Part 3: I am not doing PhD, I am doing Research.


Anyone who does research required to think hard. To solve problem. Thinking usually happen to everyone, however being a better thinker and keeping our mind sharp, creatively and critically, is not an easy task. The thinking process requires mental effort in which physically, our nervous system will consume more glucose to execute. The effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose. Also, it is not intrinsically pleasurable to do hence most people avoid thinking when possible. However, as computer science researchers, we should flow naturally with our thinking. The flow means we always have a state of effortless concentration to deeply engage on readingwriting, and coding activities which all require thinking. Otherwise, without the flow, we’ll find research is a very unpleasant experience that will trigger negative emotion.

Thinking is a valuable mental ability that our ancestors have developed over three thousand years. However, not too many people know how to think even though this topic has been discussed over centuries, from philosophical to scientific aspects. Most of techniques that cover thinking methods are actually scientific. Even historically science was a result of an evolution from philosophy, I am biased that the thinking should be pure scientific.  Take a look on Coursera for example, we can easily find courses like core thinkingmathematicalalgorithmicmodel thinking, etc. If I continue to search (which I will not do), maybe I can find more philosophical thinking approach, but I believe the material will be outdated in this postmodern scientific era.  There a lot of thinking techniques, huge amount of knowledge that have been published.  I will not confuse you this time. I want to share my own experiences.

Yes, I want to write about how to think, or more precisely to share proven practices to keep me in thinking flow.  The problem is, when thinking about something that I currently explore or not fully understand (or partially), I always have uncomfortable feeling called confusion. I am unhappy and feel stupid as my understanding is shallow or biased sometime. Some book authors wildly use terms/jargons that I dont understand, or jumping around with mathematics, visualisation or analogy to fool me. It is absolutely the worst distraction while reading.  In return, I can easily leave the problem, procrastinate and do something else.

[1] To think creatively is to know many concepts and get ideas. When I am flowing with algorithm contents, I will think algorithmically. The same when I read math, physics, my thinking will biased to what is currently active in my brain’s memory region. The main question will be – what we have to have to be able to think comprehensively? Ideas. Yes, having as many ideas as we can. We can’t be creative in Artificial Intelligence research for example by only learn current knowledge in machine learning. We need inspirations from all related disciplines, statistics, probability, physics, or neuroscience for example. Learning how to think really means a continuous learning process from many disciplines. Creative thinking happens when our brain can relate many concepts, recognize patterns, build new ideas, propose new theory/model, and finally simplify. In fact, many beautiful concepts in science are very simple. But the simplicity comes from complex thinking process with many inputs – inductively or deductively.

[2] To think critically is to recognize and remove biases. One of most influential book I have read is the Thinking Fast and Slow – written by a Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. He proposed a beautiful model to understand how our brain works – System 1 (Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious) and System 2 (Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious). He explained how those two systems works, its characteristics and described common biases we can have as consequences of those two systems.  Prof. Kahneman introduced methods for me to recognise biases in thinking and that is important to learn how to think. If we can recognize our own biases, we can use that to probe and debug other people thoughts or opinions. Lot of cognitive biases are listed here., specific for Thinking Fast and Slow, you can find here. I will not be able to cover all of them, but I do suggest all AI researchers to read that book.

[3] The creative idea is generated randomly from the most active brain. I don’t have scientific proof to say that, but I experience it many times. The myth is everyone can have creative ideas. I agreed with one condition. We have to deeply engage and flow within the problem to get ideas. Some engineers who are working deeply on graph problem can get creative ideas on how to solve the problem, but not others who are not. The same thing with business. The motivators will never be able to give precise ideas without doing the business. Thats is bullshit. When we do something our brain is active and that is the first rule to have ideas. However, the ideas are not coming on time. It is random and probabilistic process in nature. Sometime while I am drunk or running out after long hours of reading or writing. Last nite I discussed this with my best friend, Ari, we want to propose an additional System 3 model to Prof. Kahneman as random ideas generator connected to System 1 and 2. Sounds crazy but we do believe it is exists.

Thanks for reading my two cents!.

TSMRA, Jakarta, March 2016.

2 responses

  1. Bro Risman, really touched very interesting points about life learning experiences… Because, without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable… Well, life is the most exciting opportunity we have. But we have one shot. We graduate from college once, and that’s it. We’re going out of that nest. And we have to find that courage that’s deep, deep, deep in there… Enjoy the journey…

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