Cross-posted to LessWrong.
I notice I rely on two metaphors of intellectual work:
1. intellectual work as exploration – intellectual work is an expedition through unknown territory (a la Meru, a la Amundsen & the South Pole). It’s unclear whether the expedition will be successful; the explorers band together to function as one unit & support each other; the value of the work is largely “in the moment” / “because it’s there”, the success of the exploration is mostly determined by objective criteria.
Examples: Andrew Wiles spending six years in secrecy to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, Distill’s essays on machine learning, Robert Caro’s books, Donne Martin’s data science portfolio (clearly a labor of love)
2. intellectual work as performance – intellectual work is a performative act with an audience (a la Black Swan, a la Super Bowl halftime shows). It’s not clear that any given performance will succeed, but there will always be a “best performance”; performers tend to compete & form factions; the value of the work accrues afterward / the work itself is instrumental; the success of the performance is mostly determined by subjective criteria.
Clearly both metaphors do work – I’m wondering which is better to cultivate on the margin.
My intuition is that it’s better to lean on the image of intellectual work as exploration; curious what folks here think.