[archive] The Long Form Game
[Found this old blog post from 2012. Thought I'd repost it.]
"We must not inquire too curiously into motives. they are apt to become feeble in the utterance: the aroma is mixed with the grosser air. We must keep the germinating grain away from the light." - George Eliot, Middlemarch
This is one of my favorite quotes from Middlemarch. It captures the notion that sometimes when we try to express our ideas to others, we're often only able to articulate something less. That is, we can only obliquely paint the fuller breadth of what's floating around in our noggin. That by pinning down those amorphous sensations, emotions, and ideas flowing around unconstrained in our minds, and converting them to hard and distinct prose, we somehow realize those entities in a much lower state of potential energy, shackling them. Sometimes, ideas just need to marinate.
That's sort of how I feel about this blog. I'll often be on my way typing an entry that I think is truly original, that people would find fascinating, but I don't like the subsequent pressure that comes for me to produce similar ideas along similar veins.
I want to explore, jump the tracks, and think in seismically different ways at each iteration. And at some level, I feel this is made more possible by not plucking individual thoughts from my brain and putting them on paper; rather, I should let ideas flow with others, get mixed up, allow for mutations, and spawn mutant children.
To a degree, I believe in path-dependence; by harvesting ideas before they're ready, I would so alter my horizon and next steps as to produce a suboptimal outcome in the long run. And I'm playing the long-form game, baby.
So, I leave with--what else--two incredible videos. The first is from graduation day 2010 at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. The speaker was Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
Secretary Chu was literally my absolute top choice for speaker, and he actually became our speaker. I wanted him for a variety of reasons. First, he is Secretary of Energy at arguably the most crucial juncture in many decades for our energy future. Second, he is a Nobel-prize winning physicist and has an active history in climate change issues. Third, he's...Asian. Yes, that was actually a reason. As someone who's half-Asian, there was some allure in having a prominent non-Caucasian speak.
His speech seemed tailor made for me. As remarkable as it was to have the exact guy I wanted for graduation speak about the kinds of issues I think about in my free time, it even more remarkable that he started quoting Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, which to anyone who knows me, is quite literally My Favorite Thing Ever.
Many find science a bit too logical, a bit too cerebral, and a bit too detached to ever feel a connection to it. For some, by knowing the world around us to exacting specifications, it somehow removes its mystique and wonder, and we a lose a sense of what actually matters.
In elegant terms, Sagan's passage demonstrated the opposite: by zooming out and seeing the relative insignificance of our planet in the cosmic perspective, we gain a sense of its finitude, fragility, and vulnerability. By zooming out, we in fact zoom in: we realize how important it is to treat each other and our planet more kindly.
That elemental view what constitutes life itself--finitude, transience, and impermanence--is one that I think fundamentally shapes how I see the world. It's the idea that we are all in it together, and we must do better.