Brief and unorganized thoughts – Why thinkers cannot retire

People that think about anything because they want to rather than because they have to are the luckiest ones in this life. I only have direct experience in science, so I will qualify this statement by saying that a true scientist that has the time and the chance of thinking about whatever she or he wants is among the luckiest people in the world.

God willing, I am not planning to retire from science. Sure, there may be a time when I may not be physically able to go and actually DO experiments, but barring any cruel neurological conditions that may hinder my ability to think (full disclosure – my personal terrors in these sense are Alzheimer’s Disease and stroke, in that order —note added in 2014: heart disease added to the list—) I should still be able to wonder, to think, and as I have discovered relatively recently, to write about this incredible, yet mysteriously understandable universe of ours.

If I ever retire from thinking for a living I will then become that purest of thinkers, the amateur.

In those same lines, another type of thinkers that I believe share the advantage of not having to “retire” are writers (this is hardly an original thought of mine; look here).

Again, in a way similar to how I define a true scientist, I choose to define a true writer as someone who has “something to say” and itches to say it in writing so others can read about it. The beauty about being a writer is that in most cases you are quite never done; there’s always something else to say and a true writer goes at it with gusto.

Then there’s the best of both worlds, at least from my perspective. A scientist that can also write. I hope to be able to call myself a “writer” one day (—note added in 2014: I did it!!!). It is a great responsibility (see here and here). That said, my admiration and awe go to that relatively rare breed of writers, Science Fiction writers. I can honestly say that I do not think I’ll ever be able to write anything like that, and in a future post, I plan to tell you why I think SF writers are the best, bar none.

So guys, what do you think? Do you want to retire? I don’t.


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  1. I think I definitely want to retire at some point (even though I’m only 28 now), but mostly in order to pursue true science and things I really like to think about, instead of writing grants and trying to be as ‘cutting-edge’ as possible. I personally really like behavioral experiments, but nowadays in biology it’s hard to get away from genomics/transcriptomics (if you want to get a good grant).
    If I would be able to retire, and try to answer the questions I really want to answer in my own pace, that would be great 🙂
    In the meantime I really like what I’m doing, so no complaints there, and since I’m only 28 I guess you could take my comment with a grain of salt. But this is how I feel about it at the moment 🙂


    1. I agree with you and I can prove it! One of the sentences in my latest published paper reads:

      “Given the power of modern molecular techniques, it is easy to forget that the ultimate objective of physiological discoveries is to find their possible significance within the context of the whole organism, particularly its behavior.”

      I am sure that I will “go molecular” soon, but I hope not to forget my own words! (:-)

      Thank you for your kind words!


  2. Assuming I succeed at doing what I love (writing!), I don’t think I’ll want to retire. If I don’t make it, though, then I’ll end up just doing a job which I’ll eventually want to stop and, as pcawdron said, focus on the things I love.

    I’m glad to hear you’re so fond of sci-fi. I’m planning to stop doing science after my PhD and try to make it as a science writer — and hopefully a sci-fi writer, too! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on why sci-fi is great… 🙂


  3. Yes. I have one of those dreaded neuro conditions and it robbed me of practical science by the time I reached my mid 40s, but it hasn’t yet taken my mind. If and when it does that, I’ll probably be ready for the chop. But meanwhile here I am, writing about science.


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