Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Ego and Scientists

As much as I like the organisation of Universities and see parts of them as a model for separating the uglier parts of human nature from action, sometimes these things come through. There have been researchers who have mastered certain tools who were uninterested in sharing their knowledge because they were competing with those who would learn them, and in most psychology research groups I've seen, individual researchers have near-complete autonomy/isolation over their projects (excepting broad direction), with the idea of opening up more than the conclusions and broad shape of the analysis met with a lot of resistance. Passion for science is a major drive in these cases, but ego comes into it too - the desire to be published as well as the desire for broad autonomy (This is primarily based off of my experiences of the field as a whole, not just or even primarily my group). Given that academes often are strong willed/stubborn folk, and that they're valuable enough (hard to replace, this being a "knowledge industry"), promoting more collaboration is difficult even if we were to come to a good conclusion on what level of such is desirable. One concern is that even in research, people desire autonomy, and taking too much of it limits happiness. Given that progress can still be made without being as absolutely efficient as possible, I think it's resaonable that every profession be willing to sacrifice a reasonable amount of efficiency in its ends in the interest of the emotional well-being of its practicioners. Still, I sometimes wonder what we could do if we were to go the other way.

I saw the movie Memento for the second time, I think, in my Cognitive Neuropsychology class here at CMU. We didn't see the whole thing, but the professor used it to illustrate some concepts relating to the effects of lesion in the hippocampus. I was impressed with the use of tattoos and notes as a memory device by the lead character - while I have no idea if taking things to that degree would allow that type of high-level functioning as an individual, I imagine it would be interesting if research were done the same way - if instead of having professors devoting all their energies to a small handful of topics, using intuition and keeping tons of state in their head, they instead took copious notes of all their hunches, hedging, and other "small bits" of knowledge, and collectives of people (profs and other researchers) were continually poring over these things, jotting on them, and hopefully moving things forward that way. This would represent a major shift in scientific style, requiring a good way to manage all that shared information (wikis and better things), a change in attitudes, and rethinking of the process of publication and the line it draws between pseudoscience, fringe-science, and mainstream science. I don't have any reason to believe it would be better though.. maybe we're better off with the superstar model? Maybe this shift would limit the role of intuition in science (if so, that would probably be very negative).. In any case, even if overall it's not a good idea, hippocampal damage coping strategies might still pose an interesting alternate model for the way science is done by the scientific community.


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