## Competitive Cycle

Over at the Cosmic Variance discussion on Lisi’s TOE, the question of competition versus collaboration in science, and the existence of arrogance in many scientists in doing their professional activities has been raised.

Sure, one can be very successful making a science career being very competitive and aggressive. In fact, the system favors these characteristics. Why? Because science is made by people, and those who are more competitive and aggressive naturally tend to be more successful in climbing into key positions in the system. So the present situation in science is a somewhat closed cycle in this respect.

So yes, it is possible to do science under that scheme and be very successful. However, is it an optimum system in the long term?

I don’t think so.

Competitive and aggressive scientists probe nature under very specific motivations — that is, “how to be successful” in their careers. This may lead him/her to important discoveries and there are certainly many examples of them. But there are many fundamental and deep questions in nature that I really doubt that can be adequately advanced if you do not have a truthfully inquisitive, contemplative, genuine curious mind about nature’s deepest secrets. People with such an approach to science have learned the meaning of the words “humbleness” and “collaboration”, can also be successful, and there are certainly some examples of them, but I really think they are a minority, at least in our current epoch. The system definitely does not favor such people in science.

On purely philosophical grounds, I consider it very strange that we, supposedly intelligent people, let the situation develop into that closed cycle. The cycle can be easily explained, as I did above, but it is really a shame that we let ourselves into this. Is it not obvious that we need a healthy collaborative environment, with plenty of genuine modesty and humbleness, towards the understanding of the vastness of nature?

Aggressiveness and competitiveness can be the means to accomplish that goal, and you can follow them if they are attractive to you and to your aims in life, and indeed the achievements that may result from such a path can certainly make many satisfied. Yet, a vast sea of unknown is doomed to be hidden by construction to them, because the understanding of nature and our place in the universe are not things to be conquered (like territory and hunt were things to be conquered by our ancestors in order to survive), but things of the human intellect, that must be nurtured, grown and shared to all, with pain, persistence, reason, humility, curiosity. With our minds filled with wonder.

Update: Some technical discussions between Distler and Smolin finally appeared in the comment’s section over at CV after I wrote this post. If I find time, I’ll try to make a compilation of them in my blog.

Update: I have added my compilation in the post about Lisi’s paper.

### 8 Responses to “Competitive Cycle”

1. Nice post . I agree with you. It is easy to understand though why competitiveness has taken an important place in the scientific community, since this is the basic principle of the bigger capitalist system in which we are embedded. Hence, since we are kid we are educated to be “productive” in the system, that is to compete and be aggressive. The “ideal image” of a successful businessman is indeed one who’s aggressive, competitive, without respect for others, etc. Hence, since scientists are humans raised in the actual capitalist system, it is easy to understand why competitiveness has taken an important place.

However it is also worth noting that, at least it seems to me, the scientific community (at least the theoretical physics community which I know best) is still one of the most cooperative “workplace” in our society. For example, the arXiv is a good example: a free space for open sharing of information, which goes pretty much straight against the importance attached to patent, profit, etc. in the broader society. Or people sharing their results with each other before publication, which is very common in theoretical physics, while in many other areas of society would be completely unthinkable. Etc. etc. So while arrogance and competitiveness are very much present, collaboration, cooperation and respect are also present, and I would say to a degree much higher than in the rest of society, fortunately. Many people said that people are put off from academia because of the aggressiveness of some people; but on my hand I am attracted to academia for the opposite reason, because of the possibility for change and the possibility of creating a real collaborative environment.

best

2. Hi Vincent,

Well, perhaps my post gave the impression of an “on-off situation” that is really not much realistic, things are much more complex of course, and in addition my post is biased by my personal experiences.

You are right that the arxiv was a great idea. But I have the impression that, although I have never had any problems with the arxiv system, if some of their criteria were a little more transparent it would be close to perfect.

I am not acquainted with the theoretical physics community, much less in the US, so thank you for posting your impressions. My post was aimed at something more general, something that appears true to me sometimes, but for what is worth I guess things could be in general better (or worse, to some) than I described.

Best,
Christine

3. Daniel de França MTd2 Says:

Heelo Christine!

Would you install a math package just like in Distler and Baez blogs? This place could be a “neutral” field to discuss.

Valeu cristina, abraços. Muito bom ver que alguem daqui acompanha as discussões

4. Hi (Oi) Daniel

Thanks, you can use LaTeX here at wordpress. See, eg, this site.

For instance:

$i\hbar\frac{\partial}{\partial t}\left|\Psi(t)\right>=H\left|\Psi(t)\right>$

But I don’t have a preview. I don’t know how to do it. Perhaps I would have to pay for the service. I’ll try to find information about it.

Best,
Christine
PS- Yes, you can be sure Theorema Egregium *is* a neutral field. I do my best to make it so. I accept criticisms if it seems otherwise.

5. Hummm. For installing a comments preview, I’d have to install a plugin and for that I would have to pay, I guess. If someone knows how to do this without upgrading to the paid service, please let me know!

6. Daniel de França MTd2 Says:

Hi Chistine!

That’s nice to hear! Why don’t you directly invite Smolin to post his objections to Jacques Distler here? Certainly he is avoiding Jacques´s blog because he fears trolling. But, since here is a neutral field, Jacques could not fear any attack. It would be nice to see a health discussion between them.

It also would be nice to invite specialists to solve any disputes between parties. For example, given the lack of agreement for the embending of SM on Pati Salam between Smolin and Distler

Daniel,

abraços

7. Hi Daniel,

Well, Smolin already knows about my blog and have contributed several times in the past (specially at my older blog). Also, sometimes I exchange emails with him and recently I have called his attention for my post about his paper, where he already offered a useful comment.

However, despite the fact that I try to make my blog a healthy place for discussions, or as you call it, a “neutral field” (eh eh Star Trek “neutral zone” ), it is not my intention to become a moderator to “solve disputes”… These are supposedly grown-up people and should eventually learn to behave…

What I really would like is to learn things and register here interesting material towards that aim. The best thing about blogs is the direct contact with specialists, who can offer direct explanations or argumentations about a given matter. This is what I like to do in my blog. The shutdown of my previous blog sometimes makes me sad because I had a lot of interesting material already there, and I know it was useful for many people. Although part of that material is available as a zipped file, it is no longer of direct access. Yes, it was a dramatic act of my part to shut it down (actually I completely deleted it from the server), but I was into a very depressive state at that time, which resulted, given several other factors, the shutdown of the blog.

The problem of blogs is when the discussion turn into personal attacks and disputes that may look funny sometimes and attract a lot of readers to see the “battle” (“ver o circo pegar fogo”, you know what I mean ), but in fact this is very sad and disturbing. This is not how scientific discussions should proceed, right?

So anyone is invited to contribute here, but it is not of my nature to make too much advertisement. If this blog eventually turns out to be recognized as such a safe “neutral zone” and respected for a high signal-to-noise, ad-hominen-free blog, then people will naturall come here to offer contributions. They are always welcomed.

Best,
Christine

8. [...] see here and here, which goes as far as I could follow. More (older) personal opinions can be found here, here and here in reverse chronological [...]