Innocent theories

Status: Done
Confidence: Very likely

I spent my ferry ride the last few mornings reading about superconductivity and conduction in metals. But the pleasure I was deriving from it was out of all proportion to my aesthetic reaction to the material.

Superconductivity and metals do appeal to my, admittedly pretty twisted, scientific aesthetic. I like subjects that have yet to develop mature theoretical apparatus. I like digging through raw measurements. The more a subject is complicated by other subjects, the happier I am. On the other hand, I find classical and quantum field theory distasteful.

But my emotional reaction was only partially of aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic pleasure could not give the sense of lightness of burden, of innocence to the experience. But that was a large part of it. The material, despite its technical depth and sophistication, had the innocence of the Frog and Toad stories I read with my son.1

So where does the burden of my other work come from? I think it’s that so many of the topics I have worked on require an adversarial, even paranoid, mindset. Antibiotics and tuberculosis is a dark setting to begin with. Cybersecurity is even worse. Even statistics is inherently adversarial.

I haven’t seen this burden discussed anywhere, and I don’t really know what to make of it.

  1. Yes, I just compared de Gennes’s Superconductivity of Metals and Alloys with Lobel’s Frog and Toad.↩︎