The Whirlpool of Scientific Thought

The idea of writing this particular grant proposal at this specific time clearly makes no sense in the framework of my life, with teaching and traveling and kids and a million other things to do. It would border on the insane to try to do this now and to do it well. Yet the intrinsic impossibility of writing this proposal stays with me. It was with me in the pool this morning, where all was quiet except for the sound of strokes and flip turns in the water. It is with me now. I cannot resist thinking through some of our latest results.

And so it begins. Before I fully realize it, I am sucked into a whirlpool of ideas. I float on them, soon lost in the absolute freedom of thinking. I am absolutely engaged.

I am fascinated with something no one understands and only a few of us would care to. I am consumed with the desire to think through this mystery, to know it. As Thoreau said, "to gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw at it still". It is exhilarating to be drawn into the deep realm of the undiscovered and it is a challenge to harness the wild power of scientific ideas by writing about them. I want to explain our research results clearly to my colleagues, propose a model and ask them "don't you see it too?" My intellect is engaged and my heart too, because I love this work.

I am oblivious to the looming demands of the 100 students that I will begin teaching tomorrow, deaf to the requests of colleagues to help out on this or that, rushed with my graduate students that need my advice, and indifferent to the calls of my husband for my attention. Yes, tonight, I will surely even be slow to respond to the hunger of my children.

"What?" I will say, looking up in a daze from the computer, "Dinnertime already?"

The scaffold of my day, the family schedule that brings a peaceful haven to our lives will be submerged in the pursuit of hypotheses and the design of experiments to test them.

So I adapt myself to the need to write. Oblivious to everything, as if time was ample, except for the pressing and peculiar desire to post this blog before I dive back in.

This post greatly benefited from Annie Dillard's wonderful book "The Writing Life"
It is a repost from my old blog, Sept 2008

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By Michelle B (not verified) on 03 Jan 2010 #permalink