Monthly Archives: July 2010

Driving gives me ‘The Fear’…

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For many years I’ve had recurring dreams about having to drive somewhere and having to teach myself how to drive as I go along. I wondered if this would continue now that I am actually learning to drive. Last night I had one of them, and while in the past it was always mildly exciting, now it’s crossed over into scary.

I was glad in my last lesson that I didn’t have to do much driving; I spent most of it reversing round corners very slowly. (Without hitting any kerbs, I might add ;)) I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of driving and I wasn’t sure why until last night’s dream brought it into sharp relief. The problem is that I am afraid of crashing, pure and simple. I don’t feel confident about my awareness of where the edges of the car are in relation to other things, nor about the reliability of my steering. I mean it must be possible to get this awareness, most people are perfectly capable of becoming safe competent drivers; I just don’t see how right now. Most of the time we make mistakes while learning anything, but you can’t really make mistakes while learning not to collide with things! How then do you develop a reliable sense of the boundaries?!

On the plus side, my instructor is great. I always hate being observed learning anything, and to be effective, an instructor does have to really scrutinise you, so it’s important that I’ve been able to feel comfortable and supported. He also likes philosophical topics, and amused me a few weeks ago by saying “I don’t know whether there’s a God or not, but either way I’m fine with it.” 😀 He may decide to hedge his bets and pray anyway if he makes me drive onto the Bypass… 😆

There is no ideal… scientist :)

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My brother lent me “The Trouble With Physics” by Lee Smolin, which is a really interesting account of the last century in theoretical physics. I think the real reason he lent it to me is because of the additional commentary it makes on different approaches to scientific problems, which he knew I’d find encouraging. Here are some excerpts.

“As I reflect on the scientific careers of the people I have known these last thirty years, it seems to me more and more that these career decisions hinge on character. Some people will happily jump on the next big thing, give it all they’ve got, and in this way make important contributions to fast-moving fields. Others just don’t have the temperament to do this. Some people need to think through everything very carefully, and this takes time, as they get easily confused. It’s not hard to feel superior to such people, until you remember that Einstein was one of them. In my experience, the truly shocking new ideas and innovations tend to come from such people. … Luckily for science, the contributions of the whole range of types are needed. Those who do good science, I’ve come to think, do so because they choose problems that are suited to them.”

“Master craftspeople and seers come to science for different reasons. Master craftspeople go into science because, for the most part, they have discovered in school that they’re good at it. … Seers are very different. They are dreamers. They go into science because they have questions about the nature of existence that their schoolbooks don’t answer. If they weren’t scientists, they might be artists or writers…”

“People like this are driven by nothing except a conviction, gained early, that everyone else is missing something crucial. Their approach is more scholarly, in that to think clearly they have to read through the whole history of the question that obsesses them. Their work is intensely focused, yet it takes them a long time to get somewhere.”

“History demonstrates that the kind of person who becomes a seer is sometimes mediocre when compared with the mathematically clever scientists who excel at problem solving. The prime example is Einstein, who apparently couldn’t get a decent job as a scientist when he was young. He was slow in argument, easily confused; others were much better at mathematics. Einstein himself is said to have remarked, ‘It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.’ Niels Bohr was an even more extreme case. … there was not a single calculation in his research notebooks, which were all verbal argument and pictures.”

“During the stage when one is normally an assistant or associate professor, working hard to be published and renowned enough to win the invitations and research grants necessary to win tenure, they [Julian Barbour and Antony Valentini] were publishing nothing. But they were accomplishing a great deal. They were thinking, and in a deeper, more focused way than an assistant professor can, about a single recalcitrant foundational issue. When they emerged, after roughly a decade, each had a considered, original, and mature viewpoint that led to their quickly becoming influential. The authority gained from having gone through these years of concentrated study and thought and come out of it with something new and important made them essential to people who cared about these issues.”

Where I’ve been lately

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I went to stay with my friend for a week, who was visiting her family, in a beautiful rural part of Sweden. The weather was unusually hot and the lake was warm enough for swimming. It is always amazing to be out of cities amongst natural scenery; so peaceful.

In the forest around the house there were loads of wild berries. Wild strawberries, which taste quite different from farmed ones; raspberries, blueberries, and redcurrants. I got quite used to enjoying nature’s sweetness everywhere we walked.

A couple of evenings we went to jazz concerts in churches! Both were really, really good. I suppose churches make quite good venues for concerts; it makes sense. In the first one we had to sing two hymns first and listen to a short sermon. Not that I understood a word of it. Except “amen” at the end, at which point I realised there had been a prayer. Was very surreal as an introduction to an intimate jazz session with a sultry vocalist in a short dress. Awesome. 😀

We took the train to Stockholm one day to do some sightseeing there. It’s a lovely city. My friend is thinking of moving there. I’d be tempted to go too.