Friday, June 11, 2010

Penrose does not usually look up what people have already done.

Greg left a very interesting comment on my last entry "The secret is to hide your sources".

Greg: It sounds reasonable that new discoveries emerge from sources that we may not be able to trace directly. However, there appears to be some tension with this idea and the underlying philosophy for academic writing where authors are expected to move from known scholarship to new inferences and discoveries. There is the impression that scholarship moves incrementally from the known to unmask the unknown through sound reasoning, observation, and experimentation. Perhaps, this is an ideal as well and that what happens is something between the two ideas.

Yes, indeed! Thank you for making this good point, Greg!

Academic paper writing is all about continuity and incremental knowledge building. Therefore, when you write the paper, it is necessary to cite all the relevant references, and state clearly what new things your present work is bringing into the field.
(Having said that, it is a fact that the Einstein paper in 1905 did not cite a single paper. I wonder if that was an acceptable mode of writing in that era.)

I remember a chat that I had with Sir Roger Penrose some years ago in Oxford. When I asked where his ideas came from, Penrose answered that it came from nowhere. Penrose does not usually look up what people have already done. He just does whatever he likes, and checks only afterwards whether any others have done similar things before. The order of things is actually opposite to what is normal in academic paper writing. I suspect that it is the case with quite a few people, especially those with originality.


ichi said...

My 7yars old kid seems to have abundant ability of imagination in her brain.She always gives us some incredible ideas without being fetterd preconceived ideas.Instead of that,it is a little difficult for her to understand the rule of society and in addition has no sense perceiving time.I think she lives in what is called chaos.
She often got me into trouble with unexpected bihavior,however needs to be treated carefully.And I try to do so. Because I think we need to think outside the box if we are going to come up with something really new.
Incidentally she is diagnosed as Asperger syndrome.I love her very much.

Greg said...

Your comments about Einstein and Penrose stimulated additional thoughts and questions. It is very likely that the conventions for writing academic papers today are very different from those of the early twentieth century when Einstein was published. As work in genre analysis has shown, conventions in academic writing across disciplines today wary widely. For example, the textual structure and format of attribution of papers you have written in brain science differ from papers written in other fields, such as literary criticism, physics, or linguistics. Another aspect is historical. In Einstein's time, the community of scholars and the body of relevant scholarship may have been smaller; so, expectations about attribution may have been different in his time and within his community. Academic writing may appear very formal and rigid, but it is still a very social activity designed to share, convey, and construct new understandings in the minds of readers.