A Satisfied Mind

by chuckofish

Recently, I found out about a wonderful group of Swedish scientists who, over the course of 17 years, took the trouble to insert Bob Dylan lyrics into  their academic papers. They didn’t get together and start doing this on purpose; first a pair of them did it in a joint paper and then they noticed others doing it too. Eventually, they decided to make it a competition to see who could include the most Bob Dylan references in papers before retirement. The catch is that the Dylan reference has to be relevant to the content of the article, and given that these guy are scientists, that’s no mean feat. For example, one titled a paper on whether blood cells can transform into nerve cells “Blood on the Tracks: a simple twist of fate” and another ended an article with “we know something’s happening, but we don’t know what it is.”

This story reminded me that when I was in college, friends and I sometimes had whole conversations in song lyrics (yes, Joni Mitchell or Neil Young — go ahead and laugh). What can I say? It was amusing. I’m sure that the Swedish scientists find it amusing to refer to Bob Dylan, whom they revere. But isn’t that what makes all the reading and listening we do especially worthwhile? Being able to quote and make oblique references is not only satisfying, but it exercises our brains and helps us learn. Now I sound like a teacher, but this is what my students don’t get. I think I’ll tell them about the Dylan-loving scientists. Maybe they can relate. I know I do.

Perhaps I’ll take up the challenge, not with Dylan, but with, say, Mark Knopfler or the Tragically Hip. The possibilities are endless. Although it might be hard to use “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” in a paper on the Neo-Assyrians, “Yawning or Snarling” and “Brothers in Arms” have decided potential.  Who would you sneak into your writing?