Ryan’s Important Papers (RIPs) — A Prelude

There’s the old adage of “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I don’t think that that’s true, exactly, but I appreciate the spirit of the idea.

I love science, and I love talking about science. I’m a scientist by day, then I go home and do more science just for fun. It’s a great gig, and what you might expect is that I have a great enthusiasm for sharing the things that find interesting, exciting, or rich with meaning. And you’d be right.

I joined the HLAB in the Summer of 2023 — it’s a stellar group of very, very sharp computer scientists and CS Ph.D. students working on questions of the human condition by using state-of-the-art computational methods. It’s an intellectually diverse group of folks — people with backgrounds in Physics, Computer Science, Psychology, Public Health, and on and on — all working on incredibly fascinating questions across the spectrum of psychological research.

Having joined the lab, I wanted to unpack my suitcase that was filled with decades of rather formal psychological training. My mind has been filled with papers, findings, theories, and ideas throughout my personal, professional, and academic life, which has been deeply enriching. However, it’s not enough to simply hold onto these ideas and cherish them like collectible figurines, taking them out to selfishly appreciate them by myself.

A quote (of another quote) that has stuck with me over the years comes from the very first chapter of Carl Rogers’s On Becoming A Person:

I started in college at Wisconsin in the field of agriculture. One of the things I remember best was the vehement statement of an agronomy professor in regard to the learning and use of facts. He stressed the futility of an encyclopedic knowledge for its own sake, and wound up with the injunction, “Don’t be a damned ammunition wagon; be a rifle!”

Carl Rogers, On Becoming A Person

And so, along with doing research, mentoring, and other standard academic activities — and one of the reasons why I so deeply enjoy teaching/lecturing — I love sharing the knowledge and ideas with other people. It’s just one of those deeply satisfying activities where, when done well, everyone involved gets to grow a little bit as a person. The person doing the sharing has the opportunity to formalize (and scrutinize) their own beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions; the person on the receiving end of ideas might pick up something that they didn’t have before, and they have the opportunity to rewire their own ideas/understanding of how the world works. In the best of scenarios, you might even get a chance to discuss, dissect, and reformulate ideas, leading to new conceptualizations that neither of you had before the interaction. It’s a wonderful thing.

So, I decided to “unpack” some of my intellectual luggage and share it with the lab. This included sharing what might be considered “standard” or “common” papers with the lab that would be familiar to folks with a background in psychological research, but are typically not on the radar of anyone outside of the field. This also took the form of sharing less common, more esoteric papers that would be of interest to the group given recent conversations, project ideas, and the like.

This “unpacking” came in the form of vaguely newsletter-format posts to a shared Slack group: I would post papers, typically with a bit of background context, interpretation, or subjective takes on the topic of the paper. Without much planning, I simply decided to call these posts “Ryan’s Important Papers,” or “RIPs.”

Many of these posts would stir up some discussion, discourse, deeper curiosities, and occasionally even debates. Mission accomplished.

Over the coming… well, who knows. Months? Years? …I intend to post those RIPs to this blog, making them readily available to anyone else who might be curious and stumble across them. I won’t pretend that these RIPs are brilliant, or even particularly coherent. I would usually bang them out over the course of about 30 minutes or so, and publish them to the group without any proofreading (much like this blog).

There’s a good chance that when (if?) you, as the reader, stumble across these RIPs, they will no longer reflect my current thinking on any given topic. And that’s okay — they can be treated as archives of thoughts, feelings, and opinions that may end up becoming woefully quaint or outdated, if they aren’t already. But hey… so what? And, in theory, once I’ve covered the archival posts that I’ve made, I would really like to continue writing new ones as time allows and as motivation dictates.

Well, there you have it, folks. Sharing my love for science and all these interesting papers with the HLAB has been a blast. “Ryan’s Important Papers” started as a fun way to stir up conversations and share some cool ideas, and now I’m transplanting it this blog. They might be rough around the edges and sometimes outdated, but hey, that’s part of the charm. Here’s to the joy of discovery and the endless possibilities that lie ahead.

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