There is a saying in martial arts: you have to go slow to go fast. It means something different that what it sounds like. The idea is that you have to be relaxed — untense — to move as quickly as you are capable of.
There is a similar angle to the the newly in vogue ‘slow science’, which is that certain sorts of constructive thought and interaction require time, or better, time over time. By ‘time over time’ I mean that a researcher needs to think about a problem for a while, in a certain way, and then return to the problem later, and approach it from a different angle. And perhaps with added insight fron a collaborator.
But some of the noise about slow science is a rejection of the modern world, like Twitter.
Rebecca J. Rosen, ‘We Don’t Twitter’: The Slow-Science Manifesto
Scientific American has an item up today regarding a manifestopublished by the Slow Science Academy in Berlin. The manifesto declares:
We are scientists. We don’t blog. We don’t twitter. We take our time.
Don’t get us wrong—we do say yes to the accelerated science of the early 21st century. We say yes to the constant flow of peer-review journal publications and their impact; we say yes to science blogs and media &PR necessities; we say yes to increasing specialization and diversification in all disciplines. We also say yes to research feeding back into health care and future prosperity. All of us are in this game, too.
So, apparently, these slow scientists choose not to blog and tweet, but beyond that, it’s hard to discern what it is about the way science is practiced today that they oppose. They conclude:
We do need time to think. We do need time to digest. We do need time to misunderstand each other, especially when fostering lost dialogue between humanities and natural sciences. We cannot continuously tell you what our science means; what it will be good for; because we simply don’t know yet. Science needs time.
Slow science resonates with a sense many have that life has sped up and they cannot keep up. Myriad “slow movements” recommend aspects of life that should receive the slow-down treatment: how to eat, spend time with our families, and dress, to name a few. In contrast with slow science, participants in these movements may find great pleasure in these pursuits, but they do not place their careers at risk in pursuing them. Adding science to the list of slow movements may feel right, and may ultimately be right, but proponents’ critique would be more valuable if they accounted for the deeper reasons why science has sped up.
The world is not moving faster, but we seem to have more opportunities to be riddled with distractions. And the core problem with creativity — of scientific or any other sort — is the need for time spent alone, sequestered from others:
Stowe Boyd, The Costs Of Being A Creative
This life calls us, we don’t pick it. And it has an austerity to it, since the majority of the time spent practicing our craft, perfecting the art, is time spent alone. In Hugh’s [McCloud] case, feverishly drawing cartoon after cartoon, or a young software developer designing better abstractions, or a writer grappling with grammar and intention. Being creative entails a great deal of solitude.
(As a result, creatives can overdo when they are not off sharpening their skills and working their magic, but that’s another post.)
Hugh points out that creativity comes from the work:
A sense of purpose only comes your way usually because you’ve been working your ass off over a long period of time, intensely cultivating it. And yeah, sometimes that will appear to more mainstream people as “Having no life”. To hell with them. They don’t know or care about you. Successful people get that way by doing the stuff unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. Harsh but true.
physicistPolish creative, once said, “Before I was a genius, I was a drudge.” There is a lot of slogging involved. And others, generally, will not understand: especially before you have invested the full ten years. “You’ll never sell a book!” “You call that music?” “That’s the dumbest design I have ever seen!” “Keep your day job.”
Another good reason to work apart from others, so you don’t have to hear all that negativity. Close the door, and sharpen your pencil.
Like making a fire from rubbing sticks together, creativity’s heat comes from work. Work requires dedication. Dedication involves sacrifice, specifically of time and the absence of what might have been done instead.
Again, you need to go slow to go fast, and sometimes you need to turn off the Twitter clients and stare out the window for a few hours.