Joho the Blog » [2b2k] First draft of first chapter sort of done

[2b2k] First draft of first chapter sort of done

[NOTE: These posts tagged "2b2k' (Too Big to Know") are about the process of writing a book. They therefore talk about the ideas in the book rather incidentally..]

It’s not quite right to say that I’ve finished a first draft of chapter one. More accurately: I’ve stopped typing and have gone back to the beginning. It needs so much work that it doesn’t even constitute a draft.

I read it to our son last night as he trotted on the elliptical trainer in the basement. He thought it’s better than I do, but that’s why we have families. He also offered useful comments: Opening with a recitation of factoids about the growth of info has been done (although he professed to find it amusing); I say three or four times too often that the basics of knowledge are changing; it wasn’t entirely clear how the idea of information overload has gone from a psychological syndrome to a cultural challenge. All too true.

Hearing it out loud helps a lot; I always read drafts of chapters to my wife. I realized, for example, that the long (too long) section on the history of facts adopts an off-putting academic tone. That doesn’t worry me, because adjusting the tone is a normal part of re-writing, although it does require the painful removal of “good stuff” that actually isn’t very interesting. I remain quite concerned about the overall structure, and, worse, whether the chapter is clear in its readerly aims.

So, I’m going to put in a new opening. Although the technique is overdone and predictable, I will probably start with some very quick examples intended to show that knowledge is becoming networked. Then I will tighten the section on information overload, which aims at suggesting that knowledge overload results in a change in the nature of knowledge (in a way that info overload did not change the nature of info). Then, into the reduced section on the history of facts, which aims to challenge our notion that knowledge is a building that depends on having a firm foundation. (I also want to shake the reader by the shoulders and say that the idea of knowledge is not as obvious and eternal as we’ve thought.)

Also, I changed the title of Chapter One yesterday, from “Undoing Knowledge” to “The Great Unnailing.”

And, this morning, while on the ol’ elliptical, I read a review of Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice, which, because of its discussion of the inevitability of disagreements, seems like it might be relevant. A few paces on, it also seemed to me that a suitable ending for the book might be a brief section that asks: If we didn’t have a concept of knowledge, would we now invent one? Is that concept still useful? I mean something inchoate by this, for clearly it is useful to distinguish between reliable and unreliable ideas. But that’s always a matter of degree. Would we separate out a special class of specially reliable information, and, more to the point, would we think of it as a realm of truth, a mirror of nature, or our highest calling? I think not. But I don’t know if this is an idea with which to open the book, close the book, or ignore.

3 Responses to “[2b2k] First draft of first chapter sort of done”

  1. I guess we will die to read the book itself or its first chapters !

    Particularly, when you recognize that “the idea of knowledge is not as obvious and eternal as we’ve thought” – it is challenging to write about its overload !
    The knowledge may easily be a moving target in your analysis.

    After Bellinger’s pivotal article “Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom” ( we assumed knowledge (in IT) is born out of information – when we are able to answer “how” question with its help. Usually we go to the knowledge by understanding patterns in the information. It is still NOT an understanding of principles – which brings us to higher levels than knowledge.

    In this context – I am thrilled to bits to read about undoing or “unnailing” of knowledge. Does the chapter imply that today our (information) PATTERN recognition is such unreliable, or is a manifold of contradicting inferences – that this causes knowledge overload ?

  2. Writing is an excursion. One begins lost in a remote and beautiful forest. With a little luck and a lot of effort one finds the way home.The path only opens when one has become lost. The writer’s path home becomes the path of the reader out into that remote and beautiful forest.

    Historically knowledge was tribal,local,isolated. Just within the last one hundred years knowledge has become international, global, integral. Perhaps now we can look beneath the surfaces of knowledge to discern archetypal patterns that will be evolutionary, universal, visionary.

  3. [...] related approach: not developing the content of his book on a blog, but thinking out loud about the process of writing [...]

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