Solitary endeavors

by Lorenzo Piccoli

When I first decided to start a PhD many graduate students warned me of the sadness of a life of lonely research. Doctoral students are often thought to be left alone in a somehow depressing menage a trois with their thesis and their supervisor. This is certainly the image you get if you ever read PhD comics. The doctorate, many people think, is a very lonely activity.

This was never my case. In fact the kind of environment I found in Fiesole is nothing like that. As our Head of Department told us upon our arrival last year, research is a very social endeavor. True that: academic ideas are rarely the result of one’s own thinking; what really inspires them, what helps your thinking to evolve and to become more coherent is the result of interaction and engagement with other people’s thought. So you can understand why Mariana sent me this quote from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition:

“(…) under the sky of ideas the philosopher not only finds the true essence of everything that is, but also himself, in the dialogue between “me and myself” (…). To be in solitude means to be with one’s self, and thinking, though it may be the most solitary of all activities, is never altogether without a partner and without company.”​

This is what I like about being here. Working in the same rooms with my fellows, going out for lunch with them, spending hours talking about our ideas and projects in front of a coffee: being here is generally about being in good company. And yes, I suppose it is this kind of interaction that makes my research a joyful activity. This, and the mutual agreement never to talk about our research and our own work when we go out in the evening. Because every now and then we really don’t mind too much beclouding our sky of ideas with the earthly pleasures of the flesh.