As is the case with many, if not most, maybe even all, other people, I have had a lifelong compulsion to try to understand everything. Of course, from very early on, I have had the good sense to give up trying to understanding every little detail concerning what exists, on earth or in the sky, or what everyone else is thinking or doing or has done, or any other subject area. For example, as for understanding the principles of how human artifacts work, I remember when I first gave up on that ambition - it was when I first learned about lasers. Understanding quantum mechanics was quite beyond me.
When I was very young, I wanted to know how cars worked. I remember my dad explaining the principles of internal combustion engines which got me started on a program of deeper understanding of mechanical engineering principles. Similarly, I wanted to understand how radio and TV worked. I got involved with some radio amateurs and began studying the ARRL handbook in order to understand the principles involved. I distinctly remember reading the book "Electronics for Everyone". I was especially impressed by the chapter titled "From Maxwell's Math to Hertzian Waves.
The subject of religion was no exception. I wanted to understand the truth behind the problem of evil, the apparent conflict between "Creation" and "Evolution", and the truth behind the inconsistencies and nonsense I saw in the religious training I had received.
At each stage, I tried to understand as much as I could but my focus was always on the high-level principles rather than the details. Bear in mind that this was not a compulsion that drove my life. Instead, it was just a sort of vague inclination I felt and which I was only casually and vaguely aware.
And, as is the case with all people, I have been through a unique set of life experiences and have come to those experiences with a nearly, if not completely, unique set of personal traits and personality quirks.
So, today, as I begin systematically setting down my musings, I have decided to alter my normal schedule and set aside some specific time to muse and to record my musings.
As I look back on my life, it seems clear to me that I have constructed my present situation by specific deliberate choices exercised by my free will, which I am convinced that I possess. Among the major choices and decisions that I have made, which have led me to this moment are, maybe in order of importance rather than chronologically, 1. the decision not to commit suicide after the death of my brother, 2. the choice to devote a major portion of my life to the rearing of children, 3. the decision to study math rather than physics in college, 4. the decision to live in Seattle, 5. the decision to join IBM, 6. the decision not to become a manager, 7. the decision to marry Ellen, 8. the decision to retire early, 9. the decision to become an Eagle Scout, 10. the decision to build a log house in the mountains, 11. the decision to set aside time to read every morning, and 12. (this may or may not be significant as we shall see) the decision to set aside specific times to muse and to record my musings.
All my life I have had a difficult time reading. Among my problems are poor eyesight, inability to find a comfortable reading position and posture, and extreme difficulty in keeping my mind from wandering. For all I know, I may also have some sort of dyslexia related problem; my reading rate was always abysmally slow. But since I wanted to understand and know things, I knew I had to read, so starting sometime after my college graduation, I began trying to read regularly in spite of my difficulties.
In fact, I remember my college roommate Earl and I making the same sort of resolve at the same time. As a starter, we decided to read Winston Churchill's five-volume history of World War II. Since we had very little money between us, we decided that each of us would buy one of the volumes and read it. Then we would exchange our volumes and read the other one, and by that time we figured we could afford to buy two more volumes. As a consequence, I bought and read The Gathering Storm while Earl bought and read Their Finest Hour. As I try to recall, I don't think we ever exchanged books, but I do remember finishing mine. Such was the struggle for me to get any substantial reading done.
But, having made that decision, or resolve, to try to read more, which probably should have made my list above, I gradually found ways of getting into the habit of reading. The first major success was the decision to spend my bus commuting time between Renton and Seattle when I worked at IBM in Seattle to read Will and Ariel Durant's history books. When I had finished reading the entire 12 volume set, together with their Lessons from History, I was on my way to getting some serious reading under my belt in spite of my limitations and difficulties.
For the past 16 years, that is since I retired, I have been in the habit of reading in a recliner as one of the first things I do every morning. After I make the coffee, I feed the cats and dog, and then read at the dining room table as I drink my coffee. As soon as I finish the coffee, I move to the recliner and continue to read, with Felix on my lap, until everyone else has left the house. With this disciplined approach, I have worked my way through a series of books, many of which titles can be found on our web site under Notes taken by Paul when reading books.
The books I read are chosen by a more-or-less systematic process. First, is my choice not to read fiction. I have read some fiction, usually at the request of someone who thought I really should read a certain book. So, for example, I read The White Plague at the insistence, or strong suggestion, of Bud Underhill, and I read The Journeyer at the suggestion of Ellen's sister, Marilyn. The defining experience, though, was the revelation to me by Herb Roberts that Tolstoy had written a second epilog in his monumental War and Peace, which in my view, if not in Herb's, summed up the point of the book which made it accessible without having to read the entire tome. I read that second epilog, and came to the conclusion that writing such an epilog should be mandatory for all authors of fiction so that people like me could get their points, since we are unlikely to read the entire fictional work. Otherwise, I can only form opinions about fiction by reading or listening to commentaries on the works I haven't read.
The second part of my reading plan is to buy the books I read rather than borrow them from libraries or individuals. Since my reading speed is slow, I feel a pressure to finish and return any borrowed book I read, and this pressure is uncomfortable enough for me to accept the cost of buying the book for myself. More important than that, though, is my habit of writing notes in the book as I read it. Of course it wouldn't be appropriate to do that with a borrowed book, so I almost never borrow a book.
Next is my selection process to determine which books I read. I maintain a list of books I would like to buy, and whenever I hear of a book that I think I would like to read, I add it to my list. When Ellen asks me for gift suggestions, it has now become routine to simply hand her a current copy of my list and she takes it from there. I always have a long backlog on that list, and I frequently have a backlog of books on the shelves which I have bought and not yet read. This is a comfortable situation for me knowing that I always have a good book to read with no pressure to finish at a particular time.
Next is my note-taking method. Instead of annotating the book within the pages, I only make a vertical pencil mark in the margin alongside of the pertinent passages, and then on the blank pages at the front and/or back of the book, I make a line entry for each note by first writing the page number and then my comment. If I want to note a passage verbatim, I put quotation marks around the passage in the book, along with my vertical mark, and then in my list of notes, I write the page number and a symbol indicating that I want to record a verbatim passage.
In 2001, Bob Burton asked me to read The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders with the understanding that we would discuss the book when I had finished. I made my usual notes as I read the book, and when I was finished, I figured that the easiest way to communicate my thoughts and comments to Bob was simply to type up my notes and send them to Bob in an email. To my surprise, it was an easy and delightful chore to type up those notes. And, since I had done the transcription, I decided to save it in a file for my own use. It then occurred to me that it would be useful to type up the notes from all the books I had read and still have. That way, I could search the notes electronically and easily find my way directly to any of the books which held interesting passages that I might want to refer to for any number of reasons.
So I set about transcribing all the notes from the books I had read. Before long, I had built the file of notes that you can find on our web site under Notes taken by Paul when reading books. Now, it is routine for me to transcribe the notes and add them to the file each time I finish reading a book.
Now, when I am inclined to muse, I frequently surf through those notes on our web site and think about various topics. The notes prompt me with stark recollections of previous musings on the subject not only from when I read the book, but also from later times when I reviewed the notes and let my thoughts process the ideas represented in them.
In the process of these musings, it occurred to me that all of the aspects of my life, which I have outlined above, seem to be leading toward some kind of conclusion. I have the feeling that I am on a path to understanding everything, at least at a high, or abstract, level in a way in which few if any other people understand it.
My objective has been to try to make sense of everything I experience. If something doesn't make sense to me, I begin by doubting it and then I try to focus on it enough to make sense of it myself. So, for example, the problem of evil presented itself to me early in my youth, and over the years, I have come to a resolution of the problem that seems different from anyone else's I am aware of, with the exception of Freeman Dyson. I read that in his younger days, he came up with a theory or an idea he described then as "Cosmic Unity". I got the impression that in his later years he abandoned this notion, but when I personally asked him at a book signing why he had abandoned it, he looked up at me and said "Who said I abandoned it?"
That response gave me a jolt of confidence in my opinions. I had discussed many of my personal ideas of what I think might be going on in reality with many people on internet forums over the past 8 or 10 years and had gotten a lot of feedback. From true religious believers, I actually offended some to the point that they became angry with me and I backed off feeling physically threatened at times. (I always used my real name at that time). Most of my interlocutors didn't understand what I was saying. The scientists among them gave me some vigorous debate, but I never felt they made compelling cases. But I never felt that anyone ever concurred with my ideas or thought they made sense.
Among these conversations and debates were some with a group of people claiming they had high IQs. I was specifically invited to join in an exclusive forum of this type, even though I didn't prove that I had the high IQ qualifications. I was invited in on the basis of some of my contributions to other forums which were seen by the high IQ people. I remember one exchange when I tried to describe my ideas, and to help support my position, I mentioned that Freeman Dyson had held a similar view when he was younger. The response I got was not only scathing but rude. It ended with the comment something like "you would be better off learning why Dyson abandoned his idea rather than pursuing such a stupid notion." That had sort of ended my participation in that forum, and the put-down lasted until the above-mentioned in-person response from Dyson himself.
So emboldened a little by these experiences, I have toyed with the idea of doing some work to systematically develop the ideas I have. The idea of writing a book is daunting. I don't have any academic connections or qualification, so I would have to do something like Erik Hoffer did to get published. I don't know how he did it, so I don't have a clear idea about how to go about it.
But a couple things I do have have led me up to this moment of starting a record of my musings. First, looking back on what I have described here so far, I have already built up a momentum toward some kind of conclusion and all I need to do is simply continue on the same path. The second thing is the set of tools I have at my disposal with this computer and the Internet. As you might have picked up on from reading this, I am a good typist and I am able to think as I type. I can more-or-less record my stream of consciousness in real time. So my plan is to do just that in these musings. That is what I have done to this point and I will continue with that. I won't go back and edit anything here. [(7/11/15) Even though I won't edit the original text, except for possible trivial corrections, I have decided to interject links to references and possibly other elucidating comments from time to time. In those cases, I will enclose the interjection in brackets and cite the date in parentheses at the beginning, just as I have in this, my first interjection.]
When it comes to working out a specific structure of some part of my set of ideas, I will use additional devices. One that I have already started using is the writing of essays. I have already written a collection of these, many of which you can find on our web site under Some of Paul's essays. Another one which I have only sketched out in my mind is a map of the inferences of my ideas. I would like to build this as a logical structure, much like a mathematical theorem, beginning with primitive concepts or principles and then defining and deducing additional concepts in order to make a comprehensive and systematic explanation of my views. The idea here would be both to explain the views and to present an argument for acceptance.
Finally, the last part of my plan is to set aside specific times each week when I will sit down at this keyboard and continue the musings I have started this morning. Since my schedule has settled into a fairly regular one for the past several years, there are two obvious times that present themselves as opportunities for my musings. Those are Monday and Friday mornings after everyone but me and the cats have left the house. I am able to think most clearly in the morning, and I think that if I begin my musings after I go to bed on Sunday and Thursday, I will have the benefit of whatever cogitations my mind goes through during the night and early morning. Who knows, after establishing a pattern of this, I might get some real revelation in a dream that I can capture the next morning. So, that's it for now. I have doctor's appointments for the next two Mondays, so the next entry will likely be next Friday. But, whatever, I plan to add this musing plan to my regular routine. I hope something interesting comes of it.
©2015 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.