The amount of thinking which occurs mentally is actually very hard to quantify. When I was doing research, I’d typically start out doing “nothing” for several hours—call it “warming up”. Then I’d hack around changing a few things here and there in a code or a manuscript. Maybe I’d suddenly get an idea and code it up in about half an hour. Finally, I’d read papers or try to make a good figure. If I managed to do that much in a day, I considered it a success.

If you’re just looking at what materially got done, it was very little. However, a lot could have changed mentally, though, both consciously but more importantly unconsciously.

It would be interesting indeed if it was possible to glimpse what goes on in other people’s brains beyond what gets reflected by their writing, talking, and actions.

I guess “thinking” is comparable to practicing an instrument except there’s no instrument and no sound. Still, by practicing you get better, and by getting better, you can produce something brilliant in short order when you finally do play.

Practicing is hard. This is why most people prefer not to. It is indeed much easier to “play” what you already know or to repeat what you’ve heard compared to composing your own things.

Much thanks to KC, BR, and Anon for the donations.

Originally posted 2010-09-09 22:45:34.