An excerpt from today’s mail from Keith Hudson, a respected friend who lives in Bath, England. “Ideas in one’s head are slippery, slidery things and it’s not until one acts on them — in the form of changed behaviours or the production of tangible items — that their validity can be fully tested in the real world. Writing about them is only a halfway stage. However, the words one uses (and perhaps the new terms one invents) are rather like seeds that plants produce. They can float away in the air to land and germinate in other minds. Or, if they don’t propagate in this way, ideas seem more like those seeds with hooks that remain passive until picked up by other individuals — such as those I frequently have to pick out from my dog’s fur after her morning walk.”
Written-down ideas still have hooks, however, even if they’re not readily taken up by others and only remain in one’s own mind — at least for a while longer than otherwise. In this case their “hookability” is active rather than passive because it’s only when one’s ideas are written down that they can much more readily latch onto almost anything else that might have relevance from a much wider swathe of observations — and others’ written-down ideas.
This is the way I have engaged with economics, not because it’s of great intrinsic interest as usually described — economics textbooks have got to be the most boring of all — but because it’s a more multi-hookable subject than any others I’m aware of. It can attach to a wide variety of other observations from history, anthropology, psychology, physics, even family vendettas as yesterday’s headline, and so forth.
Besides being hookable, written-down ideas are also more vulnerable than being merely ensconced in one’s head where they are safe, even if transient. This is why I write. It’s only by writing ideas down that one’s search becomes more productive and one can test one’s own ideas more thoroughly.