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February 2004

   Picture of the month











Blue winter evenings, or the ongoing monetarization of research  We have had an unusual amount of snow thus far in this winter, in and around Bern as well as in the mountains of the Bernese Oberland. At nightfall, the snow reflects the last light and turns the landscape blue. Particularly in the Alpine mountain resorts with their snow-covered chalets, the warm lights in the windows contrast with the blue mountain slopes and invite us to go home and rest.


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For a hyperlinked overview of all issues of "Ulrich's Bimonthly" and the previous "Picture of the Month" series, see the site map


It could be just as restful to stay outside and take a walk, though. Blue winter evenings radiate peace. It always amazes me to see how few people seem to enjoy them consciously. Whether in winter or in summer, my wife and I often have an evening walk before going to bed; in winter, even in the most beautiful of winter nights, we usually are alone in the streets. Experiencing such "blue" moments, it appears, is something we apparently can hardly afford any more in our busy lives. We allow our obligations and our ambitions to eat up all our time and energy, so that in the end we miss out on such moments of peace.



This seems to hold even for academic people, who still enjoy more freedom than many others in their professional lives. Faithful to the credo of our epoch, according to which "time is money," an overwhelming majority of academics nowadays seem to accept that what really matters in academic life is to get things done (written, published, sold) a.q.a.p. as quickly as possible. Anything else is considered inefficient and inimical to success. It seems that universities, too, are ever more becoming places where "time is money," rather than representing a precious opportunity for reflection, for stepping back and analyzing things with the calm and concentration of true scholarship.

The monetarization of university life goes so far that "research" is now more and more equated with activities such as consultancy, fundraising, and other ways of turning time into money. At least this is what my personal observations suggest. For example, during six years as a visiting professor in two British Universities, I noticed with some amazement that the research centers that had invited me were constantly pressing their members to come up with "research proposals," by which they meant proposals that could be submitted to funding agencies or would result in a consultancy contract with some customer. I never heard any of my colleagues object that in the humanities, research is first of all an expression of individual erudition, creativity, and critique. Rather, the unquestioned motto seemed to be: 

"If it's not funded by some science funding agency,
it's not research."

The truth of the matter is, what scholarship needs more than anything else is calm and concentration. A true scholar must follow the requirements of his or her problems, not those of turning time into money, a.q.a.p. Perhaps university administrators would be well-advised to remind themselves of this old wisdom as it is expressed, for example, in the words of the Indian swami (spiritual master) Muktananda:

Don't think that if the mind calms down,
it will not serve any more for something useful
and you will no longer achieve anything.
The more the mind is calm and concentrated,
the more it is capable of acting.


 a.q.a.p. = short form proposed here for referring to the apparently most important quality of our epoch, of doing things (including academic writing and research) "as quickly as possible."


My "blue evening" picture was taken on 30 December 2003 in Adelboden, a small mountain resort about one hour from Bern, at 5:18 p.m.

Technical data: digital camera (4 Mp), shutter speed 1/10 (no tripod), aperture f/2.8, ISO 200, focal length 7.8 mm (equivalent to 38 mm with a conventional 35 mm camera). Original picture size: 1600 x 1200 pixels, memorized with "fine" compression (591 KB); current resolution 1280 x 960 pixels, compressed to 157 KB.



February, 2004

February 2004 - Blue winter evenings

 Blue winter evening in Adelboden, Switzerland, Winter 2004

The more the mind is calm and concentrated,
the more it is capable of acting.

Swami Muktananda (1908 - 1982)


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Last updated 17 May 2010 (layout) and 15 Nov 2009 (picture; first published 4 Feb 2004)


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