Wednesday, May 12, 2010
[from Joel] I have three data points. Can someone add more data?
I did my first sabbatical at the Imperial College of London in the chemistry and chemical engineering department. The people I interacted with were all involved in optics as a tool for combustion research. They spent a lot of time sitting around talking to one another or waiting for the "tea lady" to arrive with goodies.
My second sabbatical was at a research institute of chemistry and physics in France. There was a lot of interaction between the researchers as we walked into each other's labs and asked questions or socialized. (A perhaps interesting aside here. The head of the laboratory was English so we observed the afternoon tea break. When he retired the "habitual" tea break of many years immediately died.)
By the time of my third sabbatical, I had switched from combustion to robotics. I spent my sabbatical at a French research institute where the team of about fifteen people experimented on a robot called Hilaire. They were mostly concerned with finding algorithms which would permit Hilaire to navigate in an unstructured environment. There seemed to be absolutely no interaction between members of the staff except for a formal once-a-week meeting. Each person would sit at their computer and type lines of code. I never witnessed any social or scientific interaction at the office.
One of my theories is that a sort of solipsism develops when working as a computer programmer or program designer. Physics or chemistry experiments require interaction with other people. Also, anyone can pop in and see what you're up to. In fact, one is seeking stimulation from others. In software experimentation people would have to be pretty nervy to look over your shoulder at the screen and start asking for explanations of code. I wonder what experiences you may have had in this vein either pro or con. Do you think programming breeds solipsism?
[added by Ira for people (like me) who need the definition. sol·ip·sism /ˈsɒlɪpˌsɪzəm/ –noun 1. Philosophy . the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist. 2. extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption. Origin: 1880–85; sol(i)-1 + L ips ( e ) self + -ism. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/solipsism]