Expression as Exploration

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.”
R. Buckminster Fuller

         About a month ago, I had an opportunity to interact with school students who were on the verge of transitioning from 10th and 11th grade. This event was part of a tech-fest organized by College of Engineering, Pune. The topic of discussion was “what scientist does in everyday life?” The students were very communicative (surprise!) and asked many questions (another surprise!), which was heartening. During the interaction, one of the issues we discussed was the importance of note-taking, as part of any serious observation in science, art or any other creative pursuit.

 One of the curious questions asked by a student was the following: “If there are so many technological tools that are available to us today, why should we at all write by hand? Why don’t we directly learn typing on a computer instead of handwriting?”

This was an important question, and I did mention that writing by hand has not only the benefit of processing thoughts more effectively, but also provides a sense of creation that may be lost while typing a text. Furthermore, symbolic representation, manipulation and thought processing – as done in mathematical thinking or calligraphy – is more conducive and convenient in the hand written form.

I also pointed out that there is some scientific evidence which indicates that handwritten notes have greater impact on processing the information in our brain, than when the same notes are typed on a device. I told that there is a form of elegance and individuality that a handwritten displays, which may not be represented in a text that is typed. I mentioned that writing in general and handwriting in particular, was not only a form expression but also as form of exploration. I indicated that just like music, writing has a psychological benefit of its own. It helps you to explore your thoughts and creates a sense of connection with oneself. Interestingly, it will also take you on a journey which you may not anticipate. The quote at the beginning of this blog sums it up nicely. Writing is a form of exploration, and by merely writing, we are taken to new worlds which we had not envisaged or planned to go.

In this blog I give 2 examples of a scientist and a writer, who have effectively used handwritten text in their work and have deeply impacted their respective fields. The choice is purely personal, as they are inspirational to me. Here we go….

Marie Curie

Curie photo
Image Credit : India Today

Cutting-edge science in early 1900s, especially in experimental physics and chemistry has had a great impact on modern society. Among the many who thought deeply about the nature of matter, Marie Curie’s contribution stood out. As a dedicated researcher, she not only developed elaborate experimental methods by herself to unveil the secrets of radioactivity, but also silently built a school of thought where dodgy, experimental exploration motivated new questions and directions in natural science. Below text is a snapshot from Marie Curie’s notes which describes the sample preparation in her lab. Interestingly, the mentioned texts of Marie Curie are still radioactive (and kept under isolation), and will remain radioactive for another 1500 year!

Marie Curie's notebook
Image credit : Wellcome Images

Virginia Woolf

VW image
Image Credit : Getty Images

A literary giant who is surely one of the pioneers of modernist thought process, kept a diary for herself all throughout her life. In my opinion she was a great humanist who redefined the art of narrative from a modern perspective. What’s more, her texts are so quotable that anybody who reads them will get a new viewpoint of the world which we had never seen. Below I reproduce a copy of her handwritten page of her famous book “A room of one’s own”. In this text, the story is still in the making, but you can see how a cluttered text at that time has evolved into a masterpiece now.

A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
Image Credit : Cambridge University

Well….preaching without practice is always hollow. When I was interacting with the students regarding handwritten text, they asked me whether I do write by hand. And my answer was yes, and below is a small handwritten note from my own notebook:

Snapshot of text from my notebook

Handwritten text has its own aesthetic value, and I believe it should be retained as long as human expression exists.

Virginia Woolf once famously wrote,

 “Thoughts without words… Can that be?”

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