Scope, Belief and Value
I once thought the notion of narrowing your scope is only a term amongst incompetent researchers, and real masters will address large, interdisciplinary, nuanced problems in sound ways.
Turns out I was biased by public-oriented materials. Senior intellectuals communicate their grand thoughts, philosophies and opinions via public platforms like social media, blogs and talks, but that doesn’t mean their published works which built their recognition are grand.
Intellectuals could easily let any grand theory fall apart, due to we human’s limited and brittle knowledge about the world. Therefore, they psychologically and methodologically wouldn’t work on a complex problem that has so many nuanced assumptions that they themselves doubt the validity of. Basically, they have to narrow their problems and solutions insofar as the other scholars couldn’t argue much.
In conjecture, there is a gap between what researchers are allowed to do and their beliefs. The best mindset to think about it might be “strive to express your values through your research work”, with the focus on well-recognized niche work and treat personal beliefs more as additives. Pretty much the same way as what was told to master students: “strive to express your values through your products”. You have to at first be a professional, and base all your output on the professional niche, because that’s the most solid way we have ever come up with to advance our knowledge.
And I shall remind myself that constructing my proposal upon a bunch of existing work is excellent (as opposed to watering) because that means 1) this work is very likely valued by professionals 2) this work could confidently hold many assumptions (and borrow many techniques) and therefore be able to practically address some complex real issues in the large. The second point backs up the first. If you think about it deeply, this is exactly how we build our civilization - we selectively focus on some problems, form professional niches, accumulate knowledge generation by generation, and continuously advance state of the art and create wonders. We do neglect many domains in life, which all stay lacking sophisticated building blocks till today, e.g. sociology, in which even the most contemporary achievements sound like within the capability of people in the Middle Ages.
Digging a brand-new land in academia is a myth, the same as those myths spread amongst engineers (for example, I’d like to argue that the ‘genius’ Steve Jobs actually invented nothing, since you can trace every each of his idea back to someone else). Senior researchers might be doing something that not a whole lot of researchers are doing, but that doesn’t mean nobody has been on that niche. When you examine closely, you can always tear apart their superficial novelty and realize the authors just shift their direction a little bit and “tell a wonderful story” on the subject, informed and inspired by people who are already working on the subject.
People working on hot technical topics typically earn a lot of fame and money. I once thought it is a sign of the scarcity of public intelligence: so many people in the world cannot appreciate the beauty of innovation and stupidly waste their money and respect on these opportunists. Nonetheless, I kind of see the good reasons behind this, a perpetual fate and progress that has never changed. This society has to circumvent humanity for its existence and count on technology/art to maintain its prosperity, and reward corresponding people and culture to retain this direction. It’s certain for those tech people standing on the current time to be rewarded. It’s surprising that those people who frame and propose on humanity also get rewarded.
Now I become much more pessimistic about grand talks: for a lot of ideas, dare I say, we can’t get there, and we won’t get there.