…and the Living is Easy

I know that summer doesn’t officially begin until the solstice, but this is the last of week of my recommended 8-week period of discipline after Easter, and the weather in Copenhagen has been excellent these last few days, so a little nod to Lady Day seems in order.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I recommend being very deliberate about your writing 32 weeks of the year and taking it easy for the remaining 20. That doesn’t mean you’re doing a lot of writing during those 32 weeks, only that you’re writing or not writing deliberately. That is, if you’re not writing, it’s because you planned not to write, and so you are not burdened by any guilt about not getting it done. And, if you are writing, you feel like you’re proceeding measurably towards some goal, which may only be getting better at writing, or contributing any number of paragraphs to a paper. You’re doing what you can every day; you are not “finally getting it done”. Being disciplined makes you feel good about the work you are doing, even when it is hard.

But for about 5 weeks in the winter, one week during the spring and the fall, and 13 weeks over the summer, you are free to write in a more spontaneous way. Or not at all, without thinking about why you’re not writing. You might just not feel like it. Or you might write just because you do feel like it. You are gripped by inspiration or bogged down in lethargy and you simply give into these forces instead of pitting your resolve against them. This gives you some time (and some mental space) to think things through.

For my part, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about how the philosophy of science relates to academic writing. The idea that has been brewing in my mind goes back to Bernard Bolzano, who suggested that the logic of science was really just the grammar of scientific “treatises”. Today, we’d probably focus on papers, and my approach to epistemology is rooted in Steve Fuller’s “social epistemology,” which suggests a close connection between the philosophy of science and the rhetoric of academic articles. Lately, I’ve been thinking that we’re overcomplicating both of these subjects. Academics should be able to say plainly what they think and publish these ideas without too much fuss. (I’m not a big fan of the familiar peer-review process.) It’s the knowing, not the writing, that should be the hard part.

If you know what you’re talking about, writing an academic paper should be straightforward. Just stick to what you know and write it down. Easy does it.

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