1988 Timoshenko Medal Acceptance Speech by George K. Batchelor

I stumbled upon this speech looking for more entries about G.I. Taylor. It’s available from several places, but I’ve decided to send you a link to a full-length article at iMechanica.org that could be of great help for many. Read it here >>>

Several quotes that I really liked:

I promised to say a few words tonight about sources of inspiration, a topic which concerns us all in some degree and which has interested me for many years. Let me make it clear immediately that I am not using the word “inspiration” in the exalted sense that goes with genius. I am referring to the more humble revelations and flashes of insight that most research workers experience from time to time. Our perception of what constitutes a good idea is usually determined by our own capacity. There is a statement by Proust in his novel Remembrance of Things Past which puts this more bluntly and which might have been written for scientists: “Clear ideas, for each of us, are those which tie at the same level of confusion as our own.” So when I say inspiration, I mean those of our good ideas that are a little better than normal and that affect the course of our research. Modest though these occasional good ideas may be, they give us a great deal of satisfaction when they stand up to sober scrutiny. They make research the marvelous game that it is, and confirm us in the view that it is what we should be doing. The question for consideration is, what conditions seem to favor the genesis of good ideas and what are their mental origins?

A feature of an institution which provides a measure of its intellectual health and vitality is the holding of regular lectures and seminars at which people with related interests gather to hear, and comment on, informal presentations of current research. In my view, the
occasions on which people meet and listen to accounts of work by a colleague can be high points in the life of an institution. The
symbiotic relationship between a person who wishes to tell others about the good work he has recently done and an alert and critical audience
of people interested to argue about the latest developments brings out the best in both parties. This is the time when sparks fly and there is
a real sense of the boundaries of knowledge being extended. I believe a good seminar, at which intrinsically interesting work is clearly
presented, can also be a source of inspiration in itself. There is a heightened awareness on such occasions, and, in my experience, one may
‘see’ things for the first time as a consequence of something said by the speaker. A good deal of research, at any rate of the theoretical
kind, consists of realizing what later often seems to be almost obvious, and a research seminar can be a fertile medium for such
realizations. I would say the same about a lecture given at a conference, especially a meeting of leading specialists interested in
the same broad topic. The fact that a scientist at an international conference is temporarily away from his normal distracting
responsibilities also helps to make meetings directly productive as a source of inspiration.


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