[Question] Is intellectual work better construed as exploration or performance?

Cross-posted to the EA Fo­rum.

I no­tice I rely on two metaphors of in­tel­lec­tual work:

1. in­tel­lec­tual work as ex­plo­ra­tion – in­tel­lec­tual work is an ex­pe­di­tion through un­known ter­ri­tory (a la Meru, a la Amund­sen & the South Pole). It’s un­clear whether the ex­pe­di­tion will be suc­cess­ful; the ex­plor­ers band to­gether to func­tion as one unit & sup­port each other; the value of the work is largely “in the mo­ment” /​ “be­cause it’s there”, the suc­cess of the ex­plo­ra­tion is mostly de­ter­mined by ob­jec­tive crite­ria.

Ex­am­ples: An­drew Wiles spend­ing six years in se­crecy to prove Fer­mat’s Last The­o­rem, Distill’s es­says on ma­chine learn­ing, Robert Caro’s books, Donne Martin’s data sci­ence port­fo­lio (clearly a la­bor of love)

2. in­tel­lec­tual work as perfor­mance – in­tel­lec­tual work is a perfor­ma­tive act with an au­di­ence (a la Black Swan, a la Su­per Bowl half­time shows). It’s not clear that any given perfor­mance will suc­ceed, but there will always be a “best perfor­mance”; perform­ers tend to com­pete & form fac­tions; the value of the work ac­crues af­ter­ward /​ the work it­self is in­stru­men­tal; the suc­cess of the perfor­mance is mostly de­ter­mined by sub­jec­tive crite­ria.

Ex­am­ples: jour­nal im­pact fac­tors, any so­cial sci­ence re­sult that’s pub­lished but fails to repli­cate, aca­demic dogfights on Twit­ter, TED talks


Clearly both metaphors do work – I’m won­der­ing which is bet­ter to cul­ti­vate on the mar­gin.

My in­tu­ition is that it’s bet­ter to lean on the image of in­tel­lec­tual work as ex­plo­ra­tion; cu­ri­ous what folks here think.