Ideas germinate during the twilight zone.
Virginia Postrel: People sometimes come up to me after I give talks. They say, “Oh tell me about your methodology,” and I really wish I had a good answer to that. You know, it’s kind of like, “Well, I walk around and I look at things, and I read a lot.” And when I find out about an interesting person I will sometimes try to interview them, particularly if I can come up with an article, and I sleep on it. Quite literally, I get a lot of these ideas while I’m asleep or in that sort of twilight zone. And the process of writing actually helps too, because just as somebody who does mathematical modeling has to sit down and actually take their vague notion and to turn it into equations, in the case of me writing, while I take, you know, I usually start with some sort of intuition and then I refine it. And while I’m actually sitting there I’ll have other ideas. And I’ll realize, “Oh that doesn’t really logically follow” What about this? What about that? I look for interesting academic research, which is often hard to find because if you don’t have a popularizer who’s already popularized it, how do you find it? It’s easier for me within the world of economics because I know a lot of economists. I wrote an economics column for the New York Times for six years, and over the course of doing that I learned a lot. But I learned how to do it in other fields, and you follow footnotes. You read an interesting book, it has footnotes. You go look up the things that they’ve footnoted. I read a lot of history. I think that we have a tremendous amount to learn about the present and the future from studying the past. Not just in the sense of where we got here, but in less sort of linear sense of analogy, and inspiration, and synthesis.
Recorded on: 7/4/07