Illustration by Angelika Manhart
Diseases of the Will


By Pascal Wallisch

(Excerpt from “Advice for a Modern Investigator”, chapter 5. )

The most striking observation regarding this category of scientific affliction is that it was entirely absent in the 1898 edition of this book. Since that time, it has become by far the most prevalent type, crowding out nearly all others. In terms of etiology, the prevalence of netmongers is closely tied to the presence of certain technologies, namely computers and the Internet. In places where these technologies are missing, netmongers are absent as well. Conversely, if fast internet access is available, all other traditional types effectively convert to netmongers, especially contemplators and bibliophiles.

What characterizes this by now extremely common and serious disease of the scientific will?

Netmongers can be described as exhibiting pure akrasia, but they are neither apathetic nor lethargic. On the contrary, netmongers exhibit sustained and frenetic activity for long periods of time, during which they utilize the most powerful productivity tools ever conceived. They begin the day with the best of intentions to further their important scientific work. Yet, at the end of the day, they leave their place of business without having accomplished anything of relevance.

How is this possible?

We may gain the greatest insight by examining the typical day of a netmonger. When he arrives in his office bright and early, the netmonger first checks his Facebook page. Then he checks his email for messages that might necessitate urgent attention. Both activities are repeated every 15 minutes. The netmonger has many friends, so besides the link to the hilarious video on YouTube, which he just watched, there is always something so astonishing that he must share it with the rest of the world. Thus, he apprises his large crowd of followers of what is going on by posting it on Twitter. Invariably, he receives numerous immediate responses, some of which refer to the latest blogs relevant to the issue at hand. Due diligence requires that he read these carefully before crafting a response. By now, some dissenters have voiced their opinion, and the netmonger must consult Wikipedia in order to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, new messages have arrived, and the cycle begins afresh. After several hours, the netmonger is exhausted and takes a break to read CNN and the New York Times, where there is always a curious story to be found, which links to other curious stories and so on. The netmonger cannot resist reading these as well. But even more interesting than these stories are the 2500 comments associated with them, some of which are simply outrageous and require ruthless rebuttal. At this point in the day, there are 35 browser tabs open and it is 5:30 pm — almost time to go home. Or in any case, the netmonger reasons, it is too late to start something serious. Having spent all day at work, the netmonger indulges in a little guilty pleasure – – before going home.

The tragedy of the netmonger is that this disease aflicts people that are genuinely attracted to information — of which the internet supplies an infinite, interconnected and ever-changing amount.

Scientists are thus particularly susceptible to this disorder, to which there is, at present, no known cure.


Pascal Wallisch is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University, where he investigates the diplexity of the human experience.