Idea Collector

I spend an enormous amount of time pondering the overall arch of my life. In front of me on the desk is a mock-up of a pamphlet that highlights the range of my experience, which goes from nuclear engineering plants (drafting of shut-down systems, studying the materials that surrounds the fuel rods), through universities (teaching physics, professional development for faculty members), to working at a professional theatre company (designing the website and teaching the call-centre staff how to use the new ticketing software). I have programmed computers and taught nursing professors how to structure their courses. I have classified patents and stayed up to all hours of the night grappling with poststructural philosophers. I have studied nuclear physics and the cultural creation of the concept of race. I cannot imagine how anybody looking at my resume in its entirety (which has never been assembled) could make any sense of it at all.

That being said, I have recently encountered Barbara Sher’s book, “Refuse to Choose”. Her assessment of the world is that, rather than being a fundamental flaw in my character, my desire to delve deeply into a new subject, but only for a little while, is a characteristic of being a “scanner”. This is somewhat reassuring, since my own inclination has always been that I was a little irresponsible, flighty, easily distracted… oh! shiny!

For me, the realm of ideas is continually challenging, continually refreshed, and continually confusing. I have recently been reading “real” philosophy (i.e. philosophers that make it onto the curriculum). In a radical act for me, I’m doing so without signing up for a course! At present, Wittgenstein is sitting on my desk. There’s a picture of him looking very thoughtful and intense on the cover, so I have a strange and illusory feeling of communion with the person himself, rather than simply the ideas he presents… if we can, in fact, separate one from the other. He, himself, has given me permission to think, although I do not believe that was his intent. He says on the first page of this book, “… what I have written here makes no claim to novelty in points of detail; and therefore I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before me by another” (emphasis mine). Now there is an intriguing thought. I have had a tendency to dismiss my thoughts as a result of conversations that go something like this:

Me: I was just thinking about this issue about the universe, and based on XYZ, I believe the following to be true!
Husband: That’s interesting. It’s very similar to what $well-known scientist/philosopher Q$ had to say about that issue.
Me (deflated): Oh. I thought I’d *finally* come up with something interesting to add to the Conversation. (meaning, I guess, novel)

It is interesting… I must believe something I don’t know. Rationally, that seems like an absurd standard to apply to myself, yet I repeatedly find that my ability to sit down and write is hindered by encountering this objection in my own mind. That’s why I don’t post more often. I find it extremely difficult to branch out into expressing my own thinking, despite the fact that thinking itself has been my primary activity across the years.

A much less well-known philosopher, Anthony Weston, recently gave me a Philosophical Imagination License. I have it posted on my wall above my desk. So, I guess this post might be to say, “Thank you, Anthony. I’ll give it a try.”


2 responses to “Idea Collector”

  1. The thought that comes to mind is “why deflated” – you managed to come up with a belief/tidbit of knowledge that *happens* to coincide with what Q$ has said. That’s not a bad thing – that’s not even a “oh well” thing.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding this – unless you can do the equivalent of a PhD contribution (contributing something completely new to the sum of human knowledge), you can’t contribute to the Conversation? Shit – if that’s the case, I’ll shut up now and never speak again.

    Hon – I’ve been saying this for far too long, and I’m sure at some point you’ll holler at me for it – you are WAY too hard on yourself.

    You’re a brilliant insightful woman who knows a freak tonne about a huge variety of subjects. THAT IS NO BAD THING.

    I love you. I do not get you far too often.

  2. If you don’t get your own thinking out there, your particular synthesis of the ideas of the world will go unrecorded — so what if it ends up with this part echoing what Q$ has done, and that part what R$ said, and this other part what A’$ wrote about in 1256? Your combination of those things is yours to put forth. Even if it doesn’t solve world hunger, or give the 10 easy steps to health, wealth, and eternal happiness, it may serve as a building block to Y$’s ground-breaking work on the mating habits of African Snow Geese. You know what I mean.

    If you’re disinclined because it’s not the ONE TRUE ORIGINAL THOUGHT, pah. Human progress, however you may define it, doesn’t only stand on the shoulders of giants, y’know. It stands on the shoulders and backs and necks of everyone who has ever laboured in the work of thought, (or, for that matter, in the work of the material world supporting the work of thought, but that’s another comment). If you don’t express it, it is lost with you.

    Also, you don’t know if your thought is original or not until you express it. (You’re part extravert, so I expect that’s more true of you than it is of me.)

    If someone else has thought something similar — you can always riff off it. Find out what they said, figure out the subtle difference between yours and theirs is. If you still believe yours to be better, than expand that difference (Viva la difference!) . If you believe theirs to be better, then you’ve learned something (Boy-ya!) If they are both equally valid expressions of the truth you see, can they be synthesized? What are the logical results of each?

    And if it seems exactly the same, suck it up and think some more.

    You’ve got the disciplines to cross, you’ve got the brain, so get busy.