Sunday, June 19, 2022

On the practical business of intimate intellectual collaboration, getting brains in synch

Mordechai Rorvig, The Computer Scientist Who Parlays Failures Into Breakthroughs, Quanta Magazine, June 13, 2022:

Why do you think your collaborations with Teng were so successful?

When I was starting grad school at MIT, he was an instructor there. We started working on problems then and had a very compatible working style. You’ll notice I have a couch in my office. In my office at MIT I had two couches. That meant Shang-Hua and I could both work — like, literally just spend all day lying down thinking about something, and when you have an idea, get up and talk about it. He was very happy to spend a lot of time thinking about things and talking about problems. Like me, he was happy to work on absurdly hard problems that we probably wouldn’t solve. Failure was the standard result of anything that we worked on, even if we were working on it for years. But that was OK.

David Hays and I did something similar:

This ritual began when both of us were exhausted from the intellectual work, and frustrated because we weren’t making progress. Each of us would lie back and drop into fitful reverie. Every so often one of us would make a comment or ask a question. The other would reply, to no mutual satisfaction, and the fitful reverie would continue. Eventually we would work through it, begin talking and talking, and Dave would sit down to the computer and write up some notes on what we had accomplished.

I suspect this involves relaxing into a mental mode where the brain's so-called default mode network is regnant.

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