Michael Nielsen on writers’ open moves

Michael Nielsen tweets:

As a writer, the title, first sentence, and first few paragraphs are a kind of promise to the reader. Do you care about their experience? How hard are you willing to work to make that experience good? An extraordinary title is an implicit promise you worked to make the book good. (#)

I used to think I hated grammar and linguistics. A friend kept bugging me to read “The Language Instinct.” Finally, I relented. And then I got shivers up and down my spine when I read the title and first sentence of Chapter 1, and I was hooked.

Steven Pinker starts The Language Instinct with:

An Instinct to Acquire an Art

As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world.

Michael continues:

I later paid a little homage with the opening paragraph of my book on neural networks (#)

The human visual system is one of the wonders of the world. Consider the following sequence of handwritten digits:


Most people effortlessly recognize those digits as 504192. That ease is deceptive. In each hemisphere of our brain, humans have a primary visual cortex, also known as V1, containing 140 million neurons, with tens of billions of connections between them. And yet human vision involves not just V1, but an entire series of visual cortices - V2, V3, V4, and V5 - doing progressively more complex image processing. We carry in our heads a supercomputer, tuned by evolution over hundreds of millions of years, and superbly adapted to understand the visual world. Recognizing handwritten digits isn’t easy. Rather, we humans are stupendously, astoundingly good at making sense of what our eyes show us. But nearly all that work is done unconsciously. And so we don’t usually appreciate how tough a problem our visual systems solve.

In On Writing
Tagged with Michael Nielsen