I'm trying to write a book. It's non-fiction, so there is a certain amount of research involved. The conventional wisdom is that at some point you need to stop researching and start writing. I'm getting better at that. Well, I'm getting better at writing as I research, which is a start, I suppose.
Anyway, I had to run some errands day before yesterday, and while I was out I needed to have lunch. I had suspected that this might end up being the case, so I took a book along, one that I'm reading, or re-reading, actually, as research. And so as I ate (a pizza, Canadian bacon and pineapple; it was very good), I read.
Well, I tried to read. You see, when I'm reading something really interesting, I tend to read a little and then think a lot about what I've read. I often make marginal notes, and make notes in my current writer's notebook besides. And sometimes, I indulge in a bit of Tangents 101. Which means I read three or four pages and ended up with four pages of my notebook filled with notes that really have very little to do with what I'm writing about. Or, at least, they demonstrate the John Muir saying about how everything in the universe is connected to everything else.
Sometimes the connection is very tenuous. Other times it is clearly identifiable but no especially relevant to what I'm supposed to be doing.
The book in question is Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (Perennial, 1999). It's a really good book which, as I indicated above, I've read before. A couple of times. I'm reading it this time because I'm writing about anthropology, and evolution is a key concept within the field, especially within biological anthropology. So, it is on-topic in a number of ways. In other ways, not so much.
Today's problem was that I got to page 38, and Miller was writing about the origins and early evolution of life. Specifically, he was discussing the long period of time between the time of the first, prokaryotic cells (cells without nuclei), and the appearance of eukaryotic cells (those are cells that have nuclei), and the long period thereafter between those cells and the appearance of the first multi-celled organisms. Now, all of this is a subject of infinite fascination for me. And so I made some notes about how much I'm interested in this, in beginnings of all kinds. Who knows, I might want to write about it at some point.
Somehow, from the beginnings of life I ended up at the beginning of the universe, and how difficult a subject that is for me for various philosophical reasons. Difficult, but also fascinating. I also ended up at how questions of the beginning of the universe and of life are subjects that tread all over both science and religion.
But that isn't all.
Miller also gets into, on the same page, the questions science has concerning whether or not the earliest multi-cellular organisms there is evidence of (from Australia, in the Ediacaran Hills, he says, although there has probably been further research since he wrote in 1999) are or are not directly related to organisms alive today, or whether all life on earth today is descended from other organisms that came into being separately, somewhere else. This is another idea that really tickles my imagination, and I spent some time on that as well.
Yeah. I was in the restaurant for a full hour after I had finished eating, playing around with these ideas. Didn't really make any progress in the research toward what I'm trying to write. Made myself want to go off and read about the origin of life and the origin of the universe and the geological history of the Earth
All of which also goes to explain why it takes me so long to read a book sometimes.