At Caltech seminars in the mid-1970s I would sometimes sit near Donald Page, an older (and wiser) grad student. I noticed a singular thing about the notes Don took: he rarely scribbled down equations, experimental measurements, or substantive parts of the presentation like the rest of us. Instead, in his beautiful cursive hand Don meticulously recorded the speaker's aphorisms, banter, humorous asides, and idiosyncratic comments.

This puzzled me to no end at the time. But belatedly, I think I understand. The "serious" parts of a talk will always appear in published papers. The gory details will all be reported, with laborious derivations and appropriate graphs, accompanied by plenty of footnotes and cross-references.

It's the human side of science that gets lost in translation to print: the hunches and blind alleys ... the long nights in the lab ... the broken apparatus ... and the lucky breaks. Those are the parts that need capturing when a guest is gracious enough to share them.

So now when I go to talks I focus my notes on jokes and quotable turns-of-phrase --- so that, much later, I can re-read with a smile and remember the real content of the meeting.

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicWriting - 2002-08-06

(correlates: ReallyImportant, OntologyRecapitulatesPhilology, CultureMemoryProgress, ...)