The great search engine of life

Jun
14
2013
by
Lynne McTaggart
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0
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Every so often I marvel at the fact that my occupation is itself a spiritual activity because it rests so entirely upon a daily act of faith. Our mortgage, my children’s education and upkeep, our entire lives depend upon on the quiet certainty that if I sit long enough in front of a blank computer screen, at some point it will get filled with sentences that people will pay good money to read.

Every so often I marvel at the fact that my occupation is itself a spiritual activity because it rests so entirely upon a daily act of faith. Our mortgage, my children’s education and upkeep, our entire lives depend upon on the quiet certainty that if I sit long enough in front of a blank computer screen, at some point it will get filled with sentences that people will pay good money to read.

Each book of mine requires, in a sense, a renewal of the vows, largely because every book I’ve ever written starts out not working and remains a poor approximation of the original idea for a very long time.

While writing the first draft, I feel that I am hacking my way out of a dense jungle with a machete, desperately searching for something resembling a path.

Each book begins well enough, with the research, but then as the hard slog starts and I have to synthesize all this information into something new and engaging, I crash every time that I try to achieve lift off.

Take, for instance, the writing of The Field. For 18 months, I paced my hallway, sobbed at my desk, ignored my children and left my other work in a pile on my desk.

I held nightly discussions with my husband, a philosophy graduate, on arcane subjects: What exactly are time and space? If we aren’t looking, does the universe disappear? I returned to the scientists for clarification, figuring that if I listened to each of them long enough, they might proffer the key to the collective meaning of two filing cabinets’ worth of data.

Just at the point that I was ready to hand back my publisher’s advance, quite certain that I just wasn’t up to the task, I was suddenly—violently—airborne.

I began to write in a manner suggesting that the process was happening through me. Every morning I would go to my computer, and words and concepts would pour out of me in a language that felt foreign. I would reread the book when it was first published with a sense of astonishment that any of it was in fact my work.

Through all that time I wrote in a fevered panic, adding a new layer of meaning as each nuance became clear to me, the final layer added only a few months before the book’s publication. I had to carry a tiny notebook around with me, while cooking or riding a bike, or left on my night table next to my bed, because the right words and phrases were coming to me at last—in fact, all day and night.

My husband Bryan had the opposite experience when writing Time-Light, a book of original philosophy. The ideas, he writes, ‘seemed to present themselves ready formed, and in the twinkle of an eye.  After that, it took me several years to assimilate and think through this instantaneous download, but this process merely added shading to what was already a complete outline.’

Nevertheless, his experience, like mine, was strongly redolent of something being downloaded.  Although that word is horribly overused these days—every last idea, good or bad, is spoken of as ‘downloaded’—each of my last three books has arrived in a similar way, not something fully formed, but a process that feels as though it is partly happening through me.

So what on earth is this?

This notion, that ideas are universally ‘out there’ was touched upon by Simon Conway Morris, one of the world’s pre-eminent evolutionary paleobiologists, from the University of Cambridge, whose specialty is studying how divergent life forms with entirely independent evolutionary paths produce markedly similar results. 

 Morris views evolution as something akin to a search engine; each species, he says, is ‘actually discovering something which arguably is even pre-existing.’

If that is so, it gives me comfort to know that if I’m not making headway on one book or another, it might mean that I’m just tuning into static or the wrong channel.  All I need to do is be patient and wait for a clear broadcast.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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