Writing a Book?

I have joined the legion of people who have decided to write a book. I have had an interest in the God-conversation since I started university in 2007 and that’s basically meant 7 years of pontification and research; I reckon I’m more knowledgeable on God than I am my own degree: Geography. (That said, I have a second book idea that would be about Geography.) The book is currently operating under the working title “Treatise on God: how gods cloud our ideas of true and good”, but that is set to change in time to something more snappy.

Writing a book is a very odd process. I get the pernicious feeling that I am writing too much and digressing from the issue. That hinders my appetite for sitting down with the book and writing more. The book has already taken on a life of its own, as it is more about reasoned thinking than God directly. That is something that I have come across many times in reading advice about writing a book: let the book live. It’s not easy advice to follow, because I had a plan. However, the book has developed as using God as a prop up for something bigger.

The cornerstone of the book is Asimov’s Relativity of Wrong and, many thanks to Fourat, Deutsch’s good explanations and fallibilism. Reasoned thoughts, fast becoming the real topic of my book, succumb to criticism and that shapes them as ever less wrong (and so ‘more right’) models of reality. I am currently writing a small subchapter contrasting that against faith. I have done a section looking at faithful and successful scientists through history to examine to what extent faith was a key player in the development of their ideas. I assume it comes as no surprise that faith plays no role in that whatsoever. I am using two case studies now to expand that idea of faith as a methodology: homeopathy and acupuncture. The idea is that these ideas have survived to the modern day on faith alone. The question is whether there are kernel’s of truth in them and whether the method of using faith is the reason for any kernels of truth (so many ideas have fallen to the wayside–like alchemy–because they lacked even the slightest kernel of truth, which is ironic considering our modern knowledge of nuclear fusion). The answers is that homeopathy is absolute bunk; it is one of the few things that is actually fractally wrong: it’s mechanisms don’t make sense, the results are conclusively no better than a placebo. Acupuncture is slightly different. Evidence for acupuncture is starting to form from fMRI scanners. There does seem to be a kernel of truth in this ancient Chinese medicine. However, it is shrouded in claims of qi and meridian lines, which I am currently trying to understand.

The hypotheses that underpin modern acupuncture are several fold: pricking of the skin may release endorphins, gentle stimulus of the nervous system may dampen pain signals, or it could be a placebo (thinking it will work makes it work). The idea that it is a placebo doesn’t seem that strong: we are not talking about subjective reported pain sensations, we are talking about fMRI scans. But it would be interesting to see whether “sham acupuncture” gets the same results as acupuncture.

Sham acupuncture would be the placebo, where needles are inserted into the skin in places that do not reflect the ancient Chinese belief in Meridian lines (e.g. needles in the inner foot cure liver issues). Given that acupuncture does seem to be an effective pain reliever, I am now interested into whether the mechanism by which that works bears any relation to Meridian Line Theory.

Then, we apply Deutsch’s rules of fallibilism to chip away at the body of nonsense claims and are left with that kernel of truth and better explanation. Then, finally, a discussion on what role “faith” plays in the modern rendition of acupuncture (if any at all).

Anyway, I though I’d let you know what I’m doing. All advice and research papers and possible reading lists will be received with gratitude and a sigh of yet more to read.

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6 thoughts on “Writing a Book?”

  1. Excellent! You write well, your thoughts are clear, and you have an uncanny knack of striking at the point from a fresh and innovative way. Am looking forward to the finished work.

    1. I’ve got Fourat’s R2D2 series to compete with (I’ve renamed his second book Dutiful Diligence so that joke can work. I think I’ve told Fourat that). So the bar is set pretty high. But your faith in me is inspiring!
      (Side note for book: is this faith? Or does Mr Zande base his assessment on experience and extrapolate from there? Or is there a third meaning to “faith”–the second being related to fidelity… damn it John, you’ve just added a page!)

  2. You are right to respond to the feeling you are “writing too much” by writing more. This is called “free writing” (yes, everything has a name) and can be thought of as creating a resource from which your book will be constructed. This material is then “chunked,” that is pieces of it are moved around so that it makes more sense. Finally you must cut and polish. In my books, I usually start with a list of chapter topics. I then write chapters as those topics move me. I don’t worry about whether I have introduced a topic before or not, if I feel like using it I use it. I may have to go back and write an introduction to that topic, but what I often find is my subconscious takes care of that for me (I still scribble notes of “things to do”).

    I have written first drafts of a couple of books in a week this way. It is a heady process, but the focus is on writing, just writing (I did 15,000 words in one weekend). Once you have a great deal of what you want to say done, then it is time to become more analytical, with the scale getting finer and finer as you go. Sure, I correct grammar and spelling on the fly by initially it is not my focus, those come later. When I start chunking, I am focused on coherence and my audience.

    I hope you enjoy the process, my friend. You only get to experience your first book once. And, hey, if there seems to be too much stuff “here,” look for a logical split (or splits) in your topic. You may be trying to write two or three books simultaneously. If that is the case, split what you have written and take the most promising part and focus on that. You can come back to those other parts (or not) later. After completing a book project recently, I stumbled across a large file of preliminary writing that seemed like a lost draft of this book. Much of what ended up in that recent book, I had actually written before but had lost track of that file and those thoughts. Apparently I wrote that book twice. So, my guess is we don’t have to worry about losing things as the pressure behind them to come out ensures them some sort of existence if we persist.

    1. I do keep cutting and placing asides on certain issues, and they currently exist under the spurious goal of an environmental/geographical book. I’m glad to know that is a common part of the process.

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