The Importance of Compiling

by ninashiel

Coders (“Computer programmers” if you’re old school) know the importance of compiling time. This is when the code input by the programmer is translated into machine language understandable and executable by the computer, This may take some time and provides ample opportunities for legitimate displacement activities.

It is perhaps less understood than non-programmers, too – even humanists – need compiling time. While the analogue of computer to a human brain is out of fashion and inaccurate, I find ‘compiling’ a useful term to describe the process that takes place after I have set out a problem and then let it brew for some time. I may be struggling with the next chapter structure, or how to make two sets of theories talk to each other. Or how to define a particular concept. Anything that starts out as a vague bundle of knotted threads, and that may, with some compiling time, emerge as a woven stretch of beautiful patterned band.

The trick seems to be to deliberately avoid thinking about the problem, at least directly. It’ll probably crop up in your mind every once in a while, just to demonstrate that the process is taking place. What seems to happen is that while your mind concentrates on something else, be it something productive and educating like visiting a gallery or a museum, or something lazy like taking a day or two off to laze around, enough space is created within your head for the problem to percolate and shape itself in peace. A kind of ‘sleeping on it’ while being awake. At some point, the problem resurfaces, transformed, and you may be able to view it with much more clarity. I came up with a definition for a particular concept I’d been struggling with while taking a summer school in something completely different. Various forms of intellectual stimulation and inspiration feed each other.

This has been a long-winded way of saying, hello, I’m back from June’s conference and my summer holidays! Ready now to tackle the incoming second year of my PhD with full strength.