Why It’s Hard To Really Understand What’s Going On


Saturday, 9.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There are many plants in our garden but two will make the point that I need to make in this post. One was a young holly tree, spiky and in the wrong place. I dug it out without too much difficulty. There is holly everywhere so we used it to make some toys. The other is an unidentified beast, some say an Acanthus, that is impossible to get rid of. It has roots that go everywhere and they all seem tangled up and connected and any roots you leave come up the next year, even more luxuriant and irritating.

I have now started a PhD programme and so I’m thinking about knowledge and how to get it and make sense of it as it’s something I am going to spend the better part of this decade working on. So what does knowledge look like?

For most of us, we tend to learn things that have some sort of hierarchical structure to them. Something like a tree – an approach called arborescent. You essentially have the constant subdivision of things, a trunk into branches and leaves on branches. A branch does not connect to another branch and a leaf has nothing to do with other leaves – they are separate and distinct.

A Rhizomatic approach, on the other hand, comes from the idea of a mass of roots, where you have connections between the roots. There is no clear start and end, but multiple points at which you can enter and exit the mass. Knowledge is more like this – in the real world anyway – where what matters is connections and the route you take through what is there.

One of the nice things about being back at university is that I have access to research papers. But the trouble is that many of them are unreadable. I looked through a few to find an explanation of this rhizomatic – mass of roots – idea and Wikipedia explains it far more clearly than the papers do. Still, they make certain points and I want to try and capture those ideas.

That leads to a complication. Some time back I wrote about how Warhol never improved on anything and how this might be a good thing if what you want to do is create. The thing with research, however, is that it’s a process, a cycle, of reading and thinking and questioning and writing and reading your writing and thinking and questioning and rewriting.

There’s going to be a lot of this so it makes sense to be selective about what you read. And you need to have a way to write things down because writing is thinking.

This is going to lead to challenges that every researcher has faced since the dawn of time. Things like note-taking, indexing, referencing, avoiding plagiarism. And because I prefer to do everything on the command line I need a way that works for me. I think I have the bones of a system because this is something I’ve worked on for a good few years now, putting pieces in place as I’ve gone along.

What I’ve got to do is slow down. Because the purpose is not getting out words as fast as I can. The purpose is to put words together in a way that is good.


Karthik Suresh

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