Question 190 of 365: Should we be after pure research?

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve...
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I’ve been rereading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. recently. I always forget how good that book is until I take another look at it. While the idea that I am most drawn to in the book is that of the false religion (self-proclaimed by the creator itself.), the one that seems to keep on haunting me is the idea that one of the characters was a pure research man. He was someone who didn’t bend to the wants of the people around him for fulfillment of a job. Rather, he studied only what he was interested in studying. Sure, he created the atom bomb and a new way for ice to form, but he didn’t do those things necessarily on purpose. He did them just because he got interested in them. At least for a while.

He was a pure researcher in the sense that he wasn’t required to produce anything of use. He was just paid to think and create.

I sometimes wish for such a job, free from the constraints of a requirements document or a meeting schedule. Pure research sounds like heaven, but then I realize what I would be giving up.

If I never bent my will to those of other people, I would never get anything done. It is only through other people asking me to do things and putting up fictitious deadlines in my way that I have a sense of worth.

I am not one who can toil away and never come up with something great. I have to convince myself that the things I create are great, and then I must convince other people too. Pure research gets in the way of two people having a conversation about where to go from here.

I feel as though we may be setting one another up to lust after pure research, always reaching further into the isolated extreme in order to attain it. We may be so much after the sense of freedom that comes from not answering to anyone or anything for your thoughts and whims that we make believe we have already attained it from time to time. What I mean by that is that we get lazy because there is only so much passion that people can devote to the next big thing. We become entrenched in the drama of offering solutions to other people’s problems. So entrenched that we become complacent in getting ourselves out of bed. We believe that just by thinking after something and experimenting within ourselves that we have created something of value.

But we haven’t.

Pure research creates some of the most interesting and useful products and projects, but on the whole it is a mirage. The beauty of creation is in making it useful and relevant. The conversations and implications of what we create are often more important than the things themselves. If we ever forget that, we will slip into the position of head quack of our organization.

We can’t become what we can become if we only want to follow our own interests. It takes two to tango, you know.

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