Monday, April 13, 2009

Finding my way

When I start work on a new scientific project, it is like arriving in a new city. At first everything is strange and frustrating. Then you start wandering around a bit. After a while, you come back to some point you have seen before and it makes you feel happy that you recognize something. So you start building a neighborhood of knowledge around one topic that you understand. Then maybe you take the subway somewhere else and start over again learning about another neighborhood. After a while the neighborhoods of knowledge grow and start to connect together and you get a perspective of what the whole city looks like. Eventually you feel like a native.

Of course*, it is always easier to build on your current knowledge, and not leave the comfortable city that you live in. But if you always do this, you get stagnant and end up too focused on minutia of your current specialty. So once in a while it is good to jump into the deep end and learn something really different

Is this a metaphor for my move across the ocean? I’ll leave that to the reader to decide.

But in truth, when I sat down to write this blog entry, I was thinking more on the scientific front. Over the last five or six years, with a fair amount of pain, I have delved into the rather mathematical field of topological field theories and conformal field theories. I had essentially no background in type of physics, and it was very hard going at first. Now, I am finally at the point where neighborhoods are starting to look familiar and, perhaps, I can think of myself as a native. Albeit one who still gets lost pretty often.

*footnote: Yes, of course, I know I use the phrase “of course” too often.

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