The Block

If writers get writer’s block, what do scientists get? Scientist’s block? Research stagnation? Creative Blockage? Perhaps the greatest parallel between doing theory and being a writer is not that they are both creative endeavors (because artistic creativity is very different from scientific creativity. two cultures? no! but different skills, most definitely!) but that practitioners of both can sufer from stagnating periods of unproductivity. In scientific academia, because there is a structured “road to tenureship,” this stagnation mostly leads (quickly!) to “alternative careers for scientists.” For writers it must similarly lead to putting their dreams of writing aside.
The past few years I’ve found myself confronting a severe case of whatever it is you call the scientist’s version of writer’s block. Why? Well part of it was a conscious decision. I wanted to make sure that the work that I did was not just good work, but was excellent work. Or at least that is the convenient myth I tell myself for my lack of productivity. Now, applying for jobs, where my lack of productivity is clearly a liabity, I often wonder if I would have done things differently. Of course this is a silly question (the past exists only as recorded in the present), and my answer is the equally unuseful “yes and no.” No, I don’t think I would have been happy with myself if I had decided to work on the easy problems which would lead to easy publications. It’s some silly integrity issue rooted deep in my psyche (I’m reminded of a line from pink floyd: “to martyr yourself to caution is not going to help at all”) Would I spend more times on some research and less on others? Probably. Would it have been smarter to try both the easy and the hard problems? Economically? yes. Spiritually? maybe not.

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