The more things stay the same the more they change

I used to get/find/stumble upon inspiration for my Beestonian columns on my commute to work, either peering, half-awake, from the window on an Indigo or pottering along towards the West Entrance after a coffee in Greenhood. It gave me time to think about something to say and how I might go about saying it…

My current commute is about 3 seconds.

I thought it might be witty to just stop there but 1) the Beestonian’s (other?!) Yorkshireman is the funny one and 2) I’ve got a page to fill and an editor wanting copy.

So, words I shall write and if your lockdown’s not eased too much, you can keep reading if you want.

It’s easy to blame a lack of commuting time for a lack of inspiration but I think actually I’ve just hit some kind of lockdown stasis. It’s also been marking season at work and it’s not my favourite part of the job. I enjoy ‘teaching’ but in most cases, marking is the one part of learning facilitation that I find a bit of a drag. There are notable exceptions, I was marking dissertations over, what was technically speaking, the spring vacation and it’s great to see the original research work that our students undertake – they do a great job. The added bonus marking wise is that every dissertation is on a different topic.

I think I’m also suffering a bit from hope. Hope of what exactly I’m not sure, but as discussions begin about things easing and recovering, my own emotions seem to do the opposite. Maybe our copy deadline is just bad timing, and in a week’s time my clarity will be restored, and words will flow from my fingers like something that flows easily. But at the moment lockdown actually appears more straightforward than what might come next. Shutting down was/is a much simpler process than opening up again.

My own research is about benchmarking Earth systems, it’s based on the idea that by going further and further back in time we can find out how a given system can respond to a given forcing, and what happens if and when it breaks. There’s always a no-analogue problem though. That is, it’s possible the system can go into a state it’s never been in before; that however much we try we’re not going to find a perfect time in the past to explain where we might end up next.

“We’re not approaching a new normal, we’re heading for complete unknown.”

And at the moment it feels we’re moving day by day, more and more into a no-analogue space. We’re not approaching a new normal, we’re heading for complete unknown. Our current lockdown is unsustainable, but the forcing isn’t going away anytime soon. So how do our existing systems cope with that? If we’ve time/space/stimulants enough to worry about it further, should they?

What we hope (i.e. argue with confidence for in grant proposals) is that we understand the present and past systems enough that we can project what will happen to them with confidence in any potential future scenario. My guess is that our scenario testing will be substantially examined in the coming weeks, months and years.

We also, though, relish the challenge (clearly not personally this month!) and trust that we can find new ways, technological, philosophical or other, to keep going and keep growing. Maybe we focus on the positives, of which there are many, or re-scale our horizons and gain new perspectives. Maybe we churn out words into the ether as something selfishly cathartic…

If you know please contact my editor.

MJ

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