Philosophy  •  November 15, 2003

Why Write?

Perhaps a more current question is why read, but let us try to stick to the title here. I haven’t been practicing my telepathy as much as I probably should, so I can’t really speak for anyone else; therefore this is why I write.

I write to express my thoughts and feelings to you dear readers. As important as it may be for me to have you reading this (yeah you, you’re the only one here, I checked the statistics), there is a more important person for whom I write. Myself. Sounds strange? Well I don’t think it is. No I don’t suffer from MPD, at least not anymore than anyone else; and this is why I write to myself. I think all of us, at least to some extent, are of multiple minds on any subject. We can see things on the one hand, on the other hand and on our neighbor’s hand. It is this ability to shift perspective that gives us the ability to empathize, feel compassion and ultimately to love. But, no, I’m not trying to seduce myself. My reasons for writing to myself are far more prosaic. I want to understand myself.

Sometimes, I hold a viewpoint that suddenly strikes me as incongruent with other beliefs I have. Smarter people than me have called this (or something very much like it) cognitive dissonance. Usually I try to resolve these issues by finding a sounding board with whom I can have an argument. Unfortunately, this only works if the other party understands the rules of fair arguments (someone who was geeky enough in high school to belong to a debating society is a good choice). When such a person is unavailable I am left with myself as the only audience for hashing out the discrepancies. Arguing out loud with myself would tend to get odd stares (thank goodness we no longer lock people up for this), so I have begun to write.

In the process of writing, I begin to flesh out the arguments for and against a position or idea. I usually find the parts where I am full of crap pretty easily and can then adjust my thinking to take this into account and hopefully correct it. This is where the question of reading comes in. Writing without reading is pretty pointless. I have to at least read what I’ve written to see where I am full of it, but I also read the ideas of others to see who may have come up with a better idea than mine (this is often the case).

In writing this I realize one more, probably more important and general reason to write. It is to pass on what we know, understand and feel to the future. Just as I talk to my children and try to guide them in how they make their way through the world, I would like to leave something of myself for my great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren. Not that I’m a particularly smart individual, but that we are all taken together a very smart individual. We pass on our shared wisdom farther into the future through our writing than we can through our spoken words (ok, technological this isn’t any longer true). We can read the words of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Homer, and the forgotten names of countless others who have brought us stories of the human condition.

Maybe that is why I really write. To pay forward my debt to those who have written before. Fact of the matter is that I really don’t know. I had hoped that by writing this I would get a better idea of the answer to the question: why write?