Jim Baggott is the multi-talented author of books such as ‘The Meaning of Quantum Theory’, and ‘Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy, and the Meaning of Quantum Theory’. Fortunate for us readers he has the impressive ability to tackle big scientific and philosophical issues with ease. By breaking down complex explanations and drawing on practical and contemporary examples without any condescending overtones, Baggott is an author who inspires as much as he informs. Following on from my review of Jim’s book, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Reality‘, I caught up with the man himself to gain some insight into his works, discuss his approach to writing, and find out what his next authorial project is likely to be.
TS: How did you come to be particularly interested in both philosophy and quantum theory?
JB: In my book ‘Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy and the Meaning of Quantum Theory’ I argue that modern quantum theory actually is philosophy. It is virtually impossible to dig beneath the surface of quantum theory without being confronted by innumerable philosophical conundrums. The theory itself forces you to take more than a passing interest in its philosophical foundations and the implications for our ability to comprehend the nature of reality.
TS: How do you decide what ideas will work as a book and what ideas won’t last the distance?
JB: Impossible to tell. Publish and be damned, I guess.
TS: Could you elaborate on your current book plans?
JB: I’m working on a proposal for a popular book about the race to build the first atomic bomb. Now, there are lots and lots of books out there already on this subject but most tend to come at the story from one perspective or another. I’d like to try to bring together what we know about the German, Allied and Soviet atom bomb programmes and tell the story in “real” time with the pace of a modern thriller. It’s a challenge but – hey – somebody has to do it.
TS: Does getting to the publishing stage take longer than you first anticipate?
JB: It can be a bit hit-and-miss. There’s usually no real alternative to doing your homework properly and explaining what you want to say, why you want to say it, why you want to say it now, why readers might be interested and what it is that makes you uniquely qualified to write it.
TS: Who are some of the authors that you read? Who inspires you?
JB: Tricky one. Inspiration depends on the kind of mood I’m in. Over the years I’ve read a good many works of fiction that I’ve found moving without necessarily inspiring me to take up the pen (or put fingers to keyboard).
A recent example would be ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini. I’m fond of several authors and have fairly catholic tastes, ranging from the serious to the downright silly. I don’t have a favourite author of popular science (because professional jealousy gets in the way). I guess inspiration for what I’ve written in the past has come rather from the slow dawning realization that I can actually understand a subject, and feeling compelled to tell people.
TS: Was becoming an author an ambition you’ve always held?
TS: Do you follow a writing routine? For instance, writing every day for an hour, listening to certain music or simply writing whenever you can.
JB: I can’t say I have much of a routine. When I’ve got going I find it extremely difficult to stop sometimes, and time just slips away. I don’t force myself to write something every day. I do tend to write linearly (by which I mean I tend to start at the beginning and work through to the end, rather than write chapters or passages at random).
TS: How do you balance your other working life against your writing life? Is it a challenge to balance time between the two?
JB: I don’t manage the balance at all well.
TS: Do you have a tendency towards perfectionism? Is it hard for you to stop tinkering with your words before you’re happy with them?
JB: I have the opposite affliction. When I’ve finished work on a piece I find it sometimes very difficult to see how it can be improved. This is where a good editor comes in handy…
TS: Which book did you most enjoy writing?
JB: The next one.
Many thanks to Jim Baggott for taking the time out of his exceedingly busy schedule to answer these questions for QuietPaws, and for writing such wonderfully entertaining, challenging, and informative books.