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Deeper thinking

One of the questions that I have been practicing asking myself lately is, "What is the broader significance of this finding?"

I find it challenging to draw myself back out to the level of generalities. In the leafcutter literature, it seems to me like there are a lot of cases where people don't bother trying to do this. It's a matter of getting stuck in the specific mechanisms at hand.

TZ is much better-practiced at this art. In some respects, that's just a product of having experience working in the same system for a long time. But to some extent it has probably also been a product of having spent a lot of time thinking about his field of interest (life-history evolution), and only subsequently picking a specific study system within that field.

In that respect, my story has been more convoluted because I got into the study of social insects based on an interest in network systems. My initial argument was simple: social insects are useful because they're easier to manipulate than many other kinds of network systems. Then, of course, I had to learn a tremendous amount about social evolution and nutrition and a bunch of other nonsense.

But think, for example, about trying to manipulate nutrition in a developing brain. I've been sitting in on a seminar led by a researcher who has been interested in how nutrition in the brain intersects with recovery prospects for traumatic brain injury patients. Very challenging to study, but with obvious rewards. It's funny, though, because he's neatly back in the category of "this is useful because direct human benefits," whereas I'm happier working in a more purely theoretical context.

Anyway. I have just sent the current Leafcutter Manuscript of Doom back over to my Ph.D. advisor. I hope she can give it an extremely thorough going-over. One can hope. Otherwise, it's probably time for me to set it down for a while and work on other things where my energy and ideas feel more fresh.

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