Sunday, January 05, 2014
The Importance of Being Curious
One of the attendees of Dynamics Days 2014 (I am not at the conference) posted a picture of one of the speaker's slides. This slide is paraphrasing Richard Hamming and has the following three questions: (1) What are the important problems in your field?; (2) What important problems are you working on?; and (3) Why are the answers to (1) and (2) different? I reject what appears to be intended by the speaker's take-home message on that slide. Here is my two-part answer to question (3): (a) You should work on what damn well interests you --- forget about whether it's important. If both are true, great! But you work on whatever interests you. (b) From a practical perspective, you make progress where you have ideas of how to make progress. If that includes what you consider to be the most important problems, so much the better. Grants can fund important problems, but not every problem one works on is funded by a grant. To me, science is about pursuing things for curiosity, and I need no other reason for choosing what problems I work on.