Friday, November 5, 2010

Science and Coffee

A few posts back we asked the question about the link between scientists and coffee.  It turns out that the Ask Dr. Science column provided the spot-on answer years ago.

Q. Why do scientists drink so much coffee? I just got my PhD and I don't like coffee. Will I have to learn to drink it now?

A. Unfortunately, yes. Coffee is essential to any scientist - pots and pots of it. One cup simply won't do it, nor will decaffeinated brands. In order to function as a true scientist (or computer programmer for that matter), you must possess what the lay person calls "coffee nerves." Science calls this "hyper synaptic calculosis." What most people think of as the jitters is actually a state of creativity. The scientist or computer analyst who is not "jittery" is merely thinking. Thinking is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. You must make those great intuitive leaps, from the lowly atom to the mighty stars and back again, in split-seconds. Coffee lets you do this. Of course, your hand is usually shaking so uncontrollably you cannot even read your own notes, but that's part of the price you pay. And, pal, if you can't pay that price, you'd better get out now.

There you have it. Sound advice.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It's because speed is illegal. Plus street drugs have the reputation of being unnatural, and scientists don't like to get too far away from the belief that it's their own brilliant selves that have come up with the ideas. Coffee is natural - heck, they even have organic versions, and whoever heard of organic amphetamines? Plus, you can titrate the dosage between "alert" and "insane" at will.

Journalists and performers used to rely on nicotine for that frontal-lobe burst for the same reason. You are trading an activated frontal lobe for your lungs, essentially.

Other drugs, such as marijuana (going mellow) and cocaine (going a**hole) give you the impression that you are brilliant, without any real results. But caffeine does the opposite: it gives you the impression that you haven't quite attained while making you smarter than you were. Great stuff.

BTW, my father married two Swedish women (no, not at the same time. No fringe LDS stuff here) and concluded that to a Swede, there is no such thing as strong coffee, only weak people.