Cyberpunk literature emerged as last week’s weak signal. Sonya Mann posted The Cyberpunk Sensibility at Venkatesh Rao’s Ribbonfarm blog. William Gibson turned up in the new Adam Curtis documentary Hypernormalisation. Hachette Book Group reissued Amazon Kindle versions of Gibson’s influential novels Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive.
Whilst browsing this media I realised that Cyberpunk themes influence some of my post-PhD thesis research. Gibson’s transnational corporations reflect today’s networks, tax havens, and rising powers. Gibson’s databases and computer networks anticipate today’s hedge fund and wealth management platforms. Gibson’s characters foreshadow the sadder ethos of David Foster Wallace’s novels Infinite Jest and The Pale King.
This insight exemplifies how literature can inform research programs.
Some lessons from The New Yorker‘s profile of MacArthur Fellow and mathematician Yitang Zhang:
1. Immerse yourself in the research literature of your discipline. Zhang spent years reading mathematics journals about alegebraic geometry number theory at the University of Kentucky, and keeping a low profile: he had published only one paper, in 2001.
2. Choose a focal point or meta-question for your research program that will have a significant impact. Zhang focused on ‘bound gaps’ about prime numbers.
3. Organise your life’s tasks in order to pursue your individual research program. Zhang worked at a Subway and in New Hampshire in order to have more time to write and pursue his research program on his own terms.
4. Streamline your publication track record to focus on publications in high-ranked journals. Zhang submitted “Bounded Gaps Between Primes” in late 2012 to Annals of Mathematics after years of work.
5. Understand how the referee process works for journal articles. Zhang benefited from reviewers Henryk Iwaniec (Rutgers) and John Friedlander (University of Toronto) who were critical yet sympathetic to Zhang’s study, and Annals of Mathematics editor Nicholas Katz.
Confirmation of candidature is a PhD project’s one year milestone. You can download the second, revised version of my PhD Confirmation of Candidature document here. It outlines my project scope, some of the relevant literature, key research questions, and methodological framework.
My thanks to Michael Janover, Pete Lentini, Ben MacQueen, Andy Butfoy, and Luke Howie at Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry for their critical feedback.