So it begins…

Posted on November 1, 2009


Oh, boy.  What have I gotten myself into?  Well, if you haven’t read it yet, start by reading What is the Grok Project?

The basic concept for this project has been lurking in my mind for years, popping up here and there in various forms… I could write a book?  Teach a class?  Start a business?  But it wasn’t until I saw the movie Julie & Julia that it occurred to me that a blog might really be the right way to go.  And that’s why, no matter what anyone says about Julie Powell, I have to be grateful to her.

The word “grok” was invented by Robert A. Heinlein in his amazing novel Stranger in a Strange Land.  In the book, “grok” is defined as follows: “‘Grok’ means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the process being observed — to merge, to blend, to intermarry, to lose personal identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us as color means to a blind man”. In its fictional Martian language, the word also means “to drink”.  This seemingly odd double-meaning illuminates both Heinlein’s Martian culture and me.  I don’t just want to live in the world; I want to understand it.  I don’t just want to understand it; I want the knowledge to run so deep that it fundamentally changes who I am.  And, finally, I want who I am to run so deep that it comes back around and changes the world – creates new knowledge for others to grok.  I want to drink the world up and transmute it.  And I know I’m not alone.

There’s just one problem: the history of science and technology is big.  Real big.  Even if it’s pruned down to the most essential parts – a very subjective matter, to be sure – it is still enormous.  A timeline of three years is great for keeping me motivated, but can I possibly complete all the tasks in The Plan and Progress So Far in that amount of time?  Hell, no.  But that’s not what this project is about.  It’s about doing as much as I can, but more importantly doing the right things to best tell the human story.

First of all, I have to prioritize.  I have to pick out the discoveries, inventions, theories, etc… that most serve “the story”.  Next I have to take care to plan ahead, so I don’t waste time scrambling to gather resources I didn’t know I’d need.  I can already tell that part is going to be a major challenge.  Then, wherever possible, I have to find an expert – someone who’s already done for him or herself the task I’m trying to complete – to guide me through it so it won’t take me as long to stumble through it as it took to invent, discover, or perfect it in the first place.  Let me stop here for a moment…

That’s right!  I can’t stress this enough: I NEED YOUR HELP!  If you see something on the list that you’ve already done, I’d really appreciate any pointers you can give.  If you can provide access to something I’ll need such as a facility, a piece of lab equipment, or a hard-to-obtain tool, that would be excellent.  Or, if you’re feeling very generous, you might even guide me through the task in person.  You’d be prominently credited in the blog and you’d get lots of karma points.  I’m hoping that as the project proceeds, more and more people will enjoy reading it enough that they are willing to provide that kind of assistance.

In the end, try though I might to do it all, it would take a miracle.  Should no such miracle occur, I may turn to either or both of these options:

  1. Extending the duration of the project.  Perhaps to five years.
  2. Farming out some of the tasks to other people and then interviewing them about their experiences.

But in any case, I’d love to hear from other people who choose to take on any of the tasks on my list or any other task the grokking of which complements the Grok Project.  Note that I will always pay careful attention to issues of safety and legality before attempting any of these tasks – I ask you to do the same!

Onward to the Paleolithic Plan!  We’re starting out nowhere near my comfort zone.  It’s more than a little tempting to pick up a soldering iron and say, “I’ll just skip ahead and go back later.”  But no.  No taking the easy way out this time.

My research and a number of my task preparations for the paleolithic era are already underway.  The first task I’ll be taking on starts tomorrow: a “paleolithic diet” for one week.  This is going to hurt.  I’ll talk about that more in my next post where I’ll also talk about what (we think) life was like for paleolithic humans.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!

P.S.  Does daylight savings time end today for you?  Better make sure your clocks are set correctly.  😉

Posted in: General Interest