I know this new period of confinement that we’re in is a strange one. Especially for us creative folks, where engagement with others and freedom of travel is somewhat of a necessity. But I’ve taken this time to dive headfirst into something that I’ve never given much time for, writing. Specifically, writing a book. So, you can expect to see a few more things to pop up on my page as I attempt to practice this new craft of mine. Here below, a little journey with both an artistic, scientific and dare I say spiritual touch, leading me to think that in times like these we should be even more true to ourselves.
Writing a book is apparently a much more philosophical exercise than I had perhaps previously thought. After all, what is a book? You could easily argue that it’s a collection of thoughts. Normally, they’re centred around a particular topic, with a certain breadth that allows the writer to further explain their thoughts by describing the context that they sit in. Often, a (non-fiction) book will be a collection of ideas, theories and experiences, as opposed to a stream of consciousness with no particular boundary of relevance. A book could therefore be summarised as a large collection of ideas, collated by either one author or at times a small handful of authors.
The moment that the pen touches the paper, or the keystrokes visualise the letters on the screen, the ideas are taken from the ephemeral to the real. From a soft and fleeting partial-existence, to a concrete present reality. The electrical signals that were formed in your brain whilst thinking have now been stored in a somewhat ‘Pandora's box’ of potential, waiting to transmit those very signals to the readers brain. The ideas have now entered our perceivable reality at a certain time and place, and can now be shared and eventually discussed or challenged. Bare with me…
If these ideas exist both in a specific space (the pages) and a certain time (the date they were written) then they exist within two dimensions, and their movements and changes can be traced. This ‘meta-location’ could theoretically be followed as they pass from one mind to the next. Similar to how genetic material is passed from one generation to the next. In this scenario, the act of reading is a means of reproduction, and thinking becomes the process of recombination. Mixing your own current ideas with new ideas of the book. I’m fully aware that I’ve essentially described a part of Richard Dawkins’ theory of ‘cultural memes’ (the evolutionary biological kind, not the current ‘Tiger King’ / Lil Duval kind). My point is that if you had sufficient capability, you could follow the spread of a single idea, the birth of off-shoot ideas, and the death of ideas that didn’t take hold, of which there’s an unimaginable amount (after-all, we don’t know of all the ideas that cease to exist as a priori they aren’t around).
Now that we understand what a book is, a new problem arises. When is the book finished? After the final draft? Once it’s published? What about after the 2nd edition, with revised chapters and a new introduction? Is it ever finished or is there a fuzzy boundary of completion? Books don’t just spring into existence either, they take months or sometimes years to write. And they’re not always written in chronological order. Is there an equally fuzzy boundary for starting? This ambiguity once again makes me think, if it was feasible, could you trace the construction of ideas in a book? Seeing which ideas appeared first and how they evolved alongside the later ideas which disrupted the whole book. If you’re struggling to follow, perhaps an analogy could help. If we could somehow reverse-engineer a book, we would see that it’s not just a single cup of water, it’s a small river moving in time. The authors brain did not remain static during its creation. It changed and developed over time. That’s the beauty of editing. Possessing an overview of the book, in its entirety, you can then edit and adapt the necessary pieces to make the ideas understandable and flow easily.
So, metaphorically speaking, a book is both a static unit but also a ‘living’ loop. A snapshot photo and a video. This brings to mind an oddly familiar comparison which, finally, is the point of this article. That of ideas and light. Light can exist as both a particle and a wave. For those curious, the famous ‘double-slit experiment’ can explain further the beautiful and mysterious science behind this phenomenon. Let me further explain my point. Both ideas and light can move as fast as cosmically possible, yet are stopped by the simplest of obstacles. The absence of light creates a shadow, and the absence of ideas creates a dark and gloomy place also. Both ideas and light can be bent, depending on the gravity of the situation (pun intentionally left in). When you send light through a prism, it splits into its component parts of the visible spectrum. Likewise, ideas can equally be split into sub-concepts which make up the idea. Too much or too little light and it’s difficult to see. Too few or too many ideas and it’s difficult to make progress, through indecisiveness or lack of focus respectively. As Jordan Peterson explains, there is a need for balance in life between chaos and order, yin and yang, light and dark.
Light is, after all, one small section of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Sitting comfortably between red and blue which themselves sit between radio waves on one end and gamma rays on the other. To paraphrase Brian Cox, ‘light particles are the messengers of the cosmos’. And so, in turn, ideas are the messengers of humanity. Transmitting from one brain holding a group of electrical signals to another. Comprised either as a focused laser from one person to the next through engaging dialogue. Or via one person to a hundred-thousand as a supernova exploding, lighting up the void for all to see. Ideas shine light on the universe. They illuminate the ignorance we once lived in. Whether you possess a lighthouse or a candle, you could be surprised as to what they can uncover. So, during these strange times that we are living through, I say - go forth, explore, and shine light on the world and on yourselves, so that we may better understand our place. Create, interact, strive, search, explore, mould, edit, compose, play, develop, arrange, emote, write, and pour out whatever light you have on the inside as a means for all of us to see better. Don’t overly worry yourselves with what those around you are doing. Again, just like in the electromagnetic spectrum, we are all comprised of the same material, just radiating at different frequencies. So, (with the risk of ending on an unbearably cheesy note) just as we look up at the infinite night sky, so too should we look around us and be in awe of the stars we see, knowing full well that they’re looking back at us thinking the same.