Monday, September 05, 2005

Saturation street.

So last night I met up with Katherine for dinner to catch up and celebrate her new job offer, and I mentioned that I have to go talk at the Unicode conference in Orlando this week, and she asked me if I ever thought I'd end up doing what I'm doing now, and so not for the first time I started thinking about how it happened that I ended up doing what I'm doing as opposed to all the other things that I could be doing, because when I started grad school if you had told me that I'd end up in the software industry I probably would have laughed and laughed. And yet here I am. Going to talk at the Unicode conference and not a professor at some small liberal arts college.

I did a summer research internship in college where the NSF brought in all these cognitive science professors to talk to us about how they ended up doing what they ended up doing, and it seemed like the whole group of them had these incredibly circuitous routes that only made sense when viewed in retrospect. They started off theater majors, astrophysicists, professional gamblers. But there they all were, researching child language acquisition and mulitple personalities and addictive behaviors in porcupines. And I thought: what a weirdo I am. Every step I've taken has been in a straight line.

And yet it turns out that that isn't the case, because here I am.

But the path makes sense in retrospect in a whole bunch of ways. And it should be good, as this year I'm moving towards a couple of interesting linguistic problems. And I don't really miss working in pure formal linguistics.

Except that sometimes, I do.

I feel as though I've learned new ways of thinking about problems I've been thinking about for a while, and I've learned to think about problems that I've never thought about before, and that's good. One of the reasons I left academic linguistics is that I felt that I'd learned everything I could learn about that approach to problem-solving. And the thing is, that's gonna happen with any approach to problem-solving eventually. Saturation not on the material, but on the method. And so maybe it's naive to think that anyone can ever stay in a straight line for very long.


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