09 December, 2010

Research conclusions in novels

Science presents arguments that coherently lead to a conclusion.These arguments follow a (well, more or less) logical chain of reasoning. Many see this as the best way to share knowledge of the world's workings. Might or might not be, but for sure it is not the only way.

Think about novels. A novel is the result of a writing process. To achieve this, the writer might have travelled, talked to people, read stuff, or whatever he has thought appropriate to develop an understanding of the subject. We can call this background research. This research develops the writer's understanding of the subject matter, until at some point he knows it well enough to formulate the central finding of research in his mind. This we can reaching a conclusion.

In that sense, novelists and researchers are not that far apart: both study phenomena and make findings about them. Apart from the obvious methodical differences, the aim and presentation involve differences, too. Scientists always look for causal relations and are trying to answer the question "why?". A scientist could say that he has discovered how rainbows work and then present evidence on the refraction of light.

A novelist, on the other hand, isn't very often answering "why?" but more so "what?". He's focusing on the phenomenon itself, without necessarily trying to explain it. His conclusion is the existence of the phenomenon itself. As for presentation, a novelist does not necessarily present his conclusion in a very concise form. That is for the reader to find out. It is a sort of intelligence challenge, where the reader is invited to try to find out the conclusion with the help of some clues and thematic guidance.

Clearly this analysis of novels does not fit all types, but for me it's sometimes been helpful to ask myself "what's the conclusion here?". Books invite us notice something with the help of intuition and emotion. Moreover, we have a habit of seeing the world as interplay of narratives. We have a certain built-in story detector. Then, intuitive conclusions may stick better, because they play on our sense of stories and it may feel like you discovered the conclusion with your intuition. And in a lot of cases, the stickiness is definitely not a bad thing.

07 December, 2010

Not just getting an education

My choice to switch my focus from engineering to applied philosophy has, quite unsurprisingly, raised eyebrows among some. "It's a good education and you'll have a nice living as an engineer", some say, so why change? Even not going into how I feel about money, I have my reasons.

You see, I don't want to just "get an education". Getting an education is short for showing up at exams, forgetting most of the stuff right thereafter and finally ending up with a piece of paper enabling a nice job with a nice pay in a nice company. Not my thing. No, instead of "getting an education" I want to learn how to understand the world. I want to know what this is all about, where we came from and where we're going, and why a lot of things are like they are, instead of something else. A lot of these things would never come up in your regular Joe's engineering education.

Admittedly, you can achieve deep learning in a technical university too. It's just that the focus there is a bit off for me. I'm not into the details of robot control or the the best practices of companies. I'm a paradigm questioner, and that's got me into all kinds of trouble at courses already. I have a habit of asking a lot of annoying questions that to most of the engineering guys seem irrelevant. So it would seem nonsensical to continue along the previous path. Better save my time for my interests, and as a bonus I'll save other people's nerves as well, not arguing about all the paradigm at the engineering lectures.