Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The life of Pi: a metaphor of Phd survival?

Is it madness to undertake a PhD?
“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
And so embarking on a PhD is not madness, the madness is already within.

Being all at sea; drowning past relationships and not knowing if the current trip will be survived seems an apt metaphor for the phd journey:
There's an alter ego to be managed: trained if not tamed.
One's tiger needs feeding if it is not to consume the self.
All rules for being lost at sea with a tiger need to be followed...and then abandoned. There are no rules for this scenario.
From the research proposal through to the ethics application and to data collecting...
“Things didn't turn out the way they're supposed to, but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Be ready to let go.
Madness, or at least anxiety and depression seem, from my observation, to be what occurs when one tries so hard to hold it tight.

On writing of what is studied, there is no one way, no 'one correct way', to do this. There is no objective reality that can be replicated in one's writing; what is written of is the story, what is drawn is the map; do not mistake the story thereof, or the map, for reality.
“The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?
Doesn't that make life a story?”
“So you want another story?"
Uhh... no. We would like to know what really happened."
Doesn't the telling of something always become a story?"
Uhh... perhaps in English. In Japanese a story would have an element of invention in it. We don't want any invention. We want the 'straight facts,' as you say in English."
Isn't telling about something--using words, English or Japanese--already something of an invention? Isn't just looking upon this world already something of an invention?”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
There's the danger of losing oneself in the journey; of not leaving an apparent safe haven that masks potentially fatal entrapment.
“Misery loves company, and madness calls it forth.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Make friends; play nicely; get support- virtual (#phdchat) or otherwise (other students, your supervisor)
“You can get used to anything - haven't I already said that? Isn't that what all survivors say?”
“I was giving up. I would have given up - if a voice hadn't made itself heard in my heart. The voice said "I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen everyday. I will put in all the hard work necessary.
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
The work gets progressed. it gets enacted not by hope or by wanting, but in action.
“I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and to do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
And having completed this phase of my journey:
“Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart.
I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. That pain is like an axe that chops at my heart.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi


  1. oh i do so wish he would talk to me. I would want him to tell me he has travelled. I would want him to tell me he met others who gave him if nothing else a grudging respect. I would want to hope that he found love.

  2. Anonymous5:05 AM

    A great read, especially as this is one my favourite book. I never thought of it this way but I can only at this point, imagine...

  3. This book was amazing! I liked it a lot! I saw the movie and it was great! Good job, Yann!