Believe it or not, I have written a book. It is short, witty and really interesting. At least that’s what my grandma says. It still hasn’t been published because I haven’t started looking for a publisher. But let’s say you’re a publisher and you think you may be interested. What is this book about? What makes it so special?
Instead of giving you a summary, I’ll let the book speak for itself. Here’s the first chapter, awaiting your verdict. If you’re thrilled or just mildly interested, contact me and I’ll send you a copy.
By Miranda Deluca
The first time I see David Yerle I can’t help but notice his hands. They look like those of a pianist, rather than a writer; his fingers spread out like branches in a way that reminds me of Michaelangelo’s David, without its Greek figure and boyish looks. It’s hard to place his face on a beauty scale: he has somewhat rough, hard traits and big eyes with long eyelashes that make up for them.
He asks me to sit down with a childish smile that clashes with his melancholic eyes. He seems eager to make me feel comfortable. During our interview he keeps twisting and turning nervously, scratching the nape of his neck and tapping his fingers on his armchair, revealing some insecurity he tries hard to conceal.
You’ve written a book interviewing yourself.
Sounds pretty bad, huh?
I was afraid so. I hope you don’t mind: I was trying to make reading easier, not to indulge in an exercise of narcissism. Probably.
Well, it’s hard to be aware of one’s unconscious desires. By definition.
If that wasn’t enough, the interviews deal with the interview book itself, which is nothing but a series of interviews about a book that’s a series of interviews about a book…
Exactly. Quite twisted, isn’t it?
A bit. What were you trying to achieve, exactly?
With the style or the book?
Well, it’s a little hard to explain. I’m not so sure myself.
Give it a go.
In short, I was trying to condense everything I know into a hundred pages anyone could understand.
Because I’ve learned some amazing stuff that is, unfortunately, not common knowledge. And I’d like to make it so. It’s a bit like when you discover this great TV show and you can’t wait to pester your friends about it. You are not content with watching another episode: you have talk about it! Post on Internet forums! You know what I mean.
So you were driven strictly by a desire to communicate.
Well, not entirely. There were other reasons. My brain is an absolute mess and, from time to time, I have to do a little clean-up. Writing about what I’ve learned has helped me to structure what I know and to delimit what I want to know. And I guess that also affected the way I wrote my book.
Because the way I think is pretty similar to having an interview with myself.
You don’t say.
I do say. When I’m trying to make up my mind about something, I argue with myself. It’s a fool-proof way of taking other points of view into account.
So your inner monologue is instead a Socratic dialogue.
When you say it like that it sounds a little weird…
It is pretty weird.
Believe me, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Summarizing, you wrote the book to share your ideas and clear your head.
It was almost like going to therapy, but for free.
How did you come up with the concept?
It’s hard to say. I guess it’s something I’d been toying with for a while. The truth is I’ve always fantasized about being interviewed after becoming famous. I sometimes imagine I give incongruous answers and have a little bit of fun at the interviewer’s expense; others I picture myself using my newly found influence to fix the world’s problems.
Sounds a bit like delusions of grandeur.
It does, doesn’t it? I had a lot when growing up. Still have quite a few, in fact.
Yes, you mention it in the second chapter of your book.
Really? I thought it was the first one.
Maybe it appears in both.
How would you classify your book? Is it an essay? A popularization book? A novel?
It is definitely not a popularization book. There is a lot of physics popularization, but my aim was not to teach the reader physics. I think there are plenty of really good popularization books that do not oversimplify or lead the reader in any tendentious way. I do both. But I do it because my goal is to introduce the reader to something that has nothing to do with physics. Learning physics is, if you will, a platform for other kinds of knowledge. It’s a tool for destroying the reader’s intuitions, nothing else.
So readers shouldn’t trust anything you say about physics in your book.
I wouldn’t go so far. I’ve tried to explain the main physical theories of our age in a way that is relatively fair and without grossly misrepresenting any of them, I hope. All I’m saying is learning physics wasn’t the focus of the book, so physical explanations will be short, partial and probably biased. Tough roughly right.
So not a popularization book. What then?
I have absolutely no idea. I mean, there are bits of everything. It’s kind of a novel, if you’re interested in how the relationship between David and the interviewer develops. It’s also kind of an essay, even though I don’t really defend any points of view.
It appears to me you defend a great deal of them.
Sure, but they are contradictory, so they cancel each other out.
Then what on Earth is your book about?
I think it’s about doubt. About making the readers doubt even the most elementary of their beliefs, starting with those related to physical reality and finishing with those concerning their minds. And other stuff.
That’s kind of a surprise.
So I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Tell me: after having finished the book, do you think you achieved your goals?
What do you mean?
Well, a while ago you said your book was a somewhat complicated way of doing some mental clean-up.
More or less. I do believe I know myself a lot better thanks to the book. For example, I have realized I am a lot more mystical than I thought.
In what sense?
I’ve discovered that what has been guiding me my whole life was not the search for truth, but for meaning, and that both don’t necessarily have to agree.
You’ve discovered your irrational side.
Putting it like that would be overly simplistic. No: in fact, I am a hyper-rationalist. The problem is that, through the constant and reckless use of my reasoning capacity, I have found it has limits, limits that by definition cannot be overcome. That has led me to take the whole matter a little less seriously.
So you take it as a joke.
I take it as a joke precisely because I take it seriously. Look, returning to the question you asked before about why I wrote my novel: I was trying to communicate something. What exactly? Well, it’s not an idea or anything that’s explicitly mentioned in the book, except maybe in passing during the first pages. It is an attitude, the attitude of looking for meaning, of not settling with just assuming we’re here and that’s that. The attitude that makes one look for answers.
But you haven’t found any.
Precisely! If I had found them, why would I look? I have found some answers, but partial ones: models of reality which make living seem like a much more illuminating experience than it usually is. The fact that I have eventually rejected those models doesn’t make them less valuable: they are systems which have made me incredibly happy for a while. I don’t think anyone is going to show up carrying a bunch of papers and announce: “here’s the meaning of life!” But I do believe someone, someday, will find something that will get us closer to that fulfillment, to that light at the end of the tunnel which, deep down, we are all looking for. Even though some people have given up on it.
Mysticism or philosophy?
You could call it mysticism, but it’s not. At least, not the way most people understand it. It’s mystical because it’s related to an attitude of looking for enlightenment, of not giving up on meaning. But, at the same time, I’m not advocating believing just about anything some lunatic throws your way merely because it will make things seem prettier. I think we should keep looking for a meaning, but without fooling ourselves. Otherwise we’ll end up being another “energy hippie.”
What’s an energy hippie?
It’s one of those people who use the word “energy” when they really mean “soul” and who take valid scientific principles –such as the wave-like nature of matter– to defend all kinds of ridiculous nonsense about our vibrations in synch with the universe and other related crap.
I think you just offended over twenty percent of the world’s population. I’m surprised your book has sold so much.
Maybe it was the other eighty percent that bought it.
What makes you so different from those “energy hippies?”
First, I don’t reject reason. I do think some people have crazy insights that end up being right who knows why, and that it would probably be good if we could share those and use them to aid reason, but never to replace it. When, at some stage in my book, I say logic ends up being self-defeating, I give rational arguments to defend my view. I don’t just claim that, if we vibrate enough, we will end up transformed in angels or who knows what.
You seem a little obsessed by the vibration thing…
Yes, well. As a physicist it makes me a little nervous. But I forgot to say something else about mysticism.
I think mysticism should be welcome by everyone as long as it doesn’t try to be anything else. I, and a lot of people besides, have a certain intuition about the world, ideas which I find difficult to put into words and which are too vague for a scientific paper, especially because, well, they don’t make much sense. However, it wouldn’t hurt anyone if I could publish them, not as contrasted knowledge but as clues that, maybe, will give someone the spark they need in order to ignite a full-fledged theory that actually works. For example, we could have some absolutely delirious kind of magazine where scientists and philosophers could publish their most incongruous, deranged thoughts, so that others like them may read them and get an idea or two. Or have a laugh.
Mysticism as an inspiration for science.
Exactly! It wouldn’t be the first time.
We’re running out of time. Finishing up: what would you tell the reader of your book?
I’d tell them to be patient: some of the parts can be slightly difficult, though I tried to make them accessible; I would also tell them to not take it too seriously. After all, it’s just a bunch of words. And, as they will see, words should not be trusted lightly.