03 October 2016

Reading vs Research

I wrote this on Facebook in 2012 and have edited it to suit my 2016 mood.

When I mention I'm studying something, people often start recommending books: "Oh you should read X, it's very good." They don't usually ask what I'm reading. They don't ask what I think about or write about, which is after all what get's me out of bed each day and stops me slashing my wrists.

It's as though people assume that "studying" means "reading about other people's ideas" rather than trying to form their own ideas directly from the evidence. Reading books can be stimulating, but they're like package holidays. Stimulating and safe at the same time. You have all the experiences promised in the guide book, but that's about it.

Most people seem to be Catholic in their approach: knowledge is best approached through an intermediary like a book, magazine or TV program. The saints who write good books are revered. I'm more Protestant. I like to have a personal relationship with knowledge, and strive for personal revelation. I value the things I learn for and by myself. A good book can be helpful, but the map is not the territory.

When it comes to knowledge I want to step of the path and wander through the jungle and discover a new species, at the risk of death. There's a difference between research and reading. Reading is about gaining existing knowledge. Research is about creating new knowledge.

I have created new knowledge. A tiny amount, of relatively trivial knowledge, but still. I've published a number of academic-reviewed articles in journals now and have made a number of discoveries that I have yet to publish. I'm not generally recognised as someone who does original research and creates new knowledge, but that is what I do. This is all that makes my life meaningful. So it's a lot more important to me than it is to anyone else. 

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