sarahpessin@sarahpessin.com

Nathan on writing

Marco Nathan

Marco Nathan is associate professor and chair in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Denver. His research focuses on the philosophy of science, with particular emphasis on biology, neuroscience, cognitive neuropsychology and economics. He is the author of Black Boxes: How Science Turns Ignorance into Knowledge (2021) as well as numerous articles and chapters in philosophical and scientific venues.

  • What kinds of writing do you write?
    • I spend most of my time writing academic (philosophical) pieces. However, I also enjoying writing non-fiction for blogs and other popular venues, as well as fiction. I also love writing songs — especially the lyrics, although it’s been a hot minute since I’ve indulged in that.
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  • What’s one of your favorite things you’ve written, and why?
    • I wrote my first “novel” when I was six years old — sentimentally, not quality-wise, it still tops my list. Among more recent endeavors, I shall mention two. First, my book on Black Boxes was first most systematic attempt to piece together various views that I’ve been developing for years. Second, a piece I published last year called “The Mind-Body Problem 3.0”: it came out of some great discussions in my Philosophy of Mind intro course at DU. 
  • What’s something you wrestle with in your writing process?
    • I futilely strive to emulate Descartes’ unsurpassed clarity of though and Oscar Wilde’s wit. My aim is to provide a fresh take on complex ideas and to make them accessible without appealing to jargon and other technicalities. It’s much harder than it looks!
  • How would you describe your writing process?
    • Two analogies. First, writing feels like giving birth to an idea that’s been with you for a long time. Second, it’s also like going for a long run. The process can be painful, but it feels really great once you’re done.
  • “Hardware” tell-all; for example: Microsoft Word or Google Docs or paper forever? Legal pads or note cards or backs of envelopes? Pencils or pens? No. 2s or mechanical? Bics or Montblancs? Etc.!
    1. Annotations in books: pencil only. Handwritten notes: fountain pen on yellow legal pad. Actual writing: LaTeX or bust!
  • A standout feature of your actual desk or virtual desktop that you rather like?
    • A swiveling chair: crucial to navigate the physical and mental space between books and papers, and screen!
  • 3 adjectives that describe that ‘writerly feeling’ when you’re in the zone?
    • Focused, rewarding, smooth
  • 3 adjectives that describe that ‘not so writerly feeling’ when you’re hitting a wall?
    • Useless (when it ain’t happening, just do something else!), clunky, dull
  • What is your Writing Animal Guide (whatever that means to you!) and why?
    • The tortoise from Aesop’s memorable fable. Believe it or not, slow and steady does win the race.
  • What’s your top piece of writing advice for grad students embarking on their dissertations?
    • I’ll offer two. First of all, give yourself plenty of leeway. Good writing takes time, energy, and mistakes. Second, remember that not all your great ideas need fit in your thesis. Your dissertation is not your Opus Magnus; it’s merely the first few steps on a much longer intellectual stride.

[My collagic nod to Marco is coming soon!]