You couldn’t know this, but my blogging workspace is littered with balls of virtual crumpled paper. The ones writers make when they rip failed writing attempts from their typewriter, smush them up in disgust, and toss them disdainfully over their shoulder. This post — which has been in my mental queue for well over a year — has the strongest resistance to being written that I’ve ever encountered.
I wrote the note you see here somewhere back in 2013. It seemed like exactly the sort of thought chain that would make an interesting post. Many of the items in that chain (consciousness, art, science) are things that fascinate me and are even areas this blog tries to discuss.
So why is a post about it so dang hard to write?
The note itself has been nesting amid others of its kind here in Blog Central. I am absolutely the type of person who tries to capture passing thoughts with notes. Many of the posts here started as an idle thought captured as a brief note. (I imagine it works that way for a lot of writers.)
Just to show how old the note and these photos are, to the left of the arrow that’s pointing to the note in question, on the whiteboard, you see a rectangle around the words Hard Core Coder.
That’s when I’d come up with a possible name for a programming blog and had put that name in a place where I could see it for a while to see how well it sat with me over time.
I ended up creating that blog in February of last year!
What seems to happen is that every attempt to write this post stalls — the words just don’t flow — or wanders off into digressions or even just vague mumbling…
And yet another sheet gets ripped from the typewriter and crumbled in disgust. If I have room at the end here, I’ll flatten out some of those wadded rejects and share them with you just for shitzengiggles.
I added the “BB?” you see at the note’s top later thinking that, if I can’t write a meaty post about it, maybe I could just throw it out as a Brain Bubble and be done with it. But it seems to deserve more.
Maybe the problem is that the ideas behind the note are too meaty for a single post. Maybe that chain of thought is something to explore over time one link at a time.
Whatever. I just can’t bear to see it sitting there month after month (after month). Therefore I’m kicking it out of the nest. If it can’t fly by now, well, so it goes.
And these lame paragraphs I’ve just written? Exactly the sort of weak tea that comes out every time I try to write about it. (You have no idea how many paragraphs were ripped out here for being even worse.)
So without further embarrassing myself, here’s what the note means:
I started with the basic idea of (human) consciousness and experience — that life-long movie starring ourselves that we all have running in our minds.
We don’t really know exactly how our sapient minds arose from our earlier bestial minds. In particular, we don’t know the causal role language might have played. But it seems reasonable to me that the richness of our language springs from our consciousness and experience because those things are so rich.
That richness, perhaps, is expressed in our art. One of my early posts defines art as ‘what artists do.’ This requires a definition of ‘artist.’
To me, an artist is someone who is driven to express their interpretation of reality in some medium. Art, therefore, is an expression of our experience, and it uses the richness and complexity of our language to accomplish that.
Here I will include our ability to make evocative images (paintings, statues, etc.) as part of our language. No other creature we know has such a large toolkit for expression of ideas — in particular, abstract ideas.
I think all of this naturally leads to questions. I said many times that one of the defining characteristics of humans over animals is that humans ask “Why?” All of science is really nothing more than asking “Why?”
Why does an apple fall, but the moon does not?
So our questions lead us into science, and one result of science is technology — the application of science.
Technology gives us tools we can use to create art, to ask more questions, and — most importantly — to do science. There is a direct line leading from the first stone axe to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It’s a long line, but a direct one.
So what I’m seeing is a chain that leads from our consciousness and experience through language and art to questions, science, and technology.
So what? Why is it so hard for me to find anything useful or interesting to say about that? The chain seems fascinating to me. Is there just too much of a “Duh!” element to it all? Is it so obvious that there’s nothing really to be said about it?
The only thought that sprang from this is a phrase I jotted on the note after it got its picture taken. The phrase reads: “Why I revere higher thought.” At this late juncture I’m not quite sure how I meant to connect that idea, but there is no question I do regard those who question, who use language well, who create art, and who do science.
And there you have it.
Just for shitzengiggles (and because writers hate not using their work), here are some of the wadded up rejects. I saved them thinking maybe I could beat them into shape somehow, but… well, call it early Spring Cleaning.
¶ I have this note I wrote a long time ago that I just haven’t found an angle on for a blog post. That elusiveness seems to be infecting this post! Even with an angle, I can’t find an angle!
¶ (I can tell this is gonna be one of those posts where I write ten times as much as actually make it into the final result. The virtual paper pile is already knee-deep.)
¶ It isn’t writer’s block, but it’s something similar, at least for me. Hunting for those first opening lines that launch a topic, sometimes they hunker down just out of sight. You know they’re out there, lurking, probably snickering at your inability to see them. Several paths seem to lead towards them, but each one ends at a dead-end.
There’s a trick of just writing, just putting down words without much thought, a kind of free association. Once the words are trapped on paper, they’re easier to manage, easier to corral into something that works.
¶ After a lot of posting recently, I feel my tide shifting. Again. The freedom of retirement has brought my tidal nature to the fore. I’ve always been a person of cyclic moods; my interests bounce among a variety of things; some new, some old. I get very focused on whatever I land on, but that very focus seems to lead to burnout. I find I have to put things down and change the channel.
Example: a few days ago, I stumbled on the (10-year-old) blog of key Microsoft programmer, Raymund Chen. Could not stop reading! Unlike many of my peers, I’ve liked Microsoft, and I have a high opinion of their products.
Reading about the struggles developing new Windows™ versions given the wrong things other vendors do with Windows™ is fascinating (to me, anyway). It explains a great deal. They’re faced with the conundrum of accommodating wildly incorrect behavior or having people blame Windows™ for breaking their unruly apps.
The following came from an attempt to explain the writer’s block — a major digression from the main point and even a digression from the writer’s block sub-point! I saved it thinking I might sometime write a post about relaxation oscillation, which I think is a useful concept.
¶ I’d say I have phases like the moon, or tides that go in and out, but a better analogy is actually relaxation oscillation. Which is just a precise term for something you’re already familiar with. “Oscillation” is a concise way of saying, “goes back and forth in a very regular pattern.”
The “relaxation” is a bit more abstract, but you’ve experienced it in real life, I’m certain. It applies to the idea of something getting “fuller” and “fuller” (whatever “fuller” means in a given case) to the point where it “tips and spills” (depending on whatever that actually means). Then it resets and begins to “fill” again.
The “fulling” and “tipping” can have many different meanings. Imagine sliding down a pole or rope.
You release your grip and start to fall. You apply pressure, but gradually to not rip your skin off. Eventually the pressure brings you to a stop. Then you can release and begin to fall again. The repeating cycle of stopping prevents you from picking up too much downward speed!
In applying pressure you’re “filling” to the point of stopping (“tipping”). In the abstract, you can think of the “filling” as gradually charging and the tipping as suddenly discharging.
Whew! It’s really nice to finally get this stuff out of my queue!