科研中需要一点愚痴

上一篇 / 下一篇  2010-06-27 11:06:28 / 个人分类:科研 愚痴

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  一般地理解,科研可以说是智力的游戏,是聪明人的事情,为何我说需要愚痴呢?这里的愚痴指的是愚蠢和痴迷。

  据说,Princeton物理系的在读博士离开物理领域的最多。为什么呢?你想想能够去Princeton物理系的,在众多学物理的应该是佼佼者,为何quit的多呢?一是,他们都是聪明人,看过的聪明人也多,一但觉得自己不能作出同样杰出的成就,他们更愿意找出一个地方他们能够做出更大成就或者赚跟多的钱。另外一个原因是题外话,据说Princeton的物理系教授都不怎么管学生,学生自生自灭,成就大的反而不多。

  上面戏说成分太大,毕竟没有人做过统计。一旦不成立,你会恐怕本文立论就不对了。其实从我个人生活接触到的人来说。这个立论并没有不对。上面只是一个众多例子中的一个。我知道有Stanford的,Yale的等几个名校的物理学博士,最终转行的很多,做家庭主妇的也有一些。奇妙的是反倒是差点的学校,还有不少学生还在坚持本行,很多宁可回国去不是特别好的学校,还是不愿意放弃物理研究。

  分析起来,就是这些聪明人缺少一点愚痴。他们不够愚蠢,他们相信自己的聪明,所以他们不会愿意面对自己的无知和愚蠢,而无知和愚蠢是当我们面向科研必须面对的一个必然的状态。你可以在下面Virginia大学的Martin A. Schwartz教授的一封信中可以看到。他们太聪明了,所以很容易能够找到他们更能出人头地的领域或者工作,挣更多的钱。聪明人玩玩也不太喜欢面对困难,特别是如果他们很容易看到别的捷径的时候。还有聪明人很容易得到很多机会,他们不太会珍惜他们随手可得的机会。比如说,这些去牛校跟牛老板的学生,他们拥有的机会是许许多多在差校跟差老板的博士,在自己痛苦无奈的挣扎中所渴望的,但聪明人没有经历过这样的痛苦,他们不会觉得珍贵。

  还有聪明人往往缺少一点痴迷,我所说的那种痴迷是在长期的摸索中没有得到正面的反馈而不懈努力的痴迷,是那种“虽千万人,我往矣”的痴迷,那种“众里寻她千百度”的痴迷。08年诺贝尔化学奖得主下村修,1961年,他33岁时做出重要发现。但到80岁的他拿2008诺贝尔化学奖前,他几乎是默默无闻。他多年没有实验室,在约翰森实验室做了近20年博士后。如果没有对科学的痴迷,相信他后面坚持不了这么久。

  科研历史上,最伟大的成就怕都是那些聪明而性情上又有点愚痴的人做出了的。爱因斯坦的三个小板凳的故事都是小学课本的故事了。而现代社会,恐怕不是科研的黄金时代,在这样浮躁的社会里,从事科研可能更需要一点点愚痴。

  我不是“仇智”的人,我也希望自己能够更聪明一点,在自己的领域做出更大的贡献。我也不是说从事学术一定比别的行业伟大,虽然重大的科研进展能够给人类生活带来巨大的进步,但往往很多所谓的科研,其作用是微乎其微的。但是,当我看到比我聪明,比我拥有跟多的机会的人,抛弃自己的才智和机会去做那些重复的工作(虽然能多挣钱)我真的感到可惜。不过这些都不是我写这些的本意,其实我更想说的是:我更愿意鼓励那些不是特别聪明,而又有点愚痴的人。科学可能更需要你们这样的人。当你觉得自己不够聪明的时候,你要明白,上天在你身上留下了另外一种可贵的品质,让你有机会做出更伟大的成就。

  下面英文来自网络,中文为我的翻译,有些地方翻译的不是很有把握,请指教。

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  The importance of stupidity in scientific research

  科研中愚蠢的重要性

  If you are not feeling frustrated and stupid in your Ph.D study, you are not trying hard enough, and are, by the very nature of good research, failing.

  (金句:如果你在读博士期间,你没有感觉到沮丧或者愚蠢,那么你肯定不够努力,并且从好科研的本质来讲,是很失败的。)

  Martin A. Schwartz

  Department of Microbiology, UVA Health System, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA

  Accepted 9 April 2008

  I recently saw an old friend for the first time in many years. We had been Ph.D. students at the same time, both studying science, although in different areas. She later dropped out of graduate school, went to Harvard Law School and is now a senior lawyer for a major environmental organization. At some point, the conversation turned to why she had left graduate school. To my utter astonishment, she said it was because it made her feel stupid. After a couple of years of feeling stupid every day, she was ready to do something else.

  我最近碰到多年未见的一个老朋友。我们在同一个时期读博士,都是理科,尽管是不同领域。她后来离开了研究院,去了哈佛法学院,现在是一个很主要环境组织的资深律师。

  聊着聊着,我们的交谈转向了她为什么离开研究生院。令我及其吃惊的是,她说,这是因为她感觉到自己很愚蠢。并且经过了几年时间的每天都感到愚蠢的时期,她决心去做

  一下别的事情。

  I had thought of her as one of the brightest people I knew and her subsequent career supports that view. What she said bothered me. I kept thinking about it; sometime the next day, it hit me. Science makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten used to it. So used to it, in fact, that I actively seek out new opportunities to feel stupid. I wouldn't know what to do without that feeling. I even think it's supposed to be this way. Let me explain.

  我认为她是我认识的人中最聪明的几个人之一而她后来的职业生涯也证明了这一点。她所说的让我困惑。我想了很久。第二天的某个时候,我突然知道了答案。科学让我也感到同样的愚蠢。只是我习惯了而已。我是如此的习惯它,以至于我积极的寻找新的机会来让自己感到愚蠢。甚至如果没有这种感觉,我不知道该怎么做。我甚至想,这就应该是这样的。让我解释一下。

  For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. That can't be the only reason – fascination with understanding the physical world and an emotional need to discover new things has to enter into it too. But high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.

  对我们大多数人来说,我们在高中喜欢科学的一个原因是我们学得好。当然这不是唯一的原因——理解物理世界的热情和发现新事物的感情也是很重要的。但是在高中和本科,科学只是上上课,做得好不过意味着考试能够得到正确答案而已。如果你知道答案,你就学的好,并且感觉自己很聪明。

  A Ph.D., in which you have to do a research project, is a whole different thing. For me, it was a daunting task. How could I possibly frame. the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred? My Ph.D. project was somewhat interdisciplinary and, for a while, whenever I ran into a problem, I pestered the faculty in my department who were experts in the various disciplines that I needed. I remember the day when Henry Taube (who won the Nobel Prize two years later) told me he didn't know how to solve the problem I was having in his area. I was a third-year graduate student and I figured that Taube knew about 1000 times more than I did (conservative estimate). If he didn't have the answer, nobody did.

  而读博士,做研究,是完全不同的一回事。对我来说,这是一个很困难的任务:如何把能够导致杰出发现的问题提出来;如何设计和解释实验让结论绝对值得信赖;预见困难并且找到绕过他们的方法,或者当他们出现的时候能够解决掉?我的博士课题是交叉学科的,有段时间,当我碰到问题的时候,我都会向我们系里的各分支的专家求救。我记得那一天,Henry Taube(他两年后得到诺贝尔奖)告诉我他不知道怎么解决我提出的关于他从事领域的一个问题。我当时是个三年级的研究生,我知道Taube知道的比我多一千倍都不在(保守估计),如果他不知道答案,那大概没人知道。

  That's when it hit me: nobody did. That's why it was a research problem. And being my research problem, it was up to me to solve. Once I faced that fact, I solved the problem in a couple of days. (It wasn't really very hard; I just had to try a few things.) The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn't know wasn't merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through as best we can.

  这就是震惊我的时刻:没人知道。这就是为什么它是个研究课题。并且它是等待我去解决的研究课题。一旦我面对这个事实,我几天后就解决了这个问题。(这个问题真的很难,我试了很多的方式。)我学到的主要教训是,我不知道的东西很多,实际上,从现实来讲,是无穷。这种认识,以其说是令人沮丧,倒不如说是一种解脱。如果我们的无知是无穷的,那么唯一的行动就是尽全力去冲过去。

  I'd like to suggest that our Ph.D. programs often do students a disservice in two ways. First, I don't think students are made to understand how hard it is to do research. And how very, very hard it is to do important research. It's a lot harder than taking even very demanding courses. What makes it difficult is that research is immersion in the unknown. We just don't know what we're doing. We can't be sure whether we're asking the right question or doing the right experiment until we get the answer or the result. Admittedly, science is made harder by competition for grants and space in top journals. But apart from all of that, doing significant research is intrinsically hard and changing departmental, institutional or national policies will not succeed in lessening its intrinsic difficulty.

  我想起了我们的读博过程是如何用两种方式来虐待我们的学生的了。第一,我觉得学生并不是生来就知道做研究是很难的。并且做更重要的研究更难。学习过份苛求的课程更难。使得研究难是因为研究是涉及未知的。

  我们并不认识我们正在做什么。我们并不知道我们是不是问对了问题或者做了正确的实验,除非我们最后得到结果或答案。无可否认,科学由于基金和顶级刊物的竞争会更困难。但是除了这些之外,做杰出的研究本身就很难,况且系的,研究所的或者国家的政策并不能让这种减少这种内在的困难。

  Second, we don't do a good enough job of teaching our students how to be productively stupid – that is, if we don't feel stupid it means we're not really trying. I'm not talking about `relative stupidity', in which the other students in the class actually read the material, think about it and ace the exam, whereas you don't. I'm also not talking about bright people who might be working in areas that don't match their talents. Science involves confronting our `absolute stupidity'. That kind of stupidity is an existential fact, inherent in our efforts to push our way into the unknown. Preliminary and thesis exams have the right idea when the faculty committee pushes until the student starts getting the answers wrong or gives up and says, `I don't know'. The point of the exam isn't to see if the student gets all the answers right. If they do, it's the faculty who failed the exam. The point is to identify the student's weaknesses, partly to see where they need to invest some effort and partly to see whether the student's knowledge fails at a sufficiently high level that they are ready to take on a research project.

  第二,我们并没有为让我们的学生如何有创造性的愚蠢做足够的准备工作——就是说,如果我们没有感到愚蠢,那意味着我们没有真正的尝试。我不是说那种 “相对的愚蠢”,比如有学生读了材料,思考了,而你没有做。我也不是说那种聪明人没有做适合他们天赋的领域的研究。科学包括了面对我们的“绝对的愚蠢”。这种愚蠢是存在的事实,导致我们努力去向未知推进。开题和答辩时,教授委员会不停提问直到学生开始说,我不知道答案。开题的关键不是看学生是不是知道正确答案。如果都知道答案,教授应该让他通不过(译者:如果论文题目都知道答案,它就不成为一个论文题目)。关键是找出学生的弱点,部分是为了看他们需要在哪方面多做努力,部分是为了看学生的知识储备在某足够高的层次上为做某个课题做好了准备没有。

  Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.

  有创造的愚蠢意味着有选择的无知。专注在重要的课题上把我们放在一个向未知前进的位置上。科学的魅力之一在于我们可以曲折前进,一次又一次的犯错,并且感觉还好只要每次都学到一些东西。好无疑问,这将是很困难的,特别是对那些习惯于只想要正确答案的学生。好无疑问,某种程度的信心和情感上的达观会有帮助,但是我认为科学教育可以轻化这样的一个大转变:从学习别人的发现到做自己的发现。如果我们面对愚蠢越自如,我们越能更深入到未知里面,并且更能够做出大的发现。

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