Physical exhaustion and scientific creativity
I’ve just received the print version of The Chronicle of Higher Education and just have to share this with those of you who read our weekend post about being tormented by lab directors who aren’t keen on non-science activities.
In this front page article, “Running Jogs the Academic Mind,” by Don Troop, several academicians hold forth on the value of physical activity, running in particular, as a means to trigger thinking about research problems.
Religious “pilgrims have long understood this,” says Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of history and constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania and an avid runner. “You have to exhaust the physical self first. You really have to get kind of empty, and then it all roars in.” Ms. Gordon says that every chapter of her new book, The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2010), contains an insight gained on one of her long runs.
I have to say that I am really, really looking forward to getting back to running after a frightening bout of pneumonia earlier this year. As you read in the previous post, I spent a good amount of time in Colorado as a junior faculty member. In fact, this coming week is one of my favorite races, The Breckenridge Crest Mountain Marathon, a 24.8 mile trail run on the ridge above the ski town that averages an altitude of 11,000 ft/3,350 m above sea level. I did it twice together with a member of our departmental promotion and tenure committee (I “let” him beat me.). The race was a remarkable experience that has stayed with me – I’ll never run a flatland marathon on asphalt.
And I have to say that the combination of exhaustion and hypoxia not only makes the colors more intense, but it certainly gives on plenty of time to gather thoughts about manuscripts, grants, and lectures.
Have you ever specifically observed your physical activities improving the quality of your work in the lab or on the computer?