I've been reading Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs. The book is hitting me on two levels. On one, the information is incredible. It seems to be the first information I've seen that feels outside the tenacious battle of the global warming debate. It does this all the while giving deeper explanations of the various fates - past and future - of the planet. Childs also resonates with a much different perspective of time, one that allows an impression of a much longer, older, more dynamic and varied earth to settle in. The facts are extraordinary gifts.
For example, in one chapter where he experiences life atop five thousand feet of ice in Greenland, he talks about the gusts of winds that condense moisture into snowflakes and then bashes them apart - again and again - every hundred and fifty feet or so. This process purifies the water to the point that it is poisonous to drink - the water leeches salts and minerals out of cells. This property of water is a familiar wow in a science classroom, but I had no idea it could come as a result of natural processes.
Just now, thinking over this process - water purifying itself - it flies in the face of the concept of entropy, something I've always had a hard time getting to gel. I just don't buy it. Order seems to be an evaluative opinion, almost an aesthetic preference. Disorder is matter that we want to clean up and sort. But what makes one qualitatively different from the other?
There's the common example of the bedroom that I've never liked. Here, entropy is the process by which your room becomes a mess; you cleaning it up is the energy input that restores that order. Another example is mixing salt and pepper. It's easy to mix up but difficult to separate. Well, isn't that what happens on the top of the frozen block of ice that Child's writes from? The purification of snow by natural processes shouldn't happen, according to these models. But it seems that natural processes both salinate and desalinate. The energy input is the same. I'm sure there are some ways to nitpick it apart and change the conversation, but it's a noteworthy fact, a crucial understanding of what's possible on the planet.
The second level that the book has touched me on is Craig Childs as an author. I try to uncover his process, and he leaves many clues. He seems to have a notebook with him all the time and writes furiously in it on a daily basis. My sister met him on a project and said he was always scribbling in his notebook. He has probably written her into a story somewhere to be published someday or not.
This passion, this engagement with writing is something I envy. I am always wishing I could write more often and more intensely, but I rarely get around to it. I even try notebooks - to carry them around with me, but for some reason it only lasts a week at best. His words are a reminder to not give up. I need to keep writing and throwing things into the world. Writing solidifies thought. It makes it more real. It allows you to ponder yourself. Writing illuminates thinking errors.
Not everyone may be like this, but thinking is so easy, so quick, that it leads to a certain kind of arrogance. Only when I start writing things down do I realize that I don't understand them nearly as well as I thought I did. I come to see that my fleeting inspirations are fragmentary. They are not long enough. They don't connect. They are small. They make so much sense in the moment but they are too playful and thin - confetti in my mind.
Only by writing can you really evaluate the merits of your own mind. Without that arrogance assuming you have it all solid and together, better habits of mind can be developed. Practicing writing is practice in thinking.