As most of you probably know, I've been working on a book now for several years. But perhaps I've been writing this book for an audience that doesn't exist. What use is a philosophy that only the person writing it can understand? Or only a small circle of professionals that specialize in the same topic? This is the sort of thing you are pushed to write in today's academic world.
When I realized this, I thought maybe I'd start another draft of my book, a draft understandable by those I care most about -- my wife, parents, siblings, and close friends. A book that spends less time explaining obscure theories and more time explaining how we can change our lives in a positive way.
Maybe, I thought. But books are so darn time-consuming.
Today, I had a new idea. I know what I want to say, so why not just say it? Hence this blog.I've been thinking back on the last six years, wondering if I've succeeded in what I set out to do. The truth is, this blog has been much more successful than I imagined. Some of my posts have received hundreds of hits. But I don't think it's succeeded in my original goal, which was to explain my theory of human evolution and my argument against progress.
In this post I explain my argument against progress in the most detail I've made public. But the argument I give there is not as mathematically precise as it can be, and that means it's weaker than it needs to be. I have a much stronger argument, but it's been under wraps now for over six years.
The other thing I haven't explained is my theory of evolution in its entirety. I've used bits and pieces to make arguments here and there (such as my argument for reading the classics based on cultural evolution) but this theory also deserves to be developed in full detail.
Six years ago I wrote down a manuscript that explains all these things.
I think its time to finish up my progress book.
This book is unusual. At its core is a technical, scientific argument; yet what it seeks is a big-picture, philosophical view of the human condition. It argues for a more romantic view of life; yet it does so by citing statistical facts and mathematical equations. It is a book that seeks to dismantle a myth held by almost everyone in our society; yet it does so using theories that lamentably few take the time to really understand.
Due to its dichotomous nature, this book has no natural home in today's fragmented culture. It is too philosophical to be published as science. It is too scientific to published as philosophy. It is not the kind of feel-good self-help book that publishing companies can guarantee will profit.
When I completed the second draft of this book back in 2010, I was a graduate student in the History and Philosophy of Science. I had professors who were good at math, and most had read a great deal of classical and contemporary literature. You would expect such well-rounded professors, if anyone, would be willing and able to support a grad student undertake the research needed for a book like mine. I did have strong doubts, but I thought it was worth giving them a chance. I showed them the first few chapters. Their reactions were what I expected. One told me to talk to the Darwin expert. Another complained about page numbering. One told me I wasn't ready to write my "symphony" yet, that I should just finish an unambitious PhD on a small topic first. Finally, the Darwin expert, who I gave a tiny fragment of my argument to assess, told me that even this was far too big and new and that I needed to choose a question already being debated in the literature.
I saw two roads before me. If I stayed the academic road, I would spend years finishing my Ph.D. on a microscopically small topic, and spend 7 years or more pursuing tenure before I was allowed to pursue my own ideas. Or, I could not waste a moment of my time on what I saw as the lifeless debates in academic journals, simply write the book I had in my head now, get it out there however I could, and move on to the dozen other projects I had ideas for.
The only rational choice was the latter, so I took my wife and my newborn son back to Utah with me where I pursued a career in IT that would give me enough time to write.
But my book against progress had soured for me. I felt that maybe a technical argument wasn't the way to go. Why did I feel the need to demolish this myth of progress anyway? Couldn't I do something more constructive, like build new, better myths? So I began working on my novels. If I couldn't break into publishing through academia, perhaps I could do so through fiction.
Five years passed. I finished one novel (unpublished) and started half a dozen more. I started a few blogs, with some success. Always in the back of my mind the progress book lurked, a secret weapon that I could use only against my own utopian illusions. Over this time I trained myself to think without utopia, feel without utopia, and finally find meaning in my life without any hope for utopia. I found meaning in family, beauty, art, history, and the classics. Science was still fascinating, but no longer an all-consuming obsession. For the fist time in my life I felt like a truly spiritual person. I felt like a philosopher.
Indeed, my argument against progress had finally succeeded in revolutionizing someone's life, and that person was myself.
Realizing this at the close of 2015, I have resolved to return to my progress book, write my final draft, and finally make it public. I will be looking for readers in a couple of months.