Why I made exegesis

Why I made exegesis

Sun Feb 28 2021 personal-reflectionexegesistools-for-thought
I made exegesis because I cannot organize. I struggle to organize my thoughts, I struggle to organize my belongings, I struggle to organize my priorities, I struggle to organize my life. Since Kindergarten, well meaning teachers have tried to help me stay organized to no avail; I have vivid memories of my 6th grade homeroom teacher holding me back during recess to help me organize my binder and desk, which were a mess of loose papers I had haphazardly shoved in. A failure to stay organized has been the proverbial monkey on my back for much of my life.

As I grew older, I tried to fix myself in various ways. I tried blocking out all of my time in a calendar. I tried blocking distracting websites. I tried living my life in a three-ring binder. I tried planners, I tried meditation, I tried todo lists, I tried kanban boards. I tried to not care, I tried caring too much.

None of it worked. Why? It's not that these tools don't work in general - plenty of people swear by them. The problem was either with the tools, or with me. Technology exists for the utility of the user, not the other way around, so I rejected the latter answer.

None of it worked, because the word disorganized is really just an epithet for nonlinear.

Nonlinearity's bad conscience

What is disorganized/nonlinear thinking? It can be best understood in contrast to "organized" thinking, and this contrast can be best illustrated in the difference between the structure of a traditional nonfiction book and the idea of hypertext, which the internet is built around.

We are all familiar with the structure of a traditional nonfiction book - it is organized into chapters, separated topically, and each of those chapters consists of smaller subsections, each composed of paragraphs that introduce ideas in a linear and logical fashion. You read a book from start to end.

On the other hand, hypertext is built around the idea of a hyperlink, which is just a link from one document to another. Think about Wikipedia, and how every page is rich with links and connections to other pages. It is incoherent to talk about reading Wikipedia "from start to end." Books create linear paths from A to B, hypertext creates entire worlds ripe for exploration.

One of my earliest memories is of my dad showing me Wikipedia - this was before I really started reading real chapter books, and certainly before I started reading nonfiction chapter books. I spent a good deal of my childhood "link surfing" on Wikipedia. Every few months, I'd develop a sporadic obsession with a new concept: black holes, DNA, World War II, etc. etc. My guess is that it was this early exposure to hypertext that caused my thinking to become so non-linear.

Did the internet ruin my brain? No, I don't think either style of thinking is superior. Both have their place, and besides it's not like I'm incapable of linear thinking (I hope this essay is flowing in a somewhat logical manner!

However, the world has been designed for the first kind of thinking. So far, our institutions and our tools have been designed for linear thought, not non-linear thought - not necessarily out of malice, but because our tools for organizing information (books) were stuck being linear for so long. As a result of this, non-linear thinkers have developed a kind of bad conscience - we view disorganized thinking as a problem to remedy. We build tools to rid ourselves of nonlinear thinking, never to embrace it.

The internet raised an entire generation to think nonlinearly, and it is only recently that tools for thinking have caught up.

A thousand suns

"Consider how each individual is affected by an overall philosophical justification of his way of living and thinking: he experiences it as a sun that shines especially for him and bestows warmth, blessings, and fertility on him; it makes him independent of praise and blame, self-sufficient, rich, liberal with happiness and good will; incessantly it refashions evil into good, leads all energies to bloom and ripen, and does not permit the petty weeds of grief and chagrin to come up at all. In the end one exclaims: How I wish that many such new suns were yet to be created! Those who are evil or unhappy and the exceptional human being - all these should also have their philosophy, their good right, their sunshine! What is needful is not pity for them. We must learn to abandon this arrogant fancy, however long humanity has hitherto spent learning and practicing it...

There is yet another world to be discovered - and more than one. Embark, philosophers!"

Nietzsche argues that there exists a philosophical system for each person that would justify their existence - like the "books of apologia and prophecies that would vindicate for all time the actions of every person in the universe" in The Library of Babel.

So too, there exists a tool for each person that would vindicate their peculiarities. It is my hope that exegesis will vindicate chaos, disorganization, messiness, disorder, and all other epithets hitherto applied to what is rightfully called creativity.