Spoiler Alert! This FAQ is intended for readers who have already finished the book. It contains spoilers.
Q: Wait, this book was supposed to be about the political center. What’s with all that right-wing stuff at the end?
A: It wasn’t planned that way, but the characters (Bill in this case) say what they say, and Jack writes what he wants to write. Jack’s own essays on Climate Change and Gun Control are, I would argue, entire centrist. The core of centrism is pragmatism. Being a pragmatist, Jack sees no point wasting effort on lost causes. Bill’s views on these topics are unabashedly conservative. And Jack details these views because, well, Bill’s his father. He’s very interested in what his new-found father thinks. And some of these perspectives are new to Jack, or, at least, articulated differently.
After the manuscript was completely, I actually tried to bring back some balance. As the book was already longer than I desired, adding a character was out of the question. And, of course, Jack feels like the progressive perspective is already largely included in his own views. So, I tried to give one of my two progressive characters a chance to express their views more fully, in a context in which Jack might plausibly report them.
Lula was the obvious choice. Unfortunately, her initial political rants are specifically designed to provoke, not persuade – that was the whole point of the scene. Then, after that, she and Bill come to an understanding that involves staying away from politics.
That left Donny. But I quickly discovered that Donny’s liberalism is of the “fashion” variety. He doesn’t put much thought into politics – he just parrots whatever the New York Times has recently been saying. Donny is a progressive because the people with whom he wishes to associate himself are progressives. If the entire East Coast establishment were to suddenly turn conservative, Donny would turn with them without hesitation – unaware that he had done so.
And I would have still have needed to figure out a way to get Jack to report it. It’s all old news to Jack, and he’d be unlikely to report it – unlike Bill’s views.
The characters say what they say, and Jack writes what Jack writes.
So, I whiffed on getting an explicit progressive essay into the book.
Hopefully, readers who have stayed with the book that long will be able to tolerate hearing a conservative voice.
Q: Don’t you know anything about capitalization? Terms like “Conservative” should be capitalized – they’re references to a specific group.
A: Jack and I had a spirited debate about this. In the early drafts, I simply typed in whichever version Jack wanted at the time. Later, I did a little research, and decided to capitalize terms when they referred to the group, but not when they simply referred to a philosophical approach. In practice, this often meant capitalizing nouns but not adjectives.
I made the changes in the document, but Jack hated it. And I had to agree – there were passages in the text that felt like a visual roller-coaster. True to his dictum of readability above all else, Jack wanted these changes removed. On the other hand, I pointed out, it was my name on the cover (I’m more afraid of the Grammar Nazis than Jack is). In the end, we compromised. To be consistent, if not technically correct, we removed all capitalization of these terms. Jack still felt this compromised readability somewhat, but I insisted. I felt I could defend the no-caps rule, provided it was followed consistently.
Technically, this should have applied to the term “Muddy Middle” as well, but here Jack was adamant. To change these to “muddy middle” would be, in Jacks view, a foolish consistency. So, “Muddy Middle” it remained.
Q: In Chapter 22, Jack writes:
God seems to abhor verifiable miracles. Whenever we train our instruments on it, the universe obeys mathematical laws. We can never prove what it does when we’re not measuring it, but we can be pretty confident that it will play ball while we’re watching (a bit more on this later).
But Jack never returned to that. What was his point?
A: Ah, that’s an interesting one. The idea, in a nutshell, is this:
The fundamental assumption underling all of science is that what happens when you’re observing is what would have happened had you not been observing. And, by extension, what happens in the everyday world when we’re not actually testing it conforms to what happens in the laboratory when we are.
And yet, we know that, at the quantum level, this is not true. But without this, the entire edifice of science collapses. So, we assume this rule always applies at the macro level, and move on.
But what if it doesn’t? How would we know? Suppose the rule of the (presumably conscious) universe is that everything must follow the laws of physics when we’re watching, but otherwise, all bets are off? Suppose that the electro-chemical reactions in our brains regularly disobey the rules of physics – except when someone has an electrode in there to measure them. No need for Jack’s “Theory of Quantum Consciousness” – consciousness can do whatever it likes with our brains almost all the time.
We could live in such a universe, and we’d never know it.
Interestingly, in such a universe, miracles would become less common as our scientific knowledge advanced…
Jack calls this the “big door” theory of a conscious universe. The little door is quantum operations in our brains, but that’s not strictly necessary. If you assume that the universe only obeys physical laws when we’re checking, and this can never be disproved (by definition), then the universe become consciousness’s very open playground.
As an aside, Jack’s reference to this idea was considered for removal in subsequent editing sessions, but we felt it was important that the reader understood what Jack felt and thought at the time. He meant to get back to it, but the narrative crowded it out.
Q: How did you ever come up with the idea for such an unusual book?
A: That’s a particularly long story – read it here.