industrial biography

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Before Apple: Steve Jobs at Atari | Gaming Historian
New viewer? Subscribe! ► http://goo.gl/WCIhMQ Gaming Historian provides a history of Steve Jobs time at Atari. Before Steve Jobs changed the world of technol...

I really liked this documentary because it showed how the 2 worlds I’m most comfortable in, app development and game development, are connected in such a profound way. Big props to the Gaming Historian, by the way, for making this enlightening video.

In the past, love and marriage were seen as practical considerations – arranged marriages perhaps being the most literal manifestation of that ideology. Today, we’re flooded and indulge ourselves with romanticism – the idea that what we feel should be the trusted compass by which we make our choices. What caused this transition? I would imagine, at some level, it is because there was less need to be practical in our romantic choices, so our choices became more penetrable to emotion.

I have, in the nine or so months I’ve been working full time in a research lab, found my romanticism about science has given way to the impression that more and more, being a scientist is to be obsessed with the practical – marketing your ideas, getting your grants, keeping up the good opinion of those in your field, getting X number of publications with Y impact, securing connections to make an easy and profitable transition to industry. I would imagine science was not always like this. Surely, the original scientists – the so called “natural philosophers” – for which science was a hobby more so than a career, romanticism could fully bloom in scientific pursuits. But while we were uptaking romanticism in our ideas about love, we appeared to have been growing more pragmatic about science. And this makes sense – it’s necessary in these times of terrible funding. We cannot marry our favorite theories. We must choose the ones that are marketable, write them up, fund them – be practical in which ideas we marry ourselves with. Scientists today do science with a flat-footed practical, lowercase “s,” rather than a mythical capital “S.”

I studied analytic philosophy as an undergrad in part because I liked the idea that analytic philosophy was mastering the theory of rationality, and I loved the idea that, in moving on to a career in science following a science degree, I would be transitioning from theoretician of rationality to practitioner of rationality. Such has not appeared to be the case as I’ve moved into science. Philosophers, more and more, appear to be both the practitioners and the theoreticians, since they are not bounded to winning grants and similar practical considerations that is the groundwork of a modern career in science. It is a constant source of amusement to myself and my colleagues how much the culture of analytic philosophy clashes with that of science, all the way down to how one phrases one’s conclusions in a manuscript (The philosopher has no problem making decisive statements and calling out, by name, those who have proposed opposing ideas, both publicly and in manuscripts. The scientist is gentle, always catering to positive opinions of colleagues, always declawing their sentences of any combative bite! Honest opinions are allowed only in hushed conversations with trusted colleagues.)

It struck me how much my impression of science has changed, from starry eyed undergrad to cynical post-bacc research assistant, when I started reading an anecdote and narrative-rich book about the mathematics that is the cornerstone of my research field, Chaos: Making a New Science. I read a few pages and felt strangely repulsed – the romanticism it exudes, the magic with which the narrative believes science as a narrative to be imbued with – seems so far-fetched, ill-conceived, unrealistic. It literally calls certain tracts of theory “glittering” for how it drew in many scientists. Glittering!

I put the book away for a few weeks. I could not stomach another word, another “glittering.” Similarly, I find myself unable to dig into an audiobook about natural philosophers and find myself attracted to biographies of industry moguls (Elon Musk [Now on my third listen through that], Steve Jobs [only my first listen through thus far]), for which practicality (profit) is the dictator.

Today I returned to the book and found myself a bit more intrigued, but more so about the progression of ideas in my field than the glittery gloss it gives to science. I am curious to know how my feelings will change as I progress through the book (and, of course, post many quotes!)