Friday, January 14, 2005

John Baez on Having an Angle

by Asim Jalis

Here is a post that John Baez posted on usenet, that I think is worth reading: ________________________________________ From: John Baez ( Subject: Re: Help, I'm arXiv drowning! Newsgroups: sci.physics.research Date: 2003-03-05 13:47:02 PST Serenus Zeitblom wrote: > These days I seem to spend more time reading and trying to > understand arxiv postings than doing actual work! How do other > people, especially people like John Baez and Steve Carlip etc > who [presumably] have teaching etc to do, find time to read all > this stuff??!! Help! "All" this stuff? Anyone who tried to read *all* the papers on hep-th or gr-qc would quickly be reduced to a babbling wreck. Even reading the abstracts is a serious mind-bender. I think it's crucial to have an "angle" - a special point of view on things that lets you quickly decide whether or not a paper is interesting to you. My own "angle" is enough to instantly rule out about 99% of the papers on the arXiv. I'm not interested in keeping up with most work on string theory; I don't even keep up with everything in loop quantum gravity; I have certain things I want to think about, and I mainly read stuff related to that. It's important not to get confused about this "angle" stuff: it's not a matter of what *is* interesting in some mythical "objective" sense, but what *you* happen to be interested in *now*. So, a paper that's uninteresting today may become interesting tomorrow. Only very boring people stay interested in exactly the same stuff all their lives. Choosing ones "angle" is an incredibly important ongoing process: this is what determines whether you're doing important stuff or just piddling around in some backwater. It's a very difficult decision, because there's no objective standard of what's "important" and what's a "backwater". You can't trust fashion! It's better to have a guru - someone wise, with a broad view of physics, who has been around for a while, who has opinions on what's important and what's not. But, you should never completely trust any guru! So, it's best to have several and compare notes.