In my previous incarnation as an historian of Victorian science, I was drawn to the people I wrote about for two reasons: the best of them were intellectual omnivores; and they had incredible work habits. Both of these are traits I admire and aspire to, but never quite make my own.
Recently, while reading an article by Nigel Thirft about the impact of information technologies on our perception of space and bodies (part of my slow but steady work on the end of cyberspace), I came across a very intriguing reference to Raymond Tallis’ book The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being. Naturally, I looked him up, and found a Guardian profile from 2006:
If there were a statue of the Unknown Polymath it should look like Raymond Tallis: rangy, bearded, wide-eyed with disciplined wonder. For 30 years he has been rising at five in the morning to write for two hours before going off to work as a doctor. He has been a GP, a research scientist, and a professor of gerontology, one of Britain’s leading experts, who has published more than 70 scientific papers and co-edited a 1,500-page standard textbook of gerontological medicine. But in the solitary hours of the early morning he has also been a distinguished literary critic, poet and philosopher who has written a radio play about the death of Wittgenstein.
Clearly, people who can get up very early in the morning have an advantage over the rest of us. Working at night, it seems, isn’t the same. (Of course, most evenings I consider myself productive if I make the kids’ lunches and do some e-mail.)
[To the tune of Plush, “No Education,” from the album “Fed“.]