I have always been taught that science is a rational thing and it does not allow any space for irrationality to kick in. If irrationality appears, than it is a pseudo-science.

I have started questioning myself on that recently. Even some philosophers of science (and they are some really smart individuals) brought it up at much more abstract level.  I, on the other hand, have identified some irrationality of my own at a very micro level. For example, I noticed myself being much more productive when I write with music in background. But it is not just the specific type of music; it is only one,  very specific song. And when this song is played on repeat, I can write to the eternity and beyond (which is what you can hear in my house before a deadline).

Of course, being a scientist by default, I searched for a rational explanation. It might be that I pulled a full Pavlovian on myself with that song. Or simply I primed myself with this song at some point and now I am experiencing the delayed effect. That’s reasonable and scientific (double point), right?

This kind of irrationality should be expected from time to time. Your mind just drifts off into the System 1 mode.

I mean, who can stay straight System 2-er when writing a PhD…

Before I started writing this blog, I went to many blogs about blog writing and red the rules and tips suggested by experienced bloggers. And one rule that stuck to my mind is – write your blog regularly.

I tried to follow this rule to the point of adding blogwriting to my to-do lists. And it worked until there was an important report to be written for my PhD (I know it is an excuse, but it is a damn good one). So now, after the life-or-death report has been resolved, I had to decide whether to continue with the blog or just drop it.

Of course, in assessing my intentions to write this blog in the future, I used a scientific approach and applied a theory of planned behavior (choice of the theory represents one of the downsides of writing the above mentioned report). The data analysis show the following: given that I have positive attitude towards blog writing, and I believe my peers (especially at work) would perceive me more positively if I have a blog, and I do not see many obstacles to writing a blog, I have high behavioral intentions towards writing this blog.

As a result, I can conclude that I am very likely to continue writing this blog, which will be verified at later stages, when the data for actual behavior becomes available.

Based on (my personal) empirical data collected so far, the work performance during PhD studies can be presented with a graph in the following manner:

 

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However, there is (always) a time when empirical science fails you. And you have no clue how to proceed.

You simply encounter the paralysis phenomenon…

Recently I started reflecting on my past, as does any PhD student feeling stuck. The usual drill – have I made the right decisions when I had the chance to choose. And by doing so, I realized that whatever is going on in your life, whatever situation you are in, whatever the feeling you are experiencing… everything is result of decisions. And more importantly, it is a direct result of some decision.

All of this would not be so bad if the current behavioral science has not rubbed the paradox of choice in our face  – the more choices you have, the more miserable you are.

When you are in a given situation with no way out, you reconcile with it, try many things to make it better and find a way to be happy. It happened to all of us and there is nothing wrong with it. On the contrary, it is very liberating knowing that you are making the best out of the situation that is imposed to you. And by doing whatever feels right in such situation, you have nothing to lose.

But when you are presented with several choices, equally good ones (which is a dream-come-true for everybody), that’s when the misery starts. As rational human being, you always want to make the decision that will maximize all your potential, hence making you the happiest you can ever be. But the fact that there are several possible paths to achieve that, only puts the pressure on – will I choose the right one? And even when you chose it – did I choose the right one? The funny thing is you’ll never know.

Hence my loose interpretation of a life: it is nothing more and nothing less than a collection of decisions you make, with a paradoxical cherry on top!

It is a vicious circle only the lucky ones have access to…

As a courtesy of my current research, I have been introduced with the meaning of a word “paradigm”. And as it usually happens when your world revolves around  one thing, I became obsessed with it. So much that I have noticed a paradigm shift happening to me…

According to Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher who introduced the meaning of paradigm to the world, paradigm represents a set of examples that act as a guideline (to behavior). So, you have these examples and you try to solve as many problems using these examples (you copy-paste them to every problem and hope for the best) . However, it happens that you encounter a problem that cannot be solved by applying a template from your examples. You write it off as an anomaly. But then you encounter another unresolved problem, and another one, and another one… That’s when you and your whole belief system fall into crises. If you are fortunate enough, you start speculating how you can approach these problems, entering some kind of a pre-paradigm state. And if you are really lucky (like winning-a-lottery lucky), these speculations come true, as you manage to solve your problems by adapting to a new paradigm.

Well, I am somewhere around crisis…that’s as far as I have gotten now…

I have always been this disciplined, by-the-book person, who always did the right thing and always knew how to motivate herself when the things didn’t go as planned. Not to mention that working under a strict plan was my modus operandi. A plan I always managed to complete, no matter what. In brief, I had my set of examples that got me through my studies, up the company hierarchy, ahead of my generation in sport endeavors…

And then along came first anomaly as I started with my PhD… In a hidden form of procrastination… I consoled myself that all PhD students encounter it (otherwise there wouldn’t be so many jokes on this account). Then came another anomaly of avoiding gym (which I very much enjoy on an average day) with an excuse that I need to work on my thesis because I was procrastinating. And then the not-sleeping anomaly, because of all the procrastination I was feeling really guilty. And again, none of my example behaviors were successful in resolving these problems…

However, the moment I notices there is crisis is when I felt I was facing real crisis… I am simply without any solution since none of my previous go-to template behaviors are working.

So, I’m hoping there is a new paradigm somewhere on the horizon. A damn good one. Because I have deadlines coming and I am not ready to degrade my hard-earned reputation! 

Of course that the first thing I am going to write about in the new year is about the resolutions!

The pressure to make them has been popping up from everywhere I looked (even my refrigerator). So, in an effort to stay mainstream, I decided to write mine.

My first resolution is to stick with the resolutions. And I happen to believe that this one is the most important, as in the past it was the most difficult one to keep.

The rest are pretty much boring and non-creative:

– sleep more

– procrastinate less

– train more

– eat less

Apart from the first resolution, it seems that I am simply self-plagiarizing, year after year…

Until recently, I was a blind believer in popular science propaganda that we can be either rational or emotional. However, as the time goes by and my experiences continue to pile up, I am becoming a strong supporter of Damasio’s idea that emotion and reason are one – there is no emotional decision without reason and no rational decision without emotional input. And here’s another example why…

In the past weeks I have been struggling with the structure of my thesis. I know what area I am interested in, I think I know what basis I am supposed to cover, but I had no clue how to structure it in a meaningful manner. So acting as a scientist (and as such, I must be rational, right?), I led myself into forming a thesis skeleton based on some fancy words and subtitles, highly philosophical theories (pure reason, if you take into account others’ works)…  But something was not right… I didn’t feel it was right (if I am allowed to say that).

So I read, and then read some more, and came up with numerous revised versions. But still I was not quite there yet… at least, that’s how I felt (and the feeling I am referring to is this nagging void, constantly present whenever I thought about my thesis – which is all the time).  Not to mention that my own work was confusing me to the point that I had no idea what the author (well, myself) was trying to say. Something like a writer’s (or in this case scientist’s) blockage…  

So, in an moment of desperation, I decided to go with my gut… Without trying to impress anyone (not even myself), I sat down and started thinking about it from a layman’s perspective (which is very difficult to admit for a hot-headed scientist in-the-making)…

And voila!!!

Though, I need to find purely rational explanation for why I did what I did, because I believe that my supervisors will not be happy with “it felt right” argument…

Superstition by its definition has absolutely nothing to do with science. More likely, it is a complete opposite from scientific beliefs. Yet, with so many potential pitfalls that scientific and academic research imposes, it is a true minefield you walk around as a researcher.

Therefore, I believe that it is completely rational (and by rational I mean rational and emotional) to be superstitious. Use a lucky pen when completing forms (because it is your favorite pen for many years now), never return home to check if the stove is off (because you will probably be late), step on every line on the pavement on your way to work (because your mind needs a break from research)…  As I said, completely rational (and accidentally, resulting from an observational study of friends and colleagues).

However, one of the stereotypes that surround researchers and academics is that they are wise. And even though it is a stereotype, the researchers would like to believe it, so they try very hard to maintain such perception.  And sometimes, in order to protect such perception, for a brief moment they give in the superstition’s charm (just in case).

So, in my recent loss of wisdom teeth, subconsciously I started reading books that are very philosophical (not that I always get what authors are saying, but I try very hard). And I made sure to do everything to keep my wisdom (or the representation of it, so I keep my teeth in a jar on my desk), because God forbid I lost it. It would be a tragedy for a PhD student!

Well, I believe it is completely rational (again, by rational I mean rational and emotional) from my side to behave in such a way. It’s not like I kept it for a tooth fairy…that would be strange, right?

As I keep adding new words to my literature review and as they are starting to receive some context, I am going through my head over the similar experiences when I was a student… I am trying to remember how I handled the writing process then, while I still had the momentum going in my advantage (compared to now, when I am still hoping to reach one).

And I recalled a strange (but shamefully true for a scientist-to-be) thing – whenever I wrote an assignment, I never took the time to read it after it was finished… Maybe I was afraid that if I do, I won’t be happy with it (and there was no time to be unhappy), so I just went and submitted it. And luckily for me, I always got an amazing mark. So after a certain point, I god very confident about how I handle the assignments.

And then the PhD thesis came… and all my previously obtained writing confidence went into flames… As I am writing now, after every single sentence I go back from the beginning (well, it is still not that long, so I can afford it). And it is nerve-racking…

If you ask me why, I think that the main reason is that my thesis will be judged by many people (well, aren’t we all, PhD students, hoping for that), while as an undergraduate or master student my work was read only by my professor and three other internal and external examiners.

But now, it seems that I am living in an anticipation of the Judgment Day (even though it is still very far away). So, will it be heaven or hell? I know that I am fighting hell at this point…

After my first couple of lines written on my thesis, I felt the switch activating in my mind… I noticed some changes in my priorities, perceptions, view of the world and even some personality aspects. But I also noticed very significant change in my interests… interests I have been cultivating for years.

I was familiar with my preferences towards somewhat superficial things. Hell, at any time I would choose a piece of clothing over a piece of bread. Such simple things (and not so simple credit card bills) would always put a nice smile on my face. And I adored the fact that no matter what, I was always able to induce artificial joy on myself, but still feel it as a real thing.

However, the other day I bought a book, the one I was yearning for (needless to say, the book is very closely related to my research area). And the feeling I experienced… it was like nothing  I have ever experienced  during (or rather, after) shopping. I still cannot explain it…

Some days after, I got another book I thought might be useful for my studies. This time there was no prior emotional connection with the book. Nevertheless, this amazing feeling returned… I could not believe it. Not in a million years could I have ever thought that my PhD transformation would turn out like this.

I guess that I am shifting from being fashionista to becoming scientista… Though, one thing seems intact – my credit card usage. At least now I have much more persuasive excuse.