Friday, May 3, 2013

Can obsession be a good thing?

     I admire scientists, mathematicians, inventors. They all seem so utterly and endlessly and categorically committed to their pursuits. This on the mathematician Archimedes in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Romans:

And thus it ceases to be incredible that (as is commonly told of him) the charm of his familiar and domestic Siren made him forget his food and neglect his person, to that degree that when he was occasionally carried by absolute violence to bathe or have his body anointed, he used to trace geometrical figures in the ashes of the fire, and diagrams in the oil on his body, being in a state of entire preoccupation, and, in the truest sense, divine possession with his love and delight in science.

     Could you see this this guy at the beach, tracing Isosceles triangles and Venn diagrams on his belly slathered in Coppertone?
      We've all know people like that. I occasionally go to this astronomy club where some very bright people are members. Well, you would wonder if these MENSA-types knew how to dress themselves and use a hairbrush. Belts going over several of the belt loops. Hair looking like Jason Dufner's. They walk around in a zone. You can see how preoccupied their minds are with their quest to understand the workings of the Universe.
     I myself used to live by: 'Ruthless striving overcomes everything.'
     Now I'm not so sure. These days I can sense the Universe tugging me along at the pace I'm supposed to be going at. No longer flat-out, warp speed.
     And the slower pace feels good, feels congruent, and perhaps most importantly, it feels efficacious.
     So is life a mad dash of living your life nose to the grindstone 24/7/365? I don't know. What I do know is that certain obsessive scientists and artists (eg. Isaac Newton and T.S. Elliot) backed off their obsessive pursuits later in life and enjoyed themselves. Gasp! Enjoying yourself is okay? Yes, I think so. And sometimes that's hard to see in work-obsessed America.
     I don't know. What do you think?


  1. I think obsessions can be good as well, if not carried to an extreme. If you're traveling at warp speed, you can miss out on a lot. Concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of everything else can make you a narrow person. It takes a village of people to create and polish a good idea. Sometimes the least connected idea may be what you need to help you finish.
    What more could you ask for than to create something great and enjoy yourself and not be stressed out along the way? Keeps life in perspective.


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