Let the Bodies Hit the Floor…

Posted: February 3, 2011 in Blogging, Philosophy, Science
Tags: ,

Warren Ellis (no relation) is one the best comic book authors out there. However, he wrote this post the other day about what happens when ideas just don’t work. I’m not really a writer (although I do occasionally write poetry). I’m more of a scientist.

For those of you who don’t know, scientists can be generally broken down into two different types: theorists and experimentalists. Experimentalists spend their time tinkering in labs trying to figure out how the world works, and building new devices to probe the unanswered questions of the universe. They describe the world with DATA.

I’m not an experimentalist. I’m a theorist. The job of a theorist is to come up with new about how the world works. We then use MATH to describe those ideas and calculate what should be found by experimentalists when they take data. Theorists have a significant constraint: if our theories don’t match the data, we have to come up with better ideas.

When Warren wrote,

The lesson is simply this: you just have to recognise that, no matter how much weight you put behind it and how much you tart it up,sometimes a story just doesn’t bloody work, and you have to take it behind the stables and shoot it through the head. No writer is perfect.  We all have dead bodies to our names.

The corpse gets thrown in the Loose Ideas folder, where one day it will doubtless be cannibalised for its more interesting/less ripoffy parts and interpolated into something new and better.  Storage of corpses is important.  As in life, you never know when bits of them will come in handy.

he could have just as well been giving advice to a scientist of either stripe. Sometimes we’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean that the ideas are useless. If they’re not useful for what we’re working on, we pack them up in notebooks (or on the computer) and save them in case we can find a different problem for which they might be useful. I’m just glad to know that people I look up to in other fields have the same sort of process.


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