Skip to content

What You and Odysseus Have in Common

Posted in UC3

If you are like me, you begrudgingly read Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey in high school, but remember very little.  I would like to remind you of one specific (and perhaps most famous) scene: Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens.  (Stay with me— this does eventually relate to data).  Odysseus, as captain of his ship, is warned of the Sirens that lure sailors to their death.  Intrigued by the idea of hearing such a beautiful song, Odysseus concocts a hair brained scheme worthy of an episode of I Love Lucy.

Odysseus recognizes the inevitable dynamic inconsistency of his situation (although he doesn’t call it that). That is, Present Odysseus knows how dangerous the Sirens are, and believes he can resist the temptation by being tied to the mast of his ship by his men (the men will have their ears plugged to avoid hearing the Sirens).  In insisting that he be tied up, Odysseus recognizes that Future Odysseus will be unable to resist the temptation, despite knowledge of the potential dangers.

Ulysses and the Sirens by John William Waterhouse
“Ulysses and the Sirens” by John William Waterhouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I won’t spoil the outcome of Odysseus’ personal battles, but the battle between present and future selves is a very relevant topic in modern times — especially during the holiday season (e.g. the epic battle between sugar cookies and your skinny jeans).  Another parallel surrounds the time it takes to document your data.  Present Scientist Self has two papers, three reviews, and four grants to finish before Friday.  PSS has no patience for the intricacies of well-documented data: it is not a pressing issue.  Future Scientist Self would greatly benefit from good documentation, especially when it comes time to archive those data (you WERE going to archive them, right?).  Of course, not only will Future Scientist SELF benefit from good data management and organization, other future scientists will benefit.

Food for thought: it’s inevitable that Odysseus will want to go to the Sirens, that you will regret those sugar cookies, and that poor data documentation will end up costing your future self much time and frustration.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *