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    #95501 - 02/25/11 12:46 PM Random question
    Val Offline

    Registered: 09/01/07
    Posts: 3296
    Loc: California
    Hi all,

    I have an odd random question.

    For two-ish years, I had a part-time job (3 days/week) that required me to concentrate on very dull things that I also considered to be unimportant (e.g. company was in place to make money and the product was geared toward that end rather than solving an actual problem or addressing a need).

    Anyway, as time went on, I noticed that I was becoming a bit forgetful. For example, I would have trouble remembering names or pieces of random information or vocabulary words. Sometimes I would be so stumped, I would have to stop what I was saying and get help from whoever I was talking to ("You know, that actress who starred in X"). This problem didn't happen constantly but it happened every week at least.

    I figured it was just because I was getting older. frown I tried getting more sleep. I stopped being tired in the afternoon, but no change otherwise. I exercise regularly, and spent the other two days of the week thinking about stuff that interested me in science. The job paid for the stuff that interests me. I've published a peer-reviewed paper very recently, so I was obviously being productive and was still stimulating my mind part-time.

    Anyway, I lost the job a couple months ago, and am now doing contract work that involves stuff that's more interesting. Not earning like I was before, but we're okay. Now I spend a lot of time on science.

    Interestingly, I've noticed that my forgetfulness is disappearing. In the last couple weeks, I've also realized that I have a new song running in my head when I wake up in the morning. This had always been the case until some point after I started that job, and I only realized when the songs came back.

    Over the past week, I've noticed that when I speak, I start to see upcoming words in my head before I say them again. These were often the words that I would be unable to recall before. Instead of a blank, the word is usually there now.

    Has anyone else experienced anything like this? I'm going to call it the Dull Work Effect. Dull Work Syndrome would work too, I guess.

    I'm beginning to wonder if doing a lot of mentally taxing but unstimulating work is bad for the mind. For the sake of this anecdote, say 20+ hours per week? But this is not a fixed absolute number!

    As regards our kids, it seems to me that this effect could result from doing dull, unchallenging work all day in school. This is all speculation, but I can see a parallel to athletes losing their skills if they don't practice.

    On a philosophical note, I wonder if pushing smart people into dull jobs squanders our national talent in more ways than just the obvious.

    I would be very, very interested in hearing comments from the group.


    #95509 - 02/25/11 01:04 PM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    jesse Offline

    Registered: 04/10/09
    Posts: 283
    Loc: twilightzone
    Well, that would explain why I feel like an absolute idiot nowadays because one thing I do remember is that I use to have a great memory. I've been dulled throughout school and most of my career work has been dull. Sigh. I've been trying to re-start my brain by reading more intellectually stimulating (when there is time!) material. (Ooh, look, I remembered the word intellectual AND stimulating in 1 sentence!)

    There is hope for you! smile You've stopped working at that dull job.

    I think having "thinking" people do dull jobs leads to depression.

    #95517 - 02/25/11 02:22 PM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    BonusMom Offline

    Registered: 04/06/09
    Posts: 151
    Loc: IL
    I have noticed some of the same things. I think you are on to something; and that makes me especially happy because I've been blaming it on too much beer! eek Glad to know it's really my increasingly dull job!

    Interestingly, I, too, often wake up with a song in my head. And, when there is no "known" song, I realize that I've instead been hearing a tune I made up. I can never duplicate the tune at any other time of day, and sometimes it takes awhile in the morning before I realize, "hey, that's my tune!"

    To stray even further off-topic - my dad had his own tune, too. His was sort of half-whistled, and only while he was working with his hands in his basement workshop. And that tune I can remember clearly whenever I wish. Hmmmm....

    I'm very interested to hear others' thoughts on Val's intriguing musing!

    Edited by BonusMom (02/25/11 02:23 PM)

    #95518 - 02/25/11 03:16 PM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    I'd respond...

    but I fear that I can't come up with anything intelligible at this point. It's been years since I worked actively in my field, and there are still days when I want to CRY with frustration at all the things that I know that I used to know... and don't now. frown

    There are days when I feel that about half of my brain has rotted away...

    life is very dull and frustrating when you can't ever face novel challenges in your areas of strength/passion. I was never meant to be a SAHM. Never-- it relies on my weakest skills and leaves my strengths entirely untapped. It's awful. Thank goodness I've spent these years with an EG/PG child, because at least that's a four year old who is interested in quantum mechanics. I hate to imagine what this would have been like with a child with "average" interests and abilities. whistle

    (I guess that's a horrible thing to admit, isn't it?) Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't do anything differently (medical needs dictated the choice-- not much way around the fact that with a child that is in a precarious position, you can't BOTH work 70 hour weeks anymore), but I'm painfully aware of the price that it has exacted from me. I've lost so much ground at this point that I secretly fear that I couldn't go back even if I had the opportunity-- because I've lost too much of my edge now.

    Edited by HowlerKarma (02/25/11 03:19 PM)
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #95521 - 02/25/11 04:23 PM Re: Random question [Re: HowlerKarma]
    Val Offline

    Registered: 09/01/07
    Posts: 3296
    Loc: California
    Originally Posted By: HowlerKarma
    life is very dull and frustrating when you can't ever face novel challenges in your areas of strength/passion. I was never meant to be a SAHM. Never-- it relies on my weakest skills and leaves my strengths entirely untapped.

    See, I've felt the same way in jobs that I've had.

    Academia is known for pushing people into projects that are highly likely to get positive results (see Why are Modern Scientists so Dull? or the last quarter of The Trouble with Physics for more on the subject). The first paper was discussed here a couple years ago. This is because the university requires that you 1. publish papers and 2. get grants. Number 2 is highly dependent on getting a lot of #1, and you don't get there by dreaming up alternative, risky ideas.

    I don't fit the mold in academia, primarily because of factors outlined quite well in the paper and the book I cited. Thing was, I didn't understand why I don't fit in until I read them both a couple years ago (out of academia at that point).

    I did better in industry (got increased responsibilities and good raises), but the work in the last job was unbearably dull. I've looked at other jobs and have had other industry jobs, and most of them seem the same way: you spend your time cranking away on something narrow, be it writing code for the next feature upgrade or modifying expression vectors or writing specs for the next version of whatever it is.

    I've ended up where I am because it's the only way I can do what really interests me. This means some tradeoffs: I don't have an obvious career, I'm mostly an outsider, etc. This can be frustrating, but the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones, given that I chart my course without worrying about organizational politics (which I am not good at) or whatever.

    I guess what I'm saying is that the dullness is probably in a lot of jobs requiring a BA or higher (especially office jobs in industry). I've been wondering a lot about this idea lately and thinking about how hiring practices squish people into little boxes based on exacting criteria; e.g. a company wants a <job title> and will only consider candidates with a certain degree (B.A.) and, say, at least 3 years experience in <x and y>.

    In other words, they want someone who's already done the job. Yet there are many intelligent people who could learn on the job from scratch and feel challenged by it. They'd also have the kinds of fresh ideas that often only come from outsiders. Obviously, certain criteria are essential when hiring dentists or surgeons. But not product managers or even necessarily organizational leaders.

    It's possible that for many people, working a narrow job is great. Fine. But I wonder if our industrialization is toxic to people who are highly creative and/or highly intelligent (two very different things). In other words, the kinds of people who can come up with very cool new ideas or inventions.

    Even more disturbing to me is that idea that most people might not even be able to see this problem.

    Please don't think I'm whining here. I'm trying to describe a problem that I think is unhealthy for our society because it's bad for individuals and detrimental to technological and other kinds of progress.


    #95523 - 02/25/11 05:26 PM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    aculady Offline

    Registered: 12/31/10
    Posts: 1040
    Val, You make some great points. This must be the day for this issue!

    On a blog I've recently started reading, this was this week's "Deep Thought Friday" question:

    How far is a field interested in moving us beyond its essential concern? For example, if the fundamental problem of economics is scarcity, how far will it assist in eliminating this?

    My reply, posted just a few minutes before I read this thread:

    I don't think that most fields of study can take us beyond their fundamental problems to any great degree, because the existence of the fundamental problems is generally taken as axiomatic by people within the field. To really solve fundamental problems, you first have to be willing to challenge fundamental assumptions (because working from those assumptions hasn't worked to solve the problem so far), and people who have invested years of their lives learning and working in the field are conditioned not to do precisely that. This is not to say that fundamental problems can't be solved - just that the solutions are likely to come from people who back into them or stumble upon them from vantage points outside the mainstream of thought in the field.

    #95547 - 02/25/11 11:36 PM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181

    Academia is known for pushing people into projects that are highly likely to get positive results (see Why are Modern Scientists so Dull? or the last quarter of The Trouble with Physics for more on the subject). The first paper was discussed here a couple years ago. This is because the university requires that you 1. publish papers and 2. get grants. Number 2 is highly dependent on getting a lot of #1, and you don't get there by dreaming up alternative, risky ideas.

    Hmmmm.... interesting.

    I'm not sure that it's academic institutions doing it so much as the system as a whole, at least in the physical sciences. I agree wholeheartedly with that in the SOCIAL sciences, though.

    I'd argue that last point, (it depends on how 'safe' one feels like playing it), and the reality is that points one and two are, in most scientific fields anyway, interrelated to the point of being a two equation, three unknown situation.

    One must figure out what is "viable" research...

    but within that, you have tremendous autonomy to direct your own research field. MUCH more than in most industrial positions as a scientist (speaking here of those with PhD's, not BS or MS degrees).

    I've known quite a few scientists that adopted side projects on a shoestring which were completely unrelated to the main work of their laboratory and rather speculative, if one got right down to it.

    I enjoyed running a program at a masters institution because I could look for the 'gaps' in big-program, big-money research. I could do things that would result in a paper every couple of years and weren't expensive to conduct, but because they DIDN'T require two post-docs and a stable of grad students, nobody at Big Wheel University was picking up those ideas and running with them.

    I loved that. It wasn't purely science, of course-- because it required considering where the field was headed, and looking for those little cul-de-sacs that were being overlooked by the main current of the research. That in and of itself was a worthy challenge. Lots of boundary conditions... like a great puzzle. Like being an early, shrew-like mammal in a forest of enormous T-Rex dinos. grin

    There is plenty of science happening in the cracks and on the fringes. Much of it is really interesting, and the people doing it are pretty passionately interested in it. The other thing to recall is that MOST people who win Nobel Prizes get them for work that they do in their 20's. That is, these are YOUNG people, at the top of their game intellectually-- right out of graduate training, most of them, and nothing breeds innovation and insight like being trained by someone GREAT at it themselves-- Nobel winners are likely to mentor great scientists, too. I find that particular statistic fascinating, even if the mechanisms underlying the data aren't clear. smile

    While scientists are trained (of necessity) to basically have the same overall background in a field, perhaps it is building a foundation of shared context in which to discuss problems and hypotheses rather than an attempt to prosyletize a particular framework. In the physical sciences, anyway, there is very seldom anything that "just is" a particular way. It just doesn't work that way. Theory doesn't drive things the same way that it can in the social sciences-- for something to become established practice, there has to be a direct link from theoretical to experimental. In some respects, this is no different than the argument that an artist must be trained to FOLLOW the rules in order to BREAK them later. I think it's exactly the same principle at work, and I also think it's probably at least mostly valid as a consideration-- if it weren't, then Nobel prize winners might come mostly from informal training in the sciences, or from those persons who were furthest from that graduate training process-- and they don't.

    It's one of the challenges of interdisciplinary work, in fact, to try to discuss things at the appropriate level without that shared vocabulary and context working as a sort of shorthand. You know-- Wightman '88. Ohhhh... you don't know Wightman's 1988 paper? The one in-- Well, then, let me find you a copy...

    That brings up another point, though-- interdisciplinary science is definitely where the action is. Biology and physics? <Yawn.> Biophysics, on the other hand.... is exciting and fresh.

    Those interdisciplinary fields work best when people are trained fairly conventionally in one or more of the contributing fields-- like me, I suppose. I got a degree in a hard physical science, but also did training in biochemistry, psychology, physiology, and pharmacology in order to be able to be effective working as a neuroscientist. Then I didn't work as a research neuroscientist at all once I landed a faculty position-- I went back to my roots and did environmental and forensic chemistry research. I do agree that in those interdisclinary areas (like neuroscience was fifteen years ago), one sees more innovative ideas surfacing. Once specialized training IN the discipline becomes the norm, some of the 'edge' is lost, but I'm hesitant to assign causation there. It's a correlation, but it could be due to sheer novelty wearing off. Nothing stays "hot" forever.

    What fuels paradigms? Well, in my opinion, the right researcher/group publishes a paper that is prominent enough, and there's a sense of instant complete credibility in a way that a paper from a less-known author doesn't get. Neither instance SHOULD be taken that way, but the pace of science would be even slower than it is if everything were vetted that carefully post-publication.

    There is recognition of value in 'outsider' perspective in problem-solving. Physicists are often an extremely welcome addition to a materials chemistry research group, for example. Chemists are valued by molecular pharmacology researchers. They have a different perspective which gives the entire group a real edge creatively because they think like (whatever their training is). smile

    I don't think that scientists are married to particular beliefs much (that's actually rather rare in my experience-- most of them find new information, even revolutionary thinking, energizing, even if it is a bit frightening if one's work depends on the older paradigm).

    Departments that urge a "communal" equipment approach between faculty and research groups seem to do better in terms of innovation than those that encourage territoriality.

    In my own estimation, the largest problem in science (academic or otherwise) is in grant review and publication that favors the established big dogs in any area, and has a vested interest in keeping 'upstarts' away by denying them publications and funding. The review process is messed up.

    Academia was my natural environment. It was challenging on many levels because of the complexity of the total environment.

    The trouble with an advanced degree is that unless you stay current, you lose that level pretty fast. I probably can't even do any calculus at this point, much less the more advanced mathematics that I did routinely in modeling work.

    I often wonder what I'll do once DD actually goes off to college. Will I re-launch into industry and hope to use a MS-level position as a stepping stone? I have no real idea at this point, and it feels surreal even thinking about it. Like I'm a parakeet dreaming of piloting a Mars mission. I feel kind of adrift. Well, close enough. The word escapes me. LOL.

    I also find it depressing to think about, Val. It isn't just my own situation that I find distressing, (though obviously that is true), but like you, that nobody else seems concerned about all of this wasted human potential. It's so sad that we've devolved to considering human beings' potential to be defined solely by their work history. It's so needlessly restrictive.

    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #95549 - 02/26/11 12:00 AM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    HowlerKarma Offline

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    I guess it just feels like we're all living in Dilbert or something.

    It's a lot less funny when it's real, I might add.
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

    #95558 - 02/26/11 07:38 AM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    JamieH Offline

    Registered: 02/26/11
    Posts: 111
    Loc: Canada
    The two longest jobs (6 and 10 years) I had were in large organizations. In both cases, I started off with a basic job description, was placed in an office and was left alone to figure out my role.

    This turned out ideal for me as I was able to do what I was best at and work with others doing what they were best at. Typically, I ended up being the technical lead, the organizer, the long term planner, the documenter, the problem solver. The co-workers generally were more than happy to take on the other roles and appreciated me helping them with the work they found difficult.

    Unfortunately, in the last place, new management came in and only understood how to deal with everyone doing the same work as everyone else. As one of the new clones, I found some of the work almost impossible to do. It was not like I felt it was boring, but more like constantly forgeting bit and pieces and having to start over.

    For a while, I managed to occasionally get past this problem by reading something interesting and going back into the work. It was like the interesting stuff turned my brain on for a while and I could then concentrate for a short time on the difficult stuff (what the other people called easy stuff). Although this worked sometimes, it would not always work. I think it may have had to do with picking something that would turn on the part of the brain needed for the other work.

    I've always felt that there is no difference in overall intelligence between people. We are just better at some things than others. So even though the average person finds some work easy and other work difficult, the fact is, the complexity of the work is equal, but different. It is like an AM and FM radio, neither can tune into the stations of the other, but the abilities of each radio are equal but different.

    You do not expect one radio to do what the other radio is good at. If this were people and 90% of the radios were AM, then no one would question the AM radios not being able to do what the FM radios could do, but they would assume if the FM radios are gifted enough to do FM, then they should easily be able to do AM.

    After taking a close look at what areas I find difficult, it appears a lot like the radio analogy. It is like I can see bits and pieces of AM, but not enough to really make it out. Occasionally, I can make out just enough to figure out the blank pieces. When it comes to FM, I can just do it without any effort. My brain is not an AM radio and for this reason, it just throws away most of the information. Basically, my brain is almost totally blind to AM. Putting me in a room with nothing but AM is like putting me in a sensory deprivation chamber. My brain has no input to keep it focused and it just goes into a dream state.

    As I have aged, I am finding the techniques allowing me to work on this stuff I find complicated are less and less effective. Other than changing the world to make it better able to make use of each person's unique talents, I don't really have a good answer.

    Edited by JamieH (02/26/11 07:50 AM)

    #95595 - 02/26/11 01:42 PM Re: Random question [Re: Val]
    Michaela Offline

    Registered: 11/18/09
    Posts: 530
    Loc: The bottom of my cup
    I really like the radio analogy.

    Enough to post just so I can say so smile
    DS1: Hon, you already finished your homework
    DS2: Quit it with the protesting already!

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