Magic

Clarke’s Third Law states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. There are several corollaries to this, one of which is that “any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who do not understand it”. At the end of three years, or however long it takes to get to the end of your research, you will be the world expert on your subject. (I may have mentioned that before). The thing about doing research though, and delving ever deeper into your subject so that you can find out something that no one has ever found before, is that it can become a bit passé. You take for granted that something is obvious, because that is your reality. I know people who’ve been rather shocked when their own friends and family have been rather rude to them when they’ve been talking about their research – some have even had a loved one feign death rather than continue a conversation. The problem, I think, is that most people are generally interested enough in the big picture, but get a bit bored with the detail. For example, unless you are dairy intolerant, you probably like cheese to a greater or lesser extent, and whilst you are prepared to play along with a general discussion on the 3,052 kinds of cheese that the French make*, you probably don’t want to know about ‘Cheese-Making in Alsace-Lorraine, 1752-1801”. On the other hand, you might be interested in the latest findings that modern Swiss cheese is “too clean” which is affecting the formation of the holes. Such holes are actually a product of the gas given off by the bacteria essential to the cheese-making process nucleating on microscopic dust particles. These are being filtered out in modern processes. What you probably don’t want to engage in is the differences between different kinds of bacteria and the effect this has on the cheese.

*I completely made that number up. Nobody really knows how many cheeses the French have, but it is estimated to be around a thousand.

You might be forgiven for thinking I’ve been eating too much cheese! What on earth does this have to do with Magic or, for that matter, writing a thesis? When talking about ‘Book’, on April 2nd, I made the point that without the thesis, you have not ‘done’ a doctorate, you’ve just done some research. In writing it all up, you bring together the results and provide meaning by considering a research question and then demonstrating that the data support one answer or another. So, you have to be the person who takes something apparently unfathomable and mysterious and turn it into something that anyone can understand. In some ways, it sounds like you are trying to remove the magic, but in practice you have to keep the reader interested and engaged. You have to keep the sense of wonder alive, but transfer this to wonder through understanding, rather than bewilderment. Most people will never see the sleight of hand, even when you show them how the trick is done, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them the opportunity.

Oh, and of course there is another (lack of) magical part to this – you actually have to write the thesis, it won’t appear with a puff of smoke when you say the magic word

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