Write What You Don't Know

Two tweets pissed me off last week and I'm not sure why, so I'm going to write about them.

Write What You Don't Know
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In fairness, Paul followed-up his tweet with another one that explained himself better, but there's still something about this underlying attitude that's bugging the living shit out of me. There's some implied assumptions here that I find pernicious.

I agree, the world is full of lots of content with very little value. I just disagree with the idea of "conciseness", as if somehow folks know all along with the actual important thing is, they just need to write better (or not write at all) We learn things by flailing around, and writing is the only tool I've found to flail around with that makes me stay honest with myself. Everything else, including me when I'm not writing, doesn't work.

There is a subset of people who are really smart in certain areas and know things I want to learn. There's also a subset of people who are good at marketing, are popular, and want people to think they know valuable things.

If there's some intersection of these two groups, I can't spot it. My information feed is chock full of people who are really good at getting into peoples information feed, for various reasons (and not all of them nefarious)

Do you know how I find actually interesting and useful stuff online? As some throwaway or bit of trivia stuck into some much larger online marketing crap. They'll be interviewing the author of a supposedly great book, one that says such profound things as "Be the future you want to see" and the author, as an aside, will mention some book by say, Ghandi. Whoa, now that might be interesting. Instead of this hack, let's go see what the originator said. And, without fail, when we get there it's yet a bunch more self-promotional and intellectual self-stimulating stuff until you get to yet another few tiny awesome bits of stuff you've never heard before.

I'm the same way! This is just humans being humans, mind you. Doesn't make it any better. My complaint is with the assumption that everything is part of some universal truths where little digital bits of facts can be narrowed down and shared with people. That's not the way humans learn new things, like making fire. For things we've learned and nailed down, works great. Fire was a metaphysical mystery when we first came up with it. Now it's a set of facts you can teach an average boy scout.

We want to believe that everything is like fire, easy to stick into a bunch of bits, sort, and optimize, but in fact very little in life is like that. We just lie about it to one another and say it is.

Everything really cool that we do, from inventing major species-changing things like fire to coming up with some new amazing startup, starts out with facts, bits, data, guesses, life experiences, superstition, bullshit, hunches, and all kinds of pieces of human ideas that don't work together. Until they do.

Humans work in negatives. We exclude things from consideration. We have to. It's the only way to actually focus on a particular problem, list the things that are not the problem. But we forget these boundaries then later pretend they were never there. Some negatives are personal, some negatives are far, far lost somewhere encoded in our species.

What this mean is, the reason you don't know something is most times more interesting and valuable than the thing itself, although it never appears that way on the surface.

Everybody's life is rational and makes sense to them. Stating concisely how rational you are and how much sense you life makes is, frankly, a fucking waste of time and energy. Cavemen's lives were rational and made sense to them. They could probably write wonderfully terse essays about the proper way to appease the sky god. We are quite good at collectively telling one another how awesome we are.

You will never grow intellectually as a human unless you take the time to write out, explain, argue, justify, and in other ways beat the living shit out of your natural desire to know stuff. Others can't do it. They'll just fill your head with their own version of self-gratifying bullshit. Then you'll be carrying that around thinking you've got it all solved.

We don't know what we don't know. We never do, and that's fine. Life is not about collecting facts, learning the good guys and bad guys. Life is about coming up with your own system for making deep moral choices with imperfect information, being okay with that, then trying to do better. It's always been like this, for everybody. Some folks just don't want to do the work, or can't.

Philosophy is socially dealing with what you don't know, and we're all wired for philosophy from the day we're born. Unfinished conversations about things you don't know that are left alone and then revisited are commonly called "bullshit". Are we real? Is there a meaning to everything?

These are called bullshit because we keep picking them up but never actually creating anything useful out of it. I get it. But that doesn't mean all philosophy is bad. Hell no. It just means that there are a lot of problems that are going to take a while. Other bullshitty type conversations, like "what are those lights in the sky at night", we worked through them more quickly and created a bunch of sciences. Yay humans.

I'm out.