I stumbled across this talk by science writer Annie Murphy Paul on the intriguing field of foetal origins research. According to the scientific research, one’s learning begins while in the womb; information about the environment of a pregnant mother is transmitted to the foetus, primarily through the digestive process and the senses, so that the foetus can develop the right qualities to survive in the outside world. (Unfortunately, the foetus doesn’t know that the mother’s environment is subject to change.)
I have been thinking about the origin of phd topics and how they are influenced by the environment of the PhD student. There may be no connection but this talk made me wonder whether the skills required to do a PhD or experience that led to a PhD topic are the result in part or indirectly of any foetal learning.
It is interesting that Paul’s book on foetal origin research was written while she herself was pregnant. Did her experience as an expectant mother make her look more favourably on doing the research?
I started this blog because I was interested in that tweet of the imagination, that moment of inspiration, that lead to a phd topic. But, according to Steve Johnson, there is no such thing as the famed Archimedes moment. In reality, The badly-named environment is a network of human and non-human entities in contradiction and in dialectic to each other. One person’s tiny idea is, as Hegel would say, the synthesis of thesis and antithesis. Those big ideas – one amazing example that Johnson cites is the development of GPS – are really the collision of smaller ideas, that occur through the communication of people with their network. We talk about the apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head but the apple wouldn’t have fallen without gravity to pull it down, without Newton being in the right place and who knows what else happened from him to be there. (Indeed, the ‘apple of the head’ is believed to be apocryphal, most likely developed to explain the moment that drew everything that Newton went through before together.) Catherine Malabou would have described this idea as le voir venir (to see what is coming). In this video, Johnson refers to a number of famous innovations and the network,behind them and explains why coffee shops are a part of writing a PhD. It turns out that they are a part of our societal DNA. But it also raises a good and pedantic question: why is the outcome of a PhD called a thesis when it should surely be a synthesis?
I have just realised that through this post and the previous one that this blog is part of a larger network of researchers.