Was Sisyphus in Hell . . . or Heaven?

In third grade, I learned that Sisyphus was condemned to an eternity of pushing a rock up a hill, the rock rolls back down, he pushes it up again, and so on. Why the Greeks told this story I had no idea, and still don’t.

I am now moving — from an apartment in the basement of a house to an apartment on the top floor of the same house. I’ve discovered that in small amounts this is enjoyable. I enjoy carrying stuff up a bunch of stairs. I could do it an hour per day forever — like Sisyphus, except with time off.

Here is the downside of the occupational specialization that distinguishes humans from other species. I don’t need to haul stuff upstairs one hour per day. People move stuff for a living. Instead I walk uphill on my treadmill, a imitation activity that does nothing for my upper body. I could move heavy stuff around my apartment, but that’s boring. The situation reminds me of the way Japanese schoolchildren clean up their school every day. In small amounts, cleaning is fun. Whoever runs Japanese schools has figured this out and used this fact to everyone’s benefit. Blogging is another example. In small amounts, writing and being read is fun. The communication this enables helps everyone. When writing becomes a job, a lot is lost — much less diversity of points of view. Those who write for a living are afraid of losing their jobs, reducing even further what can be said.

This blog is all about the fact that science is still another example. In small amounts, doing science is fun, especially when it has practical benefit (e.g., sleep better). Professional scientists have their place, just as professional movers, janitors, and writers have their place. But people who do science purely for their own ends — just as I move stuff upstairs purely for myself — have their place too. I am not as strong as a professional mover but I make up for it in dozens of ways. Personal scientists don’t have the resources (e.g., expensive equipment) of professional scientists, but they make up for it in dozens of ways. Without them, the diversity of ideas that are taken seriously (e.g., tested) goes way down.

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