and pay for. I need something that works for me, original or not, and that I can use to remember it all. And that “something” is slowly assuming a shape in my mind.
(You might be interested in Musings about books >>)