永遠二十三歲

1994年,經濟學家Avinash Dixit回首自己28年的研究生涯。他發覺在自己的學術起步階段,經濟學界陷入一片混亂:

… research was almost required to be “relevant.” Most theorists were affected by the atmosphere…

但,”Looking back on those years, one sees that much of the ‘relevant’ research in economics left little lasting mark.” 即使Dixit自己當初迎合潮流的作品也難逃厄運:”My ‘relevant’ work is mostly and justly forgotten.”

Dixit給新人的建議是:選擇題目的時候,不要考慮問題的social importance,而應該做”what captures your intellectual interest and creative imagination.” 當然,如果你感興趣的問題剛好重要,那就謝天謝地了。

持有相同觀點的還有物理天才費因曼(Feynman):

There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just doing it for the fun of it… And before I knew it… I was “playing” — working, really …. It was effortless.

科學史領域上無人不曉的Thomas Kuhn也認為,對一個領域做出突破性貢獻的人通常是那些從事常規研究(normal research)的人:

Only investigations firmly rooted in the contemporary scientific tradition are likely to break that tradition and give rise to a new one…. At least for the scientific community as a whole, work within a well-defined and deeply ingrained tradition seems more productive of tradition-shattering novelties than work in which no similarly convergent standards are involved. How can this be so? I think it is because no other sort of work is nearly so well suited to isolate for continuing and concentrated attention those loci of trouble or causes of crises upon whose recognition the most fundamental advances in basic depend. … The scientist requires a thoroughgoing commitment to the tradition within which, if he is fully successful, he will break.

Dixit的好建議不止這些,但千言萬語,他認為最重要的一點是:

Always work as if [you] were still twenty-three.

(以上文字多數摘自:Dixit, A., 1998. “My system of work (not!)” in Szenberg, M. (ed) Passion and Craft: Economists at Work. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.)

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經濟學牛牤成長史

多年之後,以研究經濟學中的經濟學(the economics of the profession of economics)著稱的David Colander已經離開普林斯頓大學的講席教授職位,前往著名文理學院Middlebury College任教。自喻為Economic Gadfly(經濟學牛牤)的他,開始回首征程。

Colander認為,一個好的理論,應該滿足”The Yeah Criterion”, 也就是說其對一個現象的解釋真正讓自己心服口服:”Yeah, that’s right; that’s the way it works.”  但是,這個”The Yeah Criterion”實行起來很難,因為你既不能因為他人同意而同意,亦不可應為他人不同意而不同意,所以:

For the Yeah criterion to work, one needs an enormous ego, and an ability not to be influenced by the crowd.

Colander選擇在哥倫比亞讀經濟學博士,始於欣賞經濟學美妙的直覺。所以Colander認為好的經濟學研究既不應該像MIT學派那樣推崇簡潔漂亮的數學模型,也不應該像芝加哥學派那樣奉自由市場為真義。一旦意識到這一點,Colander立即放棄了自己幾乎完成的關於最優徵稅問題(optimal taxation)的畢業論文,轉而追尋符合自己的”yeah criterion”的研究——”The free-market solution to inflation”。

博士畢業不成問題,Colander的導師Vickrey也肯定他的論文,認為有望在頂級期刊發表。但當Colander把論文投到American Economic Review的時候,得到無情的拒絕:

[The rejection] wasn’t even polite. It said, essentially, that the paper was garbage, poorly written, incomprehensible, and wrong.

再嘗試其他期刊,換來的是更多的拒絕。此時Colander方意識到自己陷入了困境,一度想離開學術界。

困境之中,Colander得到多位朋友的鼎力支持,使得他重振信心。這段經歷中最有意思的是他和人緣甚廣的經濟學大家Abba Lerner的相識和合作。

Colander因為相近的研究興趣,曾多次試圖接近Abba但未有實質性的交流。後來的一次AEA(美國經濟學協會)在芝加哥的年會上,Colander的演講被安排在整個大會的最後一場(session),聽眾僅有兩個人!全是前來捧場的演講者的朋友。而Colander的演講在最後一個。

這一場開始不久,Abba居然來了。

Abba仔細聽了Colander的報告,並詳細質詢技術細節。兩個人細談三日之後,Abba被完全說服。然後Abba決定兩個人應該合寫一本書。

是年12月份,Colander和Abba不分晝夜一同工作。不出一個月,一本書已經寫完!

參考資料:

Colander, D., 1998. “Confessions of an economic gadfly” in Szenberg, M. (ed) Passion and Craft: Economists at Work. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

歲月悠悠,衰微只及肌膚;熱忱拋卻,頹廢必致靈魂

無論多麼充滿熱情的青春的心靈,都有機會像癌變一般,一日日趨近死亡。

在見識了一次次“今夜,我們都是xx人”之後,心靈不再為任何與己無關的天災人禍而略微顫動。

而那些曾經讓眼睛溼潤的話語,不分左右,一切都可能是洗腦,一切都可能是偽造,一切都可能展示出血淋淋醜陋的一面。

即使是那些真正激勵過你的宏大的事物,也在一次次表述之後變得軟弱無力。

一次次無謂的辯論之後,開始迴避一切可能的爭辯。

曾經欣賞過的每一個偶像,很快都可能被自己痛恨。

日復一日,躲在政治正確的角落裡,享受幻想中的安全。

沒有觀點,沒有立場,沒有辯論,沒有表達,只有呼吸、進食和睡眠。人啊,何嘗不可能退化成低等生物。

心靈一天天軟弱,無力,易於疲憊。所謂的歲月的磨練並不自動令心靈成熟,反使之衰老:

年歲有加,並非垂老,理想丟棄,方墮暮年。

歲月悠悠,衰微只及肌膚;熱忱拋卻,頹廢必致靈魂。

憂煩,惶恐,喪失自信,定使心靈扭曲,意氣如灰。

所以聰明如Wislawa Szymborska者,會選擇向心靈道歉:

Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.

所以要站在世界中心吶喊:救救我們的心靈。

所以此時這是一個重溫Youth的絕佳時間。

P.S., 這個blog, 會加快更新頻率.

Youth
by Samuel Ullman

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

青春

塞繆爾·厄爾曼

青春不是年華,而是心境;青春不是桃面、丹唇、柔膝,而是深沉的意志,恢宏的想像,炙熱的戀情;青春是生命的深泉在湧流。

青春氣貫長虹,勇銳蓋過怯弱,進取壓倒苟安。如此銳氣,二十後生而有之,六旬男子則更多見。年歲有加,並非垂老,理想丟棄,方墮暮年。

歲月悠悠,衰微只及肌膚;熱忱拋卻,頹廢必致靈魂。憂煩,惶恐,喪失自信,定使心靈扭曲,意氣如灰。

無論年屆花甲,擬或二八芳齡,心中皆有生命之歡樂,奇跡之誘惑,孩童般天真久盛不衰。人人心中皆有一台天線,只要你從天上人間接受美好、希望、歡樂、勇氣和力量的信號,你就青春永駐,風華常存。

一旦天線下降,銳氣便被冰雪覆蓋,玩世不恭、自暴自棄油然而生,即使年方二十,實已垂垂老矣;然則只要樹起天線,捕捉樂觀信號,你就有望在八十高齡告別塵寰時仍覺年輕。