Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Life of Learning

I've taken the title of this post from a wonderful essay by the political theorist Judith Shklar.

I am now preparing a second edition of my Doing Mathematics (2003, World Scientific). While eating lunch I started to look at the second edition of my Doing Physics (2012, originally 1992, Indiana University Press). And I realized that I had done enough coherent work in this area (with my Constitutions of Matter (1996, University of Chicago Press), and Marginalism and Discontinuity (1989, Russell Sage Foundation)) to have had a career in some field that studies science.

I am leaving out scholarly journal research articles.

But of course, there is more, as the TV salesman says. When I have been a faculty member, I have always been a professor of city planning. So I seem to have acquitted myself there: Advice and Planning (1982, Temple University Press), Entrepreneurial Vocations (1996, Scholars Press), What's Wrong With Plastic Trees? (2000, Praeger), and Urban Tomographies (2011, University of Pennsylvania Press).

I've even benefitted from serving on university committees! The Scholar's Survival Guide (2013, Indiana University Press) is just out.

It is not unusual for a senior faculty member to have lots of books and articles in the CV. Many have 10-20 books, and some have hundreds of substantial articles. And I am leaving out volumes they have edited or translated (one of the major tasks of scholarship). They have trained many doctoral students, who are now doing research and teaching elsewhere. They have won national awards and are members of academies specific to their discipline or the profession. I am much less accomplished than they are. They have been my colleagues at five universities, several academic research centers--often from fields different than my own, and often less awarded and recognized than they might be. (Keep in mind that honorary chairs in university are often given to the least-difficult qualified person, not to the strongest scholars--or so I have been assured by a very distinguished colleague who knows intimately of these matters. Eventually, the difficult distinguished get their rewards, but it is often later than their more mild-mannered colleagues. I make no claim to knowledge about these processes. Similarly, Nobel prizewinners are almost always deserving, but many who are as deserving do not receive such recognition.)

What I am thinking about is how my life has been a life of learning, how fortunate I have been to have survived risks I ought not have taken, the kindness of strangers, the pleasures of hard work, the long gestation time until I found my rhythms, the fact that the world presents us with so many interesting problems and questions.