What are we doing here?
A reasonable question – one we ask ourselves, frequently. Here is one attempt at an answer.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”
I write because it helps me think – plain and simple. When faced with a problem in need of a solution (idea, emotion, concept, thought, relation, etc.), I try to reduce it to writing. Writing is a tool I use to capture fleeting ideas, different perspectives, possibilities, questions, feelings, beliefs, emotions, concepts, understandings, thoughts… Once written, words hold things in a quiet, still, and patient place – fixed in time and space – where things can be observed, studied, evaluated, rearranged, accepted, rejected, improved, and maybe even understood. Once written, words can be adjusted, changed, messaged, and manipulated to allow for better definition of the subject that was supposed to be captured. Writing allows for self-evaluation of our thoughts, allowing for the detection and exposure of our errors, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and delusions.
Words can be sorted, organized, separated into elements and order that can be evaluated as sense or nonsense. The division of words into books, chapters, sections, and subsections, allows evaluation of ideas of any size or scope, by simplification into parts and elements. The parts can be individually explained or described according to properties, connections, relationships, form, and functions.
Some ideas, once reduced to writing, make sense and allow for better understanding. Some ideas, once reduced to writing, can be seen as nonsense.
Quieting the Mind – Dispatch with Flypaper or Fly Swatter
My mind is never quiet – I have an incessant internal dialogue. (It gets tiresome sometimes, but I cannot seem to turn it off.) A continuous stream of thoughts, questions, possibilities, wonders, mysteries, uncertainties, emotions, beliefs, hopes, fears continuously spring to life inside my head, leaping up from some unknown source, much like house flies appearing in the kitchen to buzz around and cause a nuisance until, somehow, they can be put to rest.
Many thoughts that buzz into mind are easily dispatched, but some thoughts buzz in the mind with desperate persistence – sometimes they buzz with a continuous drone as they circle around and around, sometimes they burst into an energetic buzz for a time and then find some well-hidden corner to rest in. As these persistent buzzing thoughts batter around the mind, they may vary in tone or color or shape – just slight changes in perspective – as they fly out of reach again evading capture.
Writing is the weapon of choice for the persistent buzzing thoughts that won’t hold still for dispatch. Written words can capture these evasive and elusive thoughts – reducing them to stillness and silence – allowing for observation and evaluation – assessment of worth and truth and merit. Sometimes the writing is sudden and certain, emotional – like a fly-swatter reducing the idea to a bloody smear across the paper. This is effective for quick dispatch, but further observation may take time as the full body needs to be reassembled. Sometimes the writing is careful and precise, thoughtful – like sticky flypaper waiting for the fly to land and become stuck in place while still alive. This takes more time and patience for final dispatch but allows for close and careful consideration of the captured subject, perhaps even under the magnifying glass.
Either way, writing allows for thoughts buzzing around the mind to be put to rest and considered in peace and quiet, and finally disposed of in some manner (either out with the other rubbish or placed on the shelf with the other collected knowledge for future reference).
Perfect Reductions – Simple Beauty in Few
Physics: The final achievement of reduction into words, if and when successful, can be a beautiful thing. My favorite example of this can be found in the discipline of physics, in the work of Albert Einstein, who in 1905 published a paper that demonstrated this understanding:
Albert Einstein, “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” Annalen der Physik (November 21, 1905) (English translation of the paper can be found at: https://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/E_mc2/e_mc2.pdf (last viewed on 2017-09-07))
No equation is more famous than E = mc2, and few are simpler. Indeed, the immortal equation’s fame rests largely on that utter simplicity. (Forms of his ideas were published prior to Einstein’s 1905 paper, but Einstein was the first to publish this exact reduction of the formula. See Was Einstein the First to Invent E = mc2? – Scientific American.) Here, in only five symbols, is an understanding of great worth and scope. It explains a great deal about our universe – showing that energy and matter are equivalent. They are not simply connected – they are the same thing.
Philosophy: Similar examples of elegant reductions can be found in other disciplines. Consider this, in the discipline of philosophy:
je pense, donc je suis [original text]
I think, therefore I am [English translation]
Cogito ergo sum [Latin – most books were published in latin at the time]
René Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences (French title: Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences) (1637).
Five words – to explain how we can accept the fact of our own existence. Whether or not you agree with Descartes, the elegance of this reduction is beautiful. This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one’s own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.
What? Not Now? – Writing on Our Wall
We write to help with thinking. Here, at WhatNotNow, we hope to offer writing that provides some useful role – helpful to us and others. But whatever ends up here started out as some buzzing annoyance in the brain and this counts as it’s dispatch.Hopefully, it will not resemble too closely the remains of flies dispatched the vehemence (and mess) of a flyswatter or dispatched with full preservation of the details, like a fly captured in the glue of flypaper.
Hopefully, writing here will not resemble too closely the remains of flies either dispatched with the vehemence (and mess) of a flyswatter or dispatched with tidy and near-perfect preservation of being glued onto flypaper.
We promising nothing like the art, elegance or simplicity of Einstein or Descartes. In fact, we may reduce to writing, and share, ideas that are in error and mistakes. We may be WRONG. It happens. Finding errors is, however, progress.
Please: Point out any errors you find. Correct or improve any thoughts you find, if you can. Show better ways to see things. We need all the help we can get. And, if we occasionally succeed, we love to have affirmation and acknowledgment. (We promise to return the favor.) Thanks in advance.