Theorists at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, on how they get through the day
I spend most of my time being confused about things and feeling like an idiot. But the way you feel at the moments where everything falls into place in your mind and you have figured out something important, it is amazing.
It is not clear when a good idea will come. It usually comes after thinking about things for a while and feeling stuck and then suddenly there is this aha moment. You cannot really switch it off.
The life of a physicist in general is characterised by a deeply ingrained belief that somehow there is an answer to the question you pose, and by understanding that we will wait however long it takes. I do a lot of thinking while pacing, and in particular while running. I like to go out and just get lost in thoughts while jogging.
I try to visualise a picture of what is going on, and what is missing or doesn’t feel right. I will then try to run down ideas that could fix the problem, and examine their consequences.
The ideas do tend to come up at the most ungodly hours. My mood tends to periodically switch between frustration when ideas don’t work, and dread when they do, subject to approval of anonymous reviewers.
I spend most of my days feeling very stupid. I’ll get in front of the blackboard, Eye of the Tiger playing in my head, write something, erase it, change my pose, write something else, erase it, ad infinitum. Realistically, that’s how it works. If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research.