Where have all the Big Ideas gone?

Science (and Social Science, by extension) has its rightful place in the trenches, at the borders of human understanding.

Yet, I’m trying to reconcile the meaning of daily activity – reading of papers on 18th century mercantilism, and the endless debating of merits of Large-N studies, with the ‘Big Picture’.

Doing research requires you to focus your attention on one tiny aspect of one tiny problem – focus, and devote a large part of your life to ‘knowing’ it. With the hope that some day, in some way, this will fit into a larger puzzle and answer bigger questions.

As I’m trying to decide on dissertation topics, I’m mildly disappointed by how very inconsequential everything seems. I could conceivably spend a large part of next year studying (say) the effects of trickle down economics on the traditional power-base of Naxals in Andhra Pradesh, India.

But am still struggling to answer the essential question – what’s the point? (Aside from the mundane and obvious – i.e. I would finish a dissertation / get a degree)

And I wish, occasionally, that there was a conveniently located ‘zoom-out’ button on my life..

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2 Comments

  • “studying (say) the effects of trickle down economics on the traditional power-base of Naxals in Andhra Pradesh, India.”

    Was this a random example or what you’re studying (or planning to)? In the universe of obscure PhD topics this seems to me extremely relevant. Maybe while focussing on this particular thing you get an understanding of Naxalism in general, naxalism-affected states in general, under-development in general. Go into public policy once you finish, or an NGO that really does something, make a difference (or not!) to the country! The possibilities seem endless to me 🙂

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