Missing Pieces

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-05-12 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

I'm looking at the list of things to do and wincing. I still haven't finished the Shunga-Satori Behind The Scenes posts, and some of that is due to me having misplaced some notes I thought I had from the early days of the book. Normally I'm a lot more organized than that: there's a wiki for the book, and everything should be in there, but ... it's not. I have the horrible feeling some of the stuff I wrote was originally written on another laptop which I've since decommissioned and forgot to copy everything over from.

These things happen. Sometimes I jot things down on another machine, or in another place, and they don't get integrated back into the main body of organizational work I keep for a given project. But they float around in my head, and so I walk around under the delusion that they're there, because where the hell else would they be?

Offhand I can think of about three places where such notes can end up when they don't get entered first into a project wiki: my Rocketbook; my notebook PC (where I sometimes don't open my wiki but just open a file); and some random wandering scrap of paper somewhere. The last of those three rarely happens anymore, in big part because of #1. I keep a little spiral Rocketbook next to the bed for fast jottings, and every so often I go through it, transcribe it, and wipe it. So the most likely reason something slips through the cracks is because I'm on my laptop and I don't think to put the idea in question where it belongs, because I'm stupidly trying to do three things at once.

Two opposing forces are at work whenever I take notes for a project. The first is the impulse to try and keep as much of the project in my head at once — "holographically", as I call it — because I've grown accustomed to the idea this is the only way to have a fully functional understanding of a project. The second is to just let the note-taking apparatus serve as a second brain, and to put trust in the note-taking as a way to offload the need to remember every single thing. For the most part it works, but every now and then it fails like this, and the paranoid part of me falls back to believing it's best to just squirrel away everything in my brain. I have to remind myself to not do that, because a) it doesn't work and b) it just makes it more difficult to treat the work as a living thing, as something that might need to be refined from start to finish.

As recently as Henry David Thoreau there circulated in the public consciousness the idea that storing things outside our brains was harmful to our memory and imagination. This is a romanticism, and a sterile one at that: it ignores the idea that human thought, and imagination, have evolved in their constitution and behavior over time. It also studiously ignores how the entire rest of the human race also serves as an externalization for whatever does not fit in any one of our heads.

I've been reading a book about J. Robert Oppenheimer as prelude to the upcoming movie about his work building the atomic bomb, and it reinforced my feeling that all the Great Men of History only have their greatness in context. Oppenheimer might have been the father of the atomic bomb, as the legend goes, but his intelligence and insight only made sense in the context of the era, and the scientific community, he lived and worked in. No one person embodies the intelligence of the species, nor should we consider that an ideal to strive for. All that does is make us feel unnecessarily foolish.

Tags: creativity creators ideas organization