That sinking data-feeling

Don't worry, I will not (yet) describe to you what my dissertation is about. After all, we've only known each other for a few months. However, I will now try to describe a feeling peculiar to the tightrope-walkers of the empirical world, whether they're scientists, poets, philosophers, or sociologists. (Or, hell, even non-academics. I'm provincial; what can I say?)

The data are dragging me down. Yes, that's right. I'm trying to put my as-yet-incomplete data through a few trial runs, to see what my model will look like when I have a complete set. It's not important what my model is. What's inescapable is the "oh, shit" in the pit-of-the-stomach when one realizes that the data might not show anything interesting at all, after months of painstaking collection (or browbeating of the people doing the painstaking collection for one) and months of data analysis after that.

And there's nothing I can do about it. Prayer won't help, since data don't listen to prayer -- just as the Rabbis claimed that angels don't understand Aramaic. The data drag you down while gnawing on your head. The mark they produce, if you could view the top of your own head, would look like a piece of published work, a PhD, or a satisfying creation of your own design, chained unbreakably to the empirical status-quo.

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