Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sharing the tick

If you learn what a thing consists of, what parts make it up, you will come to understand the more complex whole. If you can't explain something simply, you don't know it well enough; you haven't studied the parts closely enough. An investigator gathers and sorts parts until the big picture materializes. Some children like to take things apart. Why? To find out what makes the thing tick. Often they are not so keen on putting them back together. Why? Because they have already discovered what makes the thing tick and putting it back together is redundant; it doesn't further their inquiry.

To be helpful, though, the gathered and sorted parts must have conclusions drawn from them, and, to be worth anything, those conclusions must be shared with others, usually by publishing. Research shouldn't be simply about personal edification. What good is that to the world? Helpful research is done by people who not only discover what makes it tick, but who explain it and leave a record. If this note-taking and journal-keeping is done as you go, and restated and interpreted as you go, then there will not be a big book to write at the end; it is already complete. I think too many books go unpublished because writing them is redundant for the researcher who already knows the material. He is like the child who learns what makes a thing tick, but doesn't share that knowledge. Do it as you go. Write daily. Take notes as you take things apart, not down the road.

Some people go through life trying to find out what makes things tick.


  1. I do that, it's the story of my life, questing for the mechanism behind the tick.
    I rarely write it down for posterity. I usually justify that with the idea that greater minds than mine have already done so.

    I suppose it's because I'm doing it for my own enlightenment.

    Also, I'm bad at note-taking. Or I have become so. My earlier life, as a potter, was a thing of notebooks, observations, record, graphs, because making pottery is closely related to alchemy.
    After a certain point, no other person, no book, no guru, can teach you what you need to know, only experience. The slightest nuances- atmospheric pressure on the day of the firing, for instance, makes a difference.
    Yes, you can buy the ready made stuff, follow the instructions, and make stuff that has none of your own soul in it, glazes that are are selected like cans of paint in Home Depot.
    Or you can grind rocks, and mix them with ashes and oxides, and make them truly your own.

    I have lots of published books by other people. But I was bereft when I lost my own old dog-eared notebooks.

  2. On alchemy and potters.... That might make an interesting subject for you. I particularly recommend the story of porcelain. I can deliver a lecture on that, guaranteed to raise laughs and make a lady blush.

    You know where 'porcelain' gets its name?

  3. I did take apart a foot pump when I was a child. I didn't take notes unfortunately because I couldn't get it back together. What I learnt was that I'd never hear the last of it.

  4. @A: So you lived your life ever after with a deflated foot?

  5. @Soubriquet, that accounts for the dreadful limp.

  6. Agreed. I'm a demon for documentation. However, when it comes to learning what makes things tick outside of engineering, I document it in my writing, try to absorb different points of view and ways of looking at things and effectively utilize them in my fiction so the lessons I've learned are perfectly obvious without being a sermon.

  7. Two of my three boys are mechanical. They have taken things apart since they were small and always put them back together without ever writing things down. I think whatever it is that makes a certain individual tick contributes to how they perceive how other things tick.

  8. @Adullamite - And what makes your clock go tick?

    @Soubriquet - had you published a record of your pottery experiments and learnings, I would have gladly bought it. Many analytical people are on a lifelong quest for knowledge for their own pleasure and edification. But no one is willing to pay you to go learn things. You have to share in order to be paid for your discoveries. That was really my point. And if you are not interested in being paid for doing what you love enough to do for free, then it is the world's loss. Do I sound bitter?...

    I will research porcelain. :)

    A. I shan't go into what I was about to go into because only you would know what I was talking about. But I picture you in your blown up Wellingtons walking on water nonetheless. You have good balance as you churn to the rescue, I reckon. :)

    The limp is accounted for by the Irish curse being fulfilled.

    @Stephanie Barr - I can't think of anything that ticks outside of engineering. :) It is all engineering in one way or the other. I guess textbooks could be considered sermons by some, as well as much of the content of this blog, though it isn't intended as such. I know what you mean though, about fiction. Your learnings can often be expresses seamlessly in fiction.

    @Sue - You have two mechanical boys? Are they transformers, or just the regular robot kind? :) :)

    The record of learnings is not taken just so you can remember how to put it back together again. And sometimes the thing being taken apart are molecules. True? Your philosophy is becoming very deep. I am a bad influence. I am SO glad you, at least, write things down for others to share. I like to read them. Not going to pay you though. Someday. :)

  9. Gah!!! I tried!

    I love your blog and I learn a lot coming here.

  10. I hear what you're saying. I guess, at the time, I was too busy trying to do the pottery thing than to write a book. Sad to say, my notebooks of twenty or so years were lost in a flood, turned to mush.
    Had that period in my life occurred during the computer age, each lesson I learned, each data-set recorded, my experiments and conclusions, illustrated, might have been turned into individual blog posts, published and disseminated, available to anyone else via a simple internet search.
    But, it seems to me that the business of writing and publishing is an end in itself, and it raises the question "who wants to know?", and "would my writings add anything to what's already available"?.
    I never felt I was likely to produce a book that anybody else would ever want or need.

  11. @A: As for the limp, I think my spam inbox is full of products which are intended to reinflate the limp.



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