Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cognitive Efflorescence

I am in the process of trying to come up with a dissertation topic. It is challenging, but I dont want any sympathy. I have recognized this period in my life as one of heightened intellectual luxury and I intend to enjoy every misled idea, or ignorance-based eureka that I have along the long way. I intend to love it when I go the whole day thinking that I am brilliant, only to find out that my project idea had been done in the '80s. Because somewhere, at some point, on a Thursday, at dusk, as I exit the building and put my iPod on, something will congeal into a project that is both inspiring and tractable. I just know it.

In the beginning of graduate school I experienced this reduced sense of awe as I learned more and more detail and uncertainty about each subject that I thought excited me. It was just like when you think someone is cool, and then you get to know them, and they suck. Incidentally, that is what I thought getting to know anything was like. But, I was wrong.

There are a few areas of Biological Anthropology that I was convinced I could never be interested in: teeth, population genetics, speciation and baboons, just to name a few. Well I have recently thought about these topics that I was initially bored by, but come at them from a different, more informed perspective and now I realize how important they are to the bigger picture and to progress in the field. This is truly amazing to my cynical mind and such a delicious unexpected treat to someone who has been jaded about school since age 6.

Also, I did not enter the PhD program already married to a taxon, hopelessly in love with studying gibbons or gorillas or gigantopithecus, like some people do. I get most excited about concepts and when a study begins with a simple and elegant idea and builds on it a thorough, novel and innovative approach. Just like one of my drawing teachers said once about trying to spiff up a bad drawing “you cant polish a turd”. Its true about dissertation topics too. I am very esthetically driven. I like when things are beautiful—but I dont only apply this to dresses and drawings—I apply it to ideas too. I get most excited about the edge or design of a project and it’s almost irrelevant what it is focused on, it could be a damn Plesiadapiform for all I care, well ok, maybe not a Plesiadapiform, but you get the idea.

The point is, I am letting myself wonder and wander and get excited and get disappointed and feel smart and snappy one minute and stupid as dirt the next, and soon it will hit me, this I know.

The title of this post was taken from the “flowery” language in one of the recently published Ardipithecus ramidus papers written by Tim White. I just cant stop with the puns, can I?


  1. This post is so full of hope, so inspiring!

    You're right, Julia - how did you know I'd like this post in particular? ;)

  2. hi julia. is it weird to reply to you here? thanks for your really nice comment. the blog you found is actually an outdated version of this one:

    hope you like it. as for what glows, i'm already on to you. thanks so much for linking me. i'll have to update my blogroll. big fan, as always.