Monday, October 20, 2008

creating knowledge

this newly available, post-doctoral freedom in research feels as exciting as it does daunting. how does one create new knowledge? the process of becoming a (phd) doctor is to learn how to learn what no one has learned before. a strange goal.

some people create thru determination. johannes kepler certainly had some mathematical skills - he managed an amazing amount of data and repeated his calculations over and over in order to discover the shapes of the orbits in our solar system. persistence and time, trial and error, worked for him. he knew something non-circular was unfolding before him, but it took a while to identify the ellipses... what excitement to slowly see it happening!

others seem to be on a different initial plane of thought: albert einstein, isaac newton, charles darwin. the ones who looked at the questions and investigated the problems from completely new dimensions - literally!

it's rare to see researchers with such continuous insight. most of us plug away at interesting problems using our favorite techniques, hoping for clever insights to creep into our minds every so often. i like to ensure that my projects allow me to travel to mountain tops and use big telescopes, because i find those adventures particularly enjoyable.

but i wonder... what motivates researchers? the potential of discovering dramatic breakthrus? or merely producing publishable results? i guess we hope for the former while working towards the latter - to assure employment! ;)

i genuinely enjoy thinking about the complicated details of galaxy evolution theory, but i admit i get bored with the day to day statistical systematics. i'm not convinced any activity, job or hobby, completely lacks in tedium. i love cooking, but i still have to clean up afterwards. i'm alright with that though - the good things wouldnt be so good if there were no less-than-good things to compare them to.

we all have the potential to create new knowledge, new art, and new insight. in fact, each unique one of us does everyday... its just that we rarely remember to acknowledge it.

3 comments:

changcho said...

"but i wonder... what motivates researchers? the potential of discovering dramatic breakthrus? or merely producing publishable results? i guess we hope for the former while working towards the latter - to assure employment! ;)"

Very nicely put...I want to know; I don't consider myself very smart, but I am very curious. I've produced some published results, and working on some more. If the sea of collective human knowledge increases by a few drops (i.e., the published results), then I am happy.

becky ws said...

A fellow researcher, from a different field...
I'm currently finishing my PhD, and I feel exactly like you. There's definitly real excitement and discovery, but the data-crunching is beyond tedious... then there's writing it up!
Astronomy is my hobby, archaeology is my research field.
Nice blog :)

molly said...

Hi Astropixie,

Thanks for writing this blog. I really enjoy what you have to write. Truly, the words come alive when you put them in the sequence that you do!! I am not a scientist nor a PhD and its still good! Your blog is mucho greato.