on research. . .

  • At least once a year, I pull out Wislawa Syzmborska’s Nobel Lecture.     Long before I became a researcher, her lecture resonated with me; but now, as someone who spends her days trying to figure things out, her words mean even more.

There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s wisaawa-szymborskamade up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners – and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.”

The idea behind the meta-induction is that all of our theories are fundamentally provisional and quite possibly wrong, if we can add that idea to our cognitive toolkit, we will be better able to listen with curiosity and empathy to those whose theories contradict our own. We will be better able to pay attention to counterevidence – those anomalous bits of data that make our picture of the world a little weirder, more mysterious, less clean, less done. And we will be able to hold our own beliefs a bit more humbly, in the knowledge that better ideas are almost certainly on the way.

  • Undoubtedly, one of the most freeing things I read while a doc student was this quick piece. We’re not supposed to already know the answer.   We need to find freedom in recognizing this.

“Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time.

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