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Comparing Word and LaTeX

This is an excerpt from Better Books with LaTeX the Agile Way. You can get a copy here.

What is magic for? What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn [Beagle1991, cf. p. 187f]

Having written six books on topics including project management and philosophy, I have gained a great deal of respect for a well-written book. It is not enough to just have a stack of notes that you sort into chapters. It is not enough to spend a lot of time editing and organizing those notes. It will create a book, but is a book really what you wanted? It might sound a bit strange, but the goal of writing a book is not the book itself. It is that the book will be read.

Even the best technologies cannot save a unicorn—or make us better authors. They cannot tell us what to write. But they can help us to bring our imagination and ideas onto paper more quickly and efficiently. All you need to become a successful author is your mind, a pen, and paper. Everything you need to become a published author more quickly is in the following chapters.

Comparing Word and LaTeX

Everyone knows Word. However, “knowing” Word mostly refers to ease of use, as it is a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) text editor. But if I asked how, using Word, to refer to another document’s text block and add that as a citation in a footnote, most people would have to look on the Internet to find out how that could be done. While most of the functionality is available through icons, you still need to know where to look when something is not a standard command like those used in formatting, making lists, or choosing fonts.

Word ⋅  Word usually refers to Microsoft Word. Generally, it is used as an umbrella term for all word processors that directly show you what you will get as an end result (as opposed to first having to process the file). This approach is more intuitive, but it makes editing large projects very complicated.

In LaTeX (pronounced LAH-tekh or LAY-tekh), you instead create a text document which is then translated into an actual formatted document (your book). Formatting is done through commands you enter as text into the document. To write a LaTeX document, you never have to touch your mouse, as you can enter everything by keystrokes alone.

LaTeX ⋅  LaTeX is a typesetting system that works more like a compiler than a word processor. While initially complicated, LaTeX allows better management of larger projects like theses or books by splitting the document into sections: style, references, and text.

Word and LaTeX each have particular advantages:

If you know the commands, creating a LaTeX document will be quicker than writing a Word document. You never have to break your concentration to access a special command. Sure, there are shortcuts in Word, too, but those have to be learned as well.

Because all commands are part of a LaTeX document, you can edit your text on any device with any editor you like, while Word documents require an installed editor (well, Word) that does not show the formatting and control information.

The upside of Word is its automated grammar check. LaTeX online platforms like Overleaf provide spell checks, but no integrated grammar check. We will have to wait for future releases in that regard.

Word offers integrated basic graphic functionality for symbols while LaTeX has to rely on a rather complicated vector graphics engine.

Editing a Word document using different versions of the software might lead to compatibility problems and it will certainly not look the same in all versions. While there are collaborative online editors for Word, you are then on the same level as LaTeX online editors like Overleaf and you lose the ability to work on your document while on the road without Internet connectivity. Compatibility issues are especially problematic if you are co-authoring a book or working with an editor, or when relying on exact page numbers. Do not forget that books can exist for quite a long time. Will your Word file still work in 10 or 20 years when it’s time to release a new edition of your book or use parts of your book in a new book or article?

LaTeX’ more substantial post-processing of each change allows for much more complex algorithms, which provide you with better hyphenation and professional-looking typography—both features come out of the box and require little to no tweaking. In LaTeX, the document is processed in the background with a delay (a few seconds up to several minutes), while Word has to provide any change in real time, which requires that editing is optimized primarily for speed. While LaTeX updates the whole document with each committed change, you need to update some elements manually in Word (for example, the table of contents and the index).

In LaTeX, an element of the style of the entire document can be changed with a single line of code, while it takes 10 clicks in Word to change the style of a document. While Word does have a sophisticated versioning system, this applies only to the text itself. The style information (for example, the formatting of headers or footers) in Word is not part of the visible document. Hence, changes to the style are not directly visible in the document version history.

Versioning system ⋅  A versioning system is a tool to track changes to a document. That means you can go back and check what has been changed and by whom.

If your document contains graphics, processing Word files can become really slow, or the program might even crash. Why? Because while you are editing, all the images have to be cached somewhere, which takes a lot of memory. When editing LaTeX documents, images in the editor are visible only by their text reference and are only later—one by one—compiled into a PDF or e-book.

LaTeX is known for its beautiful typography. For example, it supports kerning (see Figure 11.1) and ligatures (see Figure 11.2), giving a typeface its finishing touch. Improved hyphenation, proper small caps, and proper justification are other features LaTeX offers that Word cannot do as well or without additional work.

Figure 11.1: Example of applying kerning to a typeface.
Figure 11.2: Example of a ligature.

While Word has several tools inbuilt that support multiple languages (dictionary, basic grammar check, special characters, etc.), it is not designed to handle multiple languages at the same time. If you want to produce, for example, a German and an English version of your book, the best advice would be to use two separate documents and translate and compare them paragraph by paragraph. In LaTeX, a single document can contain multiple languages. To create a multi-language project, you can put each paragraph of the second (or third) language below the original language. This makes translation work more manageable and reduces work for synchronization when making revisions. This is possible by a simple switch command that uses all entries marked with either one language or with another.

In LaTeX, you can add functionality to switch between e-book and print output without having to manage two separate documents. For example, my Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge project produces four output files: the German e-book, the English e-book, the German PDF, and the English PDF. Even if your ultimate goal is to focus on the printed version of your book, merely having a more affordable e-book version will help to increase sales as it gives your readers a choice. Those who do not have a preference about reading your book in print or as an e-book might opt for the cheaper version rather than not buying your book at all.

Because LaTeX documents are compiled, you have the option to build your document not as one huge file like in Word, but as a collection of many files. As mentioned above regarding images, you can also include text files at any part of the document (as opposed to copying the whole text into one huge file). This makes it easier to divide the work and proceed section by section, as opposed to having to locate the part you are currently working on each time you open the document. It also makes rearranging sections easier: you no longer have to copy and paste pages over pages (never being sure if you have successfully copied everything and nothing was lost). Instead, you just move the reference to a section to another place. For example, let us assume you write a book about dogs and cats and first discuss dogs, then cats. In LaTeX, you would put each discussion into a separate file, and include them into your main file like this:

\input{main/aboutdogs} 
\input{main/aboutcats}

Moving your discussion about cats to the front is done by simply switching the position in the main file:

  
\input{main/aboutcats} 
\input{main/aboutdogs}

If your document contains formulas, LaTeX provides an entire scientific library of functions to edit and display them directly in the document. While you can create basic formulas in Word, for any complex mathematics you need to use a separate program to create and embed an image. Likewise, especially non-fiction books rely heavily on citation. To manage your sources in Word, you need a separate plugin or third-party program (like Citavi), while LaTeX supports the most widely used standard BibTeX for free, with no plugins required.

Citavi ⋅  Citavi is a plugin for Word (see https://www.citavi.com) to manage your bibliography and citations.

LaTeX is open source and free (even the online editor Overleaf is free if you can do without password protection), while you have to pay license costs for Word.

Figure 11.3: Comparison of Word and LaTeX depending on the complexity of the task: for natural sciences, anything more complex than articles takes more effort in Word; for social sciences, anything more complex than papers takes more effort in Word; for novels, book series take more effort in Word than in LaTeX.

Ultimately, it depends on your needs. If you want to write a complex document like a book, the advantages of LaTeX outweigh those of Word. If you want to quickly write a few pages, Word is superior. For longer and more complex books, LaTeX takes less effort (see Figure 11.3). In this book, I will help you to get your book done and published with LaTeX using the free template provided with the book.

WordLaTeX
Editor“what you see is what you get”source file is compiled
Compatibilitydependent on editorindependent of editor
Graphicssimple inbuilt editor, mouse-basedpowerful but complex editor, text-based
Typographyoptimized for speedoptimized for quality
Styleinbuilt styleseparate style document
Multi-platformonly via exportpossible with scripting
Refreshsome elements need manual refresheverything is refreshed with each compile
Formulasbasic support needs external toolscomplete support
Figure 11.4:Comparison of Word and LaTeX
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Starting a New Book

This is an excerpt from Better Books with LaTeX the Agile Way. You can get a copy here.


There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Maya Angelou

When deciding to start a book project, you have two options. You write a book that you want to hold in your hands or you write a book that you want to see others holding in their hands.

Writing for Yourself

Writing for yourself usually means that you come to the project full of ideas. Maybe you have had those ideas over the years and want to see them finally in print. My own first book ( Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge ) was such a work of passion. Over the years, I wrote down ideas on little note cards. After I moved to Düsseldorf, my journey of minimizing my household started. I began by scanning and digitizing all those cards. Together with articles and forum entries I wrote, the resulting file was a 1000-page “book” of unconnected thoughts. This was followed by years of editing.

In the end, I divided my book project into four parts and then approached them one by one. It still took me many months to finish the first part. This approach was extremely inefficient as I had so much text and only a fraction of it published.

The lesson of this story is: Do not wait until the end of the book to look at the big picture. Writing books is not like producing a movie, where you first try to get as much footage as possible and then focus on editing at the end of the process.

In a way, it is the curse of the first book you will write. You have not been writing books for long, so all your ideas have piled up in your mind or in notebooks or on your computer. But the higher your ambitions, the lower the chance that the book ever sees the light of day. The saying “Aim for the stars to reach the moon” holds true, but it is not done in a single step!

A general rule of thumb is to change only one element with each new book. If you have written novels about Scandinavia in the past and now want to write a non-fiction book, write about Scandinavia.

If it is your first book, the easiest way to start is taking an existing book as a blueprint and focusing on learning the tools that allow you to write and publish your unique book.

Ultimately, in this case, my advice is to write your first book based on your notes. By converting your ideas into a book, you are organizing them in a coherent way. And no matter how your book does in the marketplace, it is the foundation of your future publications. You can always come back to it and reuse elements directly or indirectly, based on the things you have learned while writing it.

Writing for Others

If you are writing for others, you are starting with a blank page. Sure, you have the background knowledge in your field (and books you have written in the past, see above), but because you are writing for others, the first step is to start asking people what they want to read.

How do you acquire the information necessary to decide what to write about? Here, you have several options:

  • You are running an active blog where you post articles (maybe parts or whole chapters of your previously written books). Analyzing the amount of feedback, comments, and even click rates, you can guess what topic most interests your visitors. We discuss how to integrate such a blog into your overall book strategy in an another article and the book.
  • You are using online advertising based on keywords (like Amazon Marketing Services or Google Adwords—paid services for your book to show up when people are searching for specific topics). Depending on how you have set up your keywords, they can act as a net and give you valuable information about what people are searching for. We discuss keyword advertisement in another article and the book.
  • You can research in the existing market of ideas to identify niches—genres and topics few other authors have written about but which have an above-average number of sales. You can do this by looking at the sales rankings on Amazon.
  • If your goal for the book is to supplement your career, you are technically still writing for others, but the content of your book is clear from the start: you want to use your book as an alternative medium to promote the unique selling point of your career. What makes your approach special in your field?

If you are unsure about which option to use, I recommend starting a blog and writing articles. If you cannot attract an audience by posting small articles or short stories, you will not be able to do it with a book. Alternatively, write your first book as a way of learning how to market and sell, and use the passages from the book for articles and further market research.

Once this general research is done and a decision has been made, you now have to focus on the core of the book and organize your ideas around it. We will discuss both in a later article and the book.

This is an excerpt from Better Books with LaTeX the Agile Way. You can get a copy here.

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Starting a New Book

This is an excerpt of the upcoming book “Writing Better Books, the Agile Way.”

4  Starting a New Book

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

—Maya Angelou

When deciding to start a book project, you have two options. You write the book you want to hold in your hands or you write a book you want to see others holding in their hands. Actually, there is the third option, you write for money. Let us examine these three approaches.

4.1  Writing for Yourself

Writing for yourself usually means that you come to the project full of ideas. Maybe you have had those ideas over the years and want to see them finally in print. My own first book was such a work of passion. Over the years, I wrote down ideas I had on little note cards. After I moved to Dsseldorf, my journey of minimizing my household started. I began by scanning and digitizing all those little cards. Together with articles and forum entries I wrote, the resulting file was a 1000-page “book” of unconnected thoughts. This was followed by years of editing. To re-iterate what I said in Chapter 1, your first attempt to write a book will probably fail: it is too easy to overestimate yourself. In the end, I divided my book project into eight parts and then approached them one by one. It still took me many months to finish the first part. In the end, this approach was extremely inefficient as I had so much text and only a fraction of it published. The lesson of this story is: do not wait until the end of the book to look at the big picture. Writing books is not like producing a movie, where you first try to get as much footage as possible and then focus on editing at the end of the process. In a way, it is the curse of the first book you will write. You have not been writing books for long, so all your ideas have piled up and want to be published. But the bigger your ambitions, the lower the chance that the book ever sees the light of day. The saying “Aim for the stars to reach the moon” still holds true, but it is not done in a single step! A general rule of thumb is to change only one element with each new book. If you have written novels about Scandinavia in the past and now want to write a non-fiction book, write about Scandinavia. If it is your first book, the easiest way to start is taking an existing book as a blueprint and focus on learning the tools that allow you to write and publish a book. Ultimately, my advice in this case is to go write your first book based on your notes. By converting your ideas into a book, you are organizing them in a coherent way. And no matter how your book does in the market, it is the foundation of your future books. You can always come back to it and reuse elements directly or indirectly based on the things you have learned while writing it. The idea is that even without an optimal start (by starting with a blank slate), you can still apply the marketing techniques discussed in this book even after the writing is complete.

4.2  Writing for Others

If you are writing for others, you are starting with an empty page of paper. Sure, you have the background knowledge in your field (and books you have written in the past, see above), but because you are writing for others, the first step is to start asking people what they want to read about.

How do you acquire the information necessary to decide what to write about? Here, you have several options:

  • You are running an active blog where you post articles (maybe simply parts of or whole chapters of your previously written books). Analyzing the amount of feedback, comments, and even click rates, you can guess what topic most interests your visitors. We will discuss how to integrate such a blog into your overall book strategy in Chapter 11.
  • You are using online advertisement based on keywords (like Amazon Marketing Services or Google Adwords). Depending on how you have set up your keywords, they can act like a net and give you valuable information about what people are searching for. We will discuss keyword advertisement in Chapter 11.
  • You do research in the existing market of ideas to identify niches—genres and topics few other authors have written about but which have above-average number of sales. You can do this by looking at the sales rankings on Amazon or use a third party service that does it for you. We will discuss this also in Chapter 11.
  • If your goal of the book is to supplement of your career, you are technically still writing for others, but the content of your book is clear from the start: you want to use your book as an alternative medium to promote your unique selling point of your career. What makes your approach in your career special?

If you are unsure about which option to use, I recommend starting a blog and writing articles. If you cannot attract an audience by small articles or stories, you will not be able to do it with a larger book. Alternatively, write your first book as a way of learning how to market and sell, and use the text for articles and further market research.

Once this general research is done and a decision has been made, you now have to focus on the core the book and organize your ideas around it. We will discuss both in Chapter 7.

This was an excerpt of the upcoming book “Writing Better Books, the Agile Way.” There, you will find the linked chapters.

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Your (First) Book Will Not Sell and Why That Is OK


This is an excerpt from Writing Better Books the Agile Way, you can get a copy here.


Your First Book will be your Greatest Teacher

Writing books is hard. The deceptive thing about books is that they are easy to read. There is no hidden mechanism in the book, the book is exactly what you see, a series of letters. It is easy to think that if you just put the right combination of letters on a piece of paper, you end up with a bestseller. But that is like saying you could throw stones on a pile and end up with a house. Or it is like buying a large marble stone and arguing that the most beautiful statue is hidden inside and that you just have to chip away the parts to find it.

Writing is a profession that takes many years to learn. If you also want to make money with it, you have to learn not only writing, but also marketing. Most people, on their first job, did not run the entire company on their own. While learning the ins and outs of their profession, their early jobs revolved around a single activity, like sales, construction, programming, etc. But as a (especially self-publishing) writer, you have to wear many “hats” at the same time.

For myself, the best learning experience was looking at my sales number of my first book. “0.” It showed me not just in theory, but in practice that people will not come to you simply because you have a product. You have to help them know about the product, and you have to study what they want, and find your niche accordingly.

Set the goal of your first book as a learning experience. This will this give you a specific focus, even if you have not figured out the specific focus of your book itself. It will also limit the time you will spend on your first book and help you to actually finish it. And the more books you write from start to finish, the faster you learn. If, on the other hand, you tried to write a perfect book on your first try, not only you would learn more slowly, but also you would probably fail.

In the upcoming book “Writing Better Books, the Agile Way,” you will learn that writing requires organization of your ideas, identification of your target audience and their needs and wants, a strategy to create a page-turner, a process of editing, a definition of done, a plan for how to advertise your book, and a way to interact with your audience before you actually release the book. All these points are interwoven and should not be seen as “phases” of a book. It is a common mistake to start writing and thinking that marketing is a separate process you can do later.

Writing Better Books, the Agile Way means that you streamline your publishing process by connecting with your readers from day one.

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Comparing Word vs LaTeX

This is an excerpt of the book “Better Books with LaTeX.” The book comes with a LaTeX template you can use to easily create your own books.

Everyone knows Word. Although “knowing” mostly refers to the ease of use, as it is a “what you see is what you get” text editor. But if I asked how to refer to another document’s text block and add that as a citation in a footnote, most people would have to look on the Internet to find out how that could be done. While most of the functionality is available through icons, you still need to know where to look if it is not a standard command like those used in formatting, making lists, or choosing fonts.

In LaTeX, you instead write a text document which is then later translated into the actual formatted document. Formatting is done through commands you enter as text into the document. To write a LaTeX document, you never have to touch your mouse, you can enter everything by key strokes alone. This different approach has a number of advantages:

If you know the commands, creating a LaTeX document will be quicker than writing a Word document. You never have to break your concentration because you need to access a special command. Sure, there are shortcuts in Word, too, but those have to be learned as well.

Because of the split into two steps, editing and document compilation, you can edit LaTeX document on any device with any editor you like, while Word documents require a separate installed editor (well, Word). The upside of Word is certainly its grammar check. LaTeX online platforms like Overleaf provide also spell checks, but no integrated grammar check. We will have to wait for future releases in that regard. Also, Word offers integrated basic graphic functionality for symbols while LaTeX has to rely on a rather complicated vector graphics engine “tikz.”

In addition, editing a Word document in different versions of the software might lead to compatibility problems and it will certainly not look the same by version. While there are collaborative online editors for Word, you are then on the same level as LaTeX online editors like Overleaf and you lose the ability to work on your document while on the road without Internet connectivity. Compatibility issues are especially problematic if you are co-authoring a book or working with an editor, or when relying on exact page numbers. Do not forget that books can live quite a long time. Will your Word file still work in 10 or 20 years when it’s time to release a new edition of your book, or use parts of your book in a new book or article?

In LaTeX, the document is processed in the background while Word has to provide any change in real time. This demands that editing is optimized primarily for speed, which is for example obvious by the fact that the table of contents and the index have to be updated manually each time after making changes. The post-processing of LaTeX allows for much more complex algorithms which provide you with better hyphenation and professionally looking typography—both features coming out of the box and require little to no tweaking.

In Word, fonts can be managed through the style. In LaTeX, an element of the style of the whole document can be changed with a single line of code, while it takes 10 clicks in Word to change it. While Word does have a sophisticated versioning system (meaning you can go back and check what has been changed by whom), this applies only to the text itself. The style information in Word is not part of the visible document. Hence, changes to the style are not directly visible in the document version history.

If your document contains graphics, processing Word files editing can become really slow or the program might even crash. Why? Because while you are editing, all the images have to be cached somewhere which takes a lot of memory. When editing LaTeX documents, images in the editor are visible only by their text reference and are only later—one by one—compiled into a complete PDF or ebook.

In addition, LaTeX is known for its beautiful typography. If you’ve never heard of kerning, common ligatures, or glyph variants, those give a type face the finishing touch. Improved hyphenation, proper small caps, transparency, and proper justification are other features LaTeX offers that Word cannot do as well or requires additional work.

In LaTeX, if you want to do a multi-language project, you can put each paragraph of the second language below the first language. This makes translation work easier and reduces work for synchronization when making revisions. This is possible by a simple switch command that either uses all entries marked with one language or with the other. Word has many language tools inbuilt, but no possibility to see both languages but actually generate only one of those languages for the actual document. You can even add functionality to a LaTeX project to switch between ebook and print output without having to manage two separate documents. Even if you plan to focus your publishing efforts on only either ebook or print, merely having a more affordable ebook version will help to increase sales as it gives your readers the choice.

For the very reason LaTeX documents are compiled, you can build your document not as one huge file, but as a collection of many files. As already mentioned above with the images, you can also include text files at any part of the document (as opposed to copying the whole text into one huge file). This makes it easier to divide the work and proceed section by section, as opposed to having to locate the part you are currently working on each time you open the document. It also makes rearranging sections easier: you no longer have to copy and paste pages over pages (never being sure if you have really copied everything and nothing was lost), you only have to move the reference to the text file.

If your document contains formulas, LaTeX provides a whole scientific library of functions to edit and display them directly in the document. While you can create basic formulas in Word, for any complex mathematics, you need to use a separate program to create and embed an image. Likewise, especially non-fiction books rely heavily on citation. While there are plugins and third party programs (check out https://www.citavi.com) that can help you with managing your sources, LaTeX comes with a bibliography management out of the box that is used in the scientific community.

Finally, LaTeX is open source and free (even the online editor Overleaf is free for public projects), while you have to pay license costs for Word.

So, ultimately, it really depends on your needs. If you want to write a complex document like a book, the advantages of LaTeX outweigh those of Word. If you want to just quickly write a few pages, Word is superior. In this book, I will detail how you can get your book done and published with LaTeX using the template I provide.

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Recommended additional reading (PfH2: Continuum)

For “Philosophy for Heroes: Continuum,” I relied on a number of authors for inspiration, ideas, and source material. Here is a selection of recommended additional reading, if you want to go beyond the introduction I gave in the book itself, here is my list for the first book. Enjoy!

  • Clemens Lode. Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge. Clemens Lode Verlag e.K., 2016. ISBN 978-39-4558-621-1, URL http://amzn.to/2jZxsWK
  • Clemens Lode. Philosophy for Heroes: Continuum. Clemens Lode Verlag e.K., 2017. ISBN 978-39-4558-622-8, URL
  • Clemens Lode. Philosophy for Heroes: Act. Clemens Lode Verlag e.K., 2018. ISBN 978-39-4558-623-5, URL
  • Clemens Lode. Philosophy for Heroes: Epos. Clemens Lode Verlag e.K., 2019. ISBN 978-39-4558-624-2, URL
  • Clemens Lode. Kanban Remastered: Agile Lessons from Strategy Games. Clemens Lode Verlag e.K., 2017. ASIN B06ZZLF815, URL http://amzn.to/2pT43Td
  • Clemens Lode. Scrum Your Jira! Your Waterfall Organization Transformed Into Agile Multidisciplinary Teams. Clemens Lode Verlag e.K., 2017. ISBN 978-3945586655, URL http://amzn.to/2nNcVcU
  •    Karen Armstrong. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Anchor, 2011. ISBN 978-0307742889. URL http://amzn.to/2iYjfrd.
  • Peter S. Beagle. The Last Unicorn. Roc Trade, 1991. ISBN 978-0451450524. URL http://amzn.to/2iYrlQN.
  • Peter S. Beagle. Das letzte Einhorn. Klett Cotta, 2012. ISBN 978-36-0893-920-0.
  • Theodore Dalrymple. Life at the Bottom: The worldview that makes the underclass. Ivan R. Dee, 1332 North Halsted Street Chicago 60622 U.S.A., 2001. ISBN 15-6663-505-5. URL http://amzn.to/2iYlYkk.

 

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Copyright and Property

Books connect us to the past and impart to us the wisdom accumulated by countless generations. The writing of a book requires so much effort that we expect a high quality in terms of form and content. Often those embark on such a journey, to write a book, do so out of love of communicating with others in an intensive and sophisticated way. They allow an undisturbed train of thought which immortalizes a small part of the writer himself.

For me, books are—besides the Internet—the greatest things of all, an ideal form of thoughtful communication. The writer can sort out and enumerate his arguments in peace; whoever is uninterested in his anecdotes can skip over them without hurting the writer’s feelings. Words often take a long time before they actually reach someone. It can easily happen that suggestions are never really internalized, but merely float around in our heads. We need a connection to our inner being. Books allow us to pause, focus ourselves, look up, and let our gaze wander into the distance. We might observe the horizon or other people; we might lose ourselves in our ideas; we might use our time to solve old conflicts in our head using new ideas. In any case, a book gives us unending opportunity to fathom at our own pace the thoughts and motivations underpinning the author’s statements.

In Objectivism, ethics concerns the question of how we should act in our lives in order to achieve what we value. But the world is too complex to look into the future in detail; for this reason, we need to rely on fundamental principles. Just like concepts are a tool for us to understand the world, principles are a tool for us to act in the world. For both concepts and principles, we omit the concrete measurements in order to focus on the essentials. In this article, we will discuss copyright, i.e., the right of the creator to determine how his or her creation is used and how we should act towards the property of others. While we will discuss ethics actually only later in the book series1, I want to anticipate this topic because knowing about copyright is like packaging: it is necessary to deliver the book into your hands, even if you do not see any use for it at first glance. The history of a book—from the first written line, to the print, the packaging, and the delivery—are invisible to you. But without this “packaging”—the copyright—this book would not exist. I hope to awaken an understanding of the copyright, but I will focus on the field of ethics and refrain from citing any clauses from the law.

The copyright is currently under attack from the technological as well as from the ethical side. Morally, the case is clear: if you produce something, you have a right to its utilization. The opponents of copyright law try to relativize this with various arguments. In this article, we want to discuss these arguments one by one as well as create a deeper understanding of the value of an idea or a book, respectively. But ultimately, here, we cannot solve this conflict. Two groups with differing moral concepts can only be brought together if they agree on a common philosophic basis. Otherwise, most of the moral, economic, or political arguments are but hot air. So, what do I want to achieve with this article? To take a stand, to sensibilize for the subject, and maybe also out of own interest to communicate the value of a book.


Biography

The modern world of printed ideas started with Johannes Gutenberg. He lived from 1398 to 1468 in Germany and worked as a blacksmith. As the inventor of the movable-type printing press, he revolutionized book creation in Europe. With his idea, he was a key figure in the Middle Ages as it allowed mass production of the written word. He provided the possibility to the everyone in society to expand their horizons.


While the printing press made it possible for ideas to spread widely, it also made unauthorized copying economical. The newly created market needed a protection because no longer was material possession alone relevant; the ideas and thoughts behind the writing became more prominent. This was the beginning of the knowledge-based economy and provided the foundation of the first copyright laws about 300 years later.

In the following, we will take a closer look at this new world of copyable thoughts. In the first part, I will start with a brief overview of how this book has found its way to you, the reader. The second part will be about the foundation of values and why the right to the products of your own mind is beneficial to all parties. To conclude, I will address some practical arguments concerning intellectual property.

The Value of a Book

Perhaps you are reading this text, without a reference to its author or this book series, copied and standing alone on a website or in another book. Whom do you talk to if you have questions? Who communicates and corrects found errors in the text? Who informs you when there are updates? Who brings together a community of readers? Who publishes future books? And how can you be sure that the views of the author are presented correctly?

Wherein lies the Value of a Book?

Firstly, a book consists of paragraphs of text. Thus, a book is a medium to transfer language, be it telephone numbers, stories, pictures, or instruction manuals. Language is more than pure information. One can communicate a lifetime of wisdom and memories. Every thought of the author can lead us to new ideas, upon which we can build. We can imagine being the protagonist of a story, what he feels, what he senses, what he touches.

Secondly, books are in most cases targeted to a larger group of readers; books create communities and connect people with the same sensibilities. Books can be like an open sign to others to communicate one’s views, experiences, or values. In addition, a book is corporeal. It has a cover, a design, pictures, and a text as a title. A book sits on a bookshelf and is displayed to visitors. You can read it in café and create a connection with others on a visual level. Books are a means of communication. You can read books to, or exchange them with, others. You can cite important passages of the text; every citation is like a cue to a common background and common interests.

Finally, books are not just collected text. They are different from conversations or a simple blog on the Internet, as there is a clear statement of intention and investment behind a book. Because of the time and costs required to create a book, each paragraph is treated with great care. Books consist of concentrated thoughts, which have been restructured, rearranged, and revised again and again, thoughts which first went through the minds of a whole series of critics. Books need time. There are books which consumed many years of the author’s life. Books are materialized over a lifetime—somewhat like a child you send on her way who must learn to stand on her own.

In summary, as a distilled lifetime of the author, a book represents the following values to you:

  • Information;
  • Wisdom, feelings, sensations;
  • Community; and
  • Communication, signaling.

The Art of Publishing

How are the values that we mentioned earlier created? First and foremost, there is the author who poured his lifetime, wisdom, feelings, and perceptions into the text. But is this then also reflected in the text for the reader? We have learned that we need to translate our thoughts and find a common base of communication, so any draft requires a whole number of reviewers who can provide constructive criticism.

In addition, the text has to be brought into its final form. An editor must check the list of references, the footnotes, the table of contents, and the index. All of this work has to be coordinated, for which we require a collaboration system, a modern online management and communication system, and a build system that automatically creates new versions of the book and tracks every change.2 Because of the costs involved, those publishing companies who still rely on manual labor in that regard are a dying breed.

Then, the book has to be locatable for the reader. It has to be registered with the (German) national library and furnished with an ISBN number, the price of the book has to be registered (because of book pricing laws in Germany), a title and description have to be written, the book has to be photographed, and it has to be displayed in a book shop or online shop. The text has to be rendered in the proper printing format, a printing company has to be selected, and investments have to be made in advance to keep the book in stock.

Then, payments have to be processed, logged, and submitted to the tax office. In addition, the company has to have an attorney, every buyer has to be registered, addresses have to be managed, payments have to be checked, and customer support requests answered, ideally on the same day as they are submitted. A website has to be designed, information updates have to be communicated, and community support has to be developed through public readings. The readership expects to be informed about new developments by newsletter, Twitter, and Facebook.3

The “bottleneck” of the production of a book is not the author, but rather the creation of a community of readers.

Ideas and stories are available everywhere; publishers accumulate many finished books which cannot be put out on the market because the publishers cannot find a readership that would make publication worthwhile. The challenge is bringing together the right people at the right time. The job of the publisher is to find people interested in a subject, find an author writing about that subject, and effectively communicate why the book is relevant to the interests of the potential readers.

A book is much more than the paper and the words written on it, and a substantial part of the costs of creating a book goes into the creation of a network of authors and readers.

The question we should ask the opponents of copyright is: How can a book exist without having a publisher to support it? Of course, there are exceptions, but most books are never printed; no publisher waits for the “next big hit” that floats through the door in the form of a manuscript by an unknown author. There are enough texts—the question is, how can we create communities and get them interested?

In the face of all these points, the book that we finally hold in our hands seems like a mere footnote whose actual value lies hidden. It is no surprise that authors usually receive only about ten percent of the book’s selling price. Most of the revenue is used to create bridges and bring people together, spontaneously and without further commitment, for a greater purpose: the creation of a book. That is roughly the reason a telephone book is rather difficult reading and why specialized books are expensive: Telephone books are free, and specialized books usually not concerned with creating a community.

An investment in a book is an investment in the whole process, in the development of a community of ideas.

This book does not end with the last page; you do not put it aside and “see what else is on TV.” Instead, I would hope that you share your understanding of the subject with others. An investment in a structure that develops around this book supports your own goals. As a publisher, we will gladly support you regarding any questions you might have and will consider all your suggestions and ideas. This service is part of the purchase of the book and not separable from the copyright. No institution is better suited than the one owning the copyright to support this community, as it is the central hub for all of the readers and interested people. The purchase of the book and the reading itself alone help to promote the ideas in this book to a larger audience.

By purchasing this book you have already supported the further development of this series, and we thank you very much! If this text reached you through a different path, I hope that you appreciate what we want to achieve, ask us for your own personal copy and that you mention this book to others.

Intellectual Property

“Patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man’s right to the product of his mind. […] What the patent and copyright laws acknowledge is the paramount role of mental effort in the production of material values: these laws protect the mind’s contribution in its purest form: the origination of an idea.” Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

The German word for “property” (literally “sitting-at”) comes from the verb “sitting.” The origin of the word lies in the fact that in former times, land ownership was acquired by actually living and working on the piece of land in question. An example in the modern world would be the colonization of America, when the government granted land ownership with the “Homestead Act” to those who had been living and working on the land in question for five years.

COPYRIGHT ·  Copyright is a temporary monopoly right to a monopoly for the benefit of the creator of a work.

I hope to have made clear to you in the previous section the great value of the copyright for the creation of a book. Despite this, there are others who understand the value of ideas but still see no value in protecting them. They rationalize this behavior by arguing against the very concept of intellectual property. In this case, we encounter predominantly the argument that (only) physical violence and, for this reason, copyright (which ultimately must be enforced by the government) is immoral: “Everything goes as long as nobody is hurt.” In this section, we will examine more closely how we can counter such an argument.

A World without Intellectual Property

Imagine a world without intellectual property. Imagine an artist who puts all her lifeblood into a project. Another company gets hold of a copy and markets the project professionally. The artist receives nothing and sees her life achievement warped and destroyed. Other artists are discouraged and ultimately the general public notices that, in the end, the lack of protection hurts them as well. Cases are litigated in court, and some artists even resort to vigilante justice. After a while, a court rules that an artist deserves compensation and needs to grant permission before their work is copied: this is basically the origin of copyright.

The point is that even if copyright did not exist, sooner or later something like a copyright would be developed because the creators ultimately sit at the longer end of the lever: Without them, the novel, piece of music, film, or painting would not exist. There is no power in the world which could force people to be creative. They have to want it; there needs to be a trade of similar value available.

Of course, there are theories about how intellectual property can still be protected in a society without copyright laws. Two parties can form a contract making it illegal for one party to talk about, write about, or copy a certain thing. But that is not centralized protection. Whoever looks over your shoulder and copies your novel has not formed a contract with you and cannot be sued. The same applies to a burglar who could be tried for burglary but could still legally sell the copied data. While we can encrypt such data, this merely increases the time and energy required for the theft; at some point, the data has to be decrypted to be read by a third party.

Another approach is to start out with the assumption that the product is being copied freely after publication and to search for investors not after but in advance of the publication. That is the goal of the alternative, so-called “crowd-funding” model. There, interested people pledge a donation in advance and then profit from special options, e.g., from a free ebook or a personal meeting with the author. The disadvantage of this approach is that one cannot let the market “test” the product. Every participant has to know the value of the product prior to or at the time of publication.4

Of course, in the case of “crowd-funding” or other payment models without copyright, the “compensation” of the creator is reduced to the financial component and the author forfeits their control over the content. The creator would no longer retain the right to take action against the corruption or misrepresentation of his product. This is especially relevant in fields where monetary profit is not the main reason for a work’s creation: Think of private pictures, diaries, or telephone conversations. Without copyright, it would be more difficult to determine someone’s original statement because anyone could copy and modify any intellectual creation under any name.

Finally, the quality of our material and intellectual products has reached such a high level that many can exist on their own. Many people can use smartphones, books, television, etc. without special training. These things are designed for immediate consumption or use. Due to copyright infringements, we are unfortunately currently moving in the opposite direction, whereby more and more companies are giving up on creating worthwhile products that can stand on their own merits. Instead, they try to bind the customer to the company.

The price of “free media” is that you are chained to a company by technological means (e.g., digital rights management), psychological manipulation (advertisement), or by services that are no longer part of the product (e.g., consulting, training, or speaking events). You are only really free when you are the last element in the chain of industry—the consumer. Removing copyright means replacing the publisher with another organization to create the relationships to bring together readers and authors. Ultimately, it means that you replace the money-based economy with an economy based on relationships. Here, you would have to invest time and energy yourself to become part of and develop a network of readers and authors. The price is still there, it just has to be paid with different means.

To summarize, a lack of copyright protection reduces the power that media like books can have. Without copyright protection, a book can no longer stand on its own, but rather its existence is limited by the services offered alongside the book.

Implementation of a Copyright

Because of this missing content protection, it was decided that the abstract content itself should be protected, rather than the paper on which it is written. At the same time, creative work is judged to be unique and thus we have to assume that identical works could only arise through being copied. Law enforcement is simply missing the technology to be able to prove theft of intellectual property concretely. We cannot look into people’s heads and trace every memory. Instead, we assign a temporary monopoly to each creative work. In addition, we establish a lower creative limit so that the mere discovery of an idea is not sufficient (e.g., you cannot register a patent on a natural law). It is not possible to give a clear statement of where exactly we draw this line; thus, there inevitably will be patent cases which are accepted or rejected arbitrarily.

Effective protection of intellectual property must be bound to the contents of and not to the thing itself.

The only open question concerning copyright remains why the copyright does not terminate with the death of the author. This question can be answered quickly: A book project is an investment, and money has to be spent before its publication. What investor would be interested in a book written by someone who is near the end of his life? Thus, to extend copyright to survive death is in the interest of everyone. The voice of an ill or dying person has just as much value as that of a healthy person; value depends on the content, not the health of the author. On the other hand, when we quote from publications, their contents thus become more widely recognized cultural knowledge. For this reason, to limit copyright to, say, 50 to 70 years makes sense, and anything beyond that timeframe would amount to a form of censorship.

Selected Arguments of Opponents

In the following, we will look at and refute the most frequently mentioned practical and philosophical arguments of the opponents of copyright. Ultimately, they do not address the main moral argument defending copyright, namely that the producers work with their mind (like anybody) and should own the fruits of their labor. Instead, they usually focus on technicalities or problems when trying to implement copyright law. An in-depth discussion of rights, morality, and law will be discussed at another time, so here, we will argue on the technical level as well.

Practical Arguments

Studies have shown that those who favor the abolishment of copyright are often fans who, for example, support their favorite musical groups financially by attending live concerts.5 Their argument is that they discovered their favorite bands only because their music was freely available on the Internet. They are supported by a number of bands who espouse the same viewpoint and suggest that people should be allowed to copy their albums freely.

One argument is that artists supposedly would profit from the abolishment of copyright. But even if you were to find examples in which the revenue of, say, a musical group has increased because they provided their products for free on the Internet, it does not follow that this would apply to all other bands as well. And even if it did apply, this option is available even with copyright law intact. The protection of intellectual property is always optional. Fewer options on the side of the producer cannot lead to higher revenue.

The fact that some creators, for example, music bands, have spoken out against the protection of their own products is not really an argument because the biggest share of the income goes to the publisher (the labels) and not the band. While the publisher earns money only by actually selling albums, the band can profit from any form of publicity because the fame, the worth, of its name increases.

Another point which is usually ignored in an argument is that a market, where copyright is effectively implemented, looks very different. In such a market, producers have to compete using demos, trailers, sample chapters, or sample works. A free copy for you to get the idea what the product is about would almost always be available.

Another common error is not taking into account the many changes in the entertainment industry during the past 30 years. In times past, only a few movies could be produced, whereas today, an enormous array of movies are available. They are all competing for the same limited resource—the time of the consumer. This is most visible in the tendency to use an existing brand name (e.g., a movie title) instead of betting on something new: the costs to build up a brand name have significantly increased because of the competition. Without copyright, if there is not enough money from investors for the initial “hype,” most people would buy copies from third parties at a lower price while the creators received no compensation.

What is the situation for authors and musicians who are very famous? They earn a living mostly from shows, readings, or speeches. The argument states that, due to their uniqueness, these people do not need protection of their intellectual property. But in reality, these people are but the figure-head of a group or company who depend on the success of the marketed character. For example, the creative mind behind the music and the actual performer on stage might not be the same person. It is a group effort and we need to have means to protect the intellectual property of every link in the chain of production.

But even if an artist is able to directly market his products by creating himself as the trademark, what would prevent other people from copying that trademark (the logo, brand name, appearance, etc.) and pose as the artist? Without this protection, the only advantage of the artist over marketing companies and resellers of intellectual property is that the artist is the first person who offered his specific services to others. Because of this, even without copyright, there would be production companies, but their profits would be limited to the short time span between publication and shortly after that. A book or piece of software can quickly be copied and sold in a store for half price.

Philosophical Arguments

In the realm of philosophy, opponents project an Utopia where any form of action against this ideal is used as an argument against copyright. The conflict between proponents and opponents is founded in the different personal preferences and psychologies. One group of people prefers an ideal world in their minds while another group of people focusses on results and ignores difficulties with the application.6 Maybe these differences could be compared with the different types of languages in Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge. My own position is based on the assumption that you should have a right to your own work, no matter if the product is of material or immaterial nature.

In that regard, a frequently cited argument is that copying an immaterial product could not be theft, or that it would be immoral to prevent someone by force from illegally copying intellectual property. Unfortunately, this view is not only popular among people who simply seek to justify their own actions, but also among intellectuals, especially anarchists, and left-leaning libertarians.7

The primary difference between intellectual and “ordinary” property is that ideas are non-corporeal. For example, intellectual property is copyable, and others could come up with the same idea on their own. But this difference alone does not mean that these different types of property should also be treated differently. Both types of property are based on the recognition of the creator’s power over his product. If we do not recognize this power also in terms of property rights, they might exercise their rights for their future products: the creator will go on “strike.”8

In anarchism or libertarianism9, there is nothing on which anything like intellectual property could emerge from. Actions are evaluated only by their meansAny given action is permissible as long as nobody initiates physical force. You create something, and someone else takes it without permission: physical force. You create a story, and someone else copies it without permission: no physical force. In a libertarian society, intellectual property is protected only by individual contracts, not centrally by the state.

Concerning copyright law, Libertarianism attempts to use a political argument (“initiation of force by the government is immoral”) in the more fundamental realm of ethics. Your rights to your own property supposedly should be sacrificed in order to minimize possible rights violations by the state.

This is a fallacy of the stolen concept. You cannot use a more specialized concept (“non-aggression principle”) against a more general concept (“private property”). For example, we cannot argue that we should not go outside simply because we might end up in an accident, as the loss of the possible benefits you might encounter outside of your home outweighs the possible dangers. Likewise, you cannot argue against your right to self-defense in order to protect your assailant.

The problem with the libertarian argument is that it is a purely technical argument. That the government protects corporeal but not non-corporeal property is just circumstance and could conceivably change in the future. Where do we draw the line? What about a government which simply does not have the means to solve murder cases, for example? What about our government, which can solve these crimes but occasionally convicts an innocent citizen?

Due to technical limitations, the government can only in the rarest cases figure out how certain ideas originated. This is the reason that, in reality, it can implement the principle of intellectual property only inadequately in the form of copyright law. But the same applies to all principles. If we take the non-initiation of force to be the overarching principle, we also would have to argue against courts and government in general because false judgments may occur.10

The only two consistent positions in regard to the criticism of intellectual property are either the complete opposition to property rights and the state or simply the critique of the implementation of the intellectual property rights.

Thus, the protection of intellectual property does not necessarily require a copyright. If the necessary technology existed, the government simply would have to trace the origins of the creation of a product. Then it could be clearly judged whether it was a new, but identical creation, or a copy of something existing. Thus, any criticism of intellectual property can be reduced to criticism of its practical implementation. You could only argue that violating intellectual property rights would in principle not be as bad as the consequences of the implementation of copyright.

If we summarize the opposing arguments, it gives a view of the foundation of their philosophy: it is a form of perfectionism or passivity. They prefer a world of apparent “moral purity,” i.e., a system in which you can supposedly claim that you have never supported an “unjust” decision as opposed to supporting a world in which people can actually live. In addition, they see every minor violation as a kind of original sin.11 In this, you move toward an intellectual passivity as you begin to condemn any part of society indiscriminately at any time, instead of weighing up the positive and negative sides. Then, nothing society produces seems to be of any value.12.

The Perfect Crime

Finally, and for further reflection, I present an example that is closely related to the human ideal promoted in this book series13: we should strive for the best possible life and should not be satisfied with less. By this, it is not necessarily meant that we should amass material possessions. Instead of a life of opulence, we should strive for a life of high quality: a harmonious life, a life with the highest possible long-term value.

We all have preferences for different authors, musicians, scientists, etc. and in discussions we sometimes encounter the question of which figure we would like to spend an afternoon with. How much would it be worth to us to read or listen to one last great album, book, etc. by this person?

Looking at it from the other side, imagine a situation in which your favorite artist lives in the neighborhood. He has all his originals there and only occasionally lends them to museums. You can view all the works there for a fee which he invests in the creation of new works. As an egotistical (thinking only in short-term and only about oneself) person, you could now think about breaking into his house and stealing all his works to be able to enjoy them for free on a daily basis. Assuming that you would never be caught for the burglary, why would you not want to do this?

We can even extend this example. Assume that (however we managed it) we became king of the world and now have access to the property of all of humanity.14 If we have placed our personal happiness in life as our highest value and set the pursuit of happiness as our goal, why should we not just exercise this power and acquire all of the property of humanity for ourselves?

Of course, it is true that at the moment of the theft, we would really be like a king. But afterward, we would suddenly face a new reality. The act itself has changed the conditions of the market: we have sent all creators the message that their long-term investments are no longer worth it. So we have traded exactly that which we value the most for a short-term feeling of contentment. All of our heroes would stop producing. It is the same narrative that you will find throughout this book series, the conflict between short-term and long-term thinking. It is like a drug whose effect soon becomes its opposite and which distorts our judgment about the world. The best life possible cannot be found in the quantities you amass, but in the long-term quality of your life.

Another point of view is that each of our purchases is like a vote what future products should look like. When we finance a product, we signal not only to the creator, but to all the participants of the market place that such a product is valued and future investments might be worthwhile for them. If we steal, we achieve exactly the opposite—we proclaim that we do not value the product in question. The market will then move to another direction and the world more and more contradicts our values. The simplest example would be street musicians. Only those will return who are paid. If you do not pay for a piece of music you like, the musician will be replaced by someone who is liked by a paying passerby. Conversely, if you pay for a piece of music only out of courtesy, you will be hearing more songs that you do not like.

The best possible life is a life lived without regrets. What all the riches in the world cannot buy is the ability to turn back the clock. Even if we could freely help ourselves to any of the products of present artists, we still would subvert our ideal future. We cannot support our heroes retroactively. We need to support the products of their mind in the present with a copyright.

 Summary

To summarize, here are our most important arguments:

“BOTTLENECK” OF PRODUCTION: ·  Implementation and creation of a community of readers.

VALUE OF A BOOK ·  Information, wisdom, feelings, perceptions, community, communication.

INVESTMENT IN A BOOK ·  Investment in a complete process, in the development of a community of ideas.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ·  Must be bound to the contents and not the thing itself in order to exclude uninvolved third parties from a contract.

WITHOUT COPYRIGHT PROTECTION ·  Reduction of the value of media, chaining the customer to services offered alongside the media.

PRACTICAL ARGUMENT ·  Artists would profit from the abolishment of copyright—only valid if the artist and producer are one and the same person or group and are sufficiently famous.

LIBERTARIAN ARGUMENT ·  Copyright cannot be implemented without an initiation of force by government; for this reason, the idea and the protection of intellectual property is immoral in libertarianism.

COUNTER-ARGUMENT ·  Intellectual property is like any other property; every type of property is created through exerting one’s mind. The fact that the government has technical difficulties in protecting it without the initiation of force is not an argument for dismissing this protection entirely.

TWO CONSISTENT POSITIONS ·  Complete opposition to property rights and the state or critique of the implementation of intellectual property rights.

BASIC CONCEPT OF THE OPPONENTS OF COPYRIGHT ·  Demand for perfectionism, an all-or-nothing attitude, no assessment of the advantages of central protection of products of the mind.

THE PERFECT CRIME ·  Unlawful copying is harmful to the actual, ideal world, even if nobody is directly harmed.

Piracy

Piracy of copyright-protected material is an ongoing problem with all types of media. While most people want to pay for media and support the author’s future work, they can be misled by pirated content, which severs the connection between the reader and the author.

We provide material (e.g., on our website www.lode.de) for free use, as we are convinced that it helps the reader to make an informed purchasing decision. We encourage readers to share this material with others interested in the subject.

On the other hand, we take the protection of our other copyright-protected material very seriously. If you encounter illegal copies of our products in whatever form, please inform us of the location or Internet address immediately so that we can take appropriate action. Please note that we cannot guarantee the quality, correctness, or the completeness of pirated content. If your help leads to a successful removal of pirated material, we will reward you with a free copy of the applicable work. We rely on your help for the protection of our rights and appreciate your investment of time and attention.

Please contact us at copyright@lode.de (anonymously, if desired), ideally with a description and a link to the suspected pirated content.

If you think the contents of this book are of such importance that you feel that you must share them with your friends, please do so; you can freely lend the book to anyone. If you want to present the content of the book to a larger audience, please send us a message at contact@lode.de. We will provide you with support, affordable additional copies, and further material. Let us put our resources and energy together!

Thank you so much for your support; you help to protect the rights of our authors and make it possible to provide you with valuable content in the future.

 

 

 

Notes

1The moral implication of property and the concept of value will be discussed in more detail in the third book of the Philosophy for Heroes series (see Lode [2018]).

2This book was created with the help of Jenkins, GitHub, eclipse, overleaf, and LaTeX.

3Follow us at @LodePublishing and facebook.com/lode.publishing, or send an email to newsletter@lode.de!

4If the author is already well known, this is less of a problem, as a market for his work already exists. This is also a reason movie sequels became so popular—the brand name is already recognized.

5See http://liberalesinstitut.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/piraten-sind-die-grosten-fans/

6We will discuss the psychological aspect in the third book of the Philosophy for Heroes series (see Lode [2018]).

7Left-leaning libertarianism is a political view with the central idea that property should be administered by society in a decentralized manner, while anarchism / anarcho-capitalism simply seeks to have no (central) administration.

8This is basically the story of Atlas Shrugged Rand [1992].

9In the following sections, I am referring to both when speaking about libertarianism.

10To be fair, it should be noted here, that anarcho-capitalists actually argue in this fashion.

11The “slippery slope” fallacy: Just because the government violates the rights of one person does not mean that a full-blown dictatorship will result.

12This encapsulation with a concurrent idea of moral purity is an essential part of a cult. We will discuss the psychological foundation and background in the third book of the Philosophy for Heroes series (see Lode [2018]).

13We will discuss this more in the fourth book of the Philosophy for Heroes series (see Lode [2019]).

14Which is similar to the Internet, in which you have access to copies of most intellectual property.

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Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

You ask me if an ordinary person could ever get to be able to imagine these things like I imagine them. Of course! I was an ordinary person who studied hard. There are no miracle people. It happens they get interested in this thing and they learn all this stuff, but they’re just people. There’s no talent, no special ability to understand quantum mechanics, or to imagine electromagnetic fields, that comes without practice and reading and learning and study. I was not born understanding quantum mechanics – I still don’t understand quantum mechanics! I was born not knowing things were made out of atoms, and not being able to visualize, therefore, when I saw the bottle of milk that I was sucking, that it was a dynamic bunch of balls bouncing around. I had to learn that just like anybody else. So if you take an ordinary person who is willing to devote a great deal of time and work and thinking and mathematics, then he’s become a scientist! —Richard Feynman

 

The Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle was formulated in 1927 by Werner Heisenberg. It states that you cannot determine the location as well as the impulse (the energy of the movement) of an entity with infinite precision. An interpretation of this principle is that there cannot be objective measurements insofar as measurements always influence the entity that one is measuring. This is especially an issue for smaller particles like electrons.

 

To understand this principle, it is important to understand how we perceive the world. A measurement is nothing but a form of perception or observation. In contrast to the ancient view that our eyes send out “seeing rays,” we do not perceive our environment directly but rely on light reflected from objects. In order for an object to reflect light, light has to be beamed at the object. When examining very small particles, we encounter the problem that the smaller the particle, the smaller the wavelength of light has to be in order to be reflected at all. But the smaller the wavelength of light, the more energy is required and the more the beam of light influences the particle.

 

We can determine the position of a particle with precision limited only by the technology currently available to us. But this determination could cause the particle to be slowed down or redirected in its course, destroying the information about the impulse of the particle. Likewise, one could measure the impulse of a particle by simply having it hit a screen; however, this destroys the information about the position of the particle (replacing it with the known position of the screen).

 

A good example is sound waves—the directed vibration of air molecules caused by a sound source. There is no way to determine the frequency or other properties of a sound wave by a single “snapshot picture” of the air. Even if one knew all the positions of the air molecules at a certain point in time, you would know nothing about how they vibrate. If you instead used a microphone and let the air molecules hit a membrane, you could get information about the whole soundwave and its frequency.

 

Revisiting Objective Perception

 

With this new knowledge about the inner workings of the physical work, it is time to reflect on our existing concepts. This reflection is not a violation of our philosophic principles established in the first place, quite the opposite: we refine our epistemology and ontology constantly in order to get a better view on reality.

 

So, what follows from our inability to measure location and impulse of entities with arbitrary precision? For the creation of concepts, this does not bother us because we omit the measurement anyways. We have to take a step back, though, from the idea that by simply building better measurement tools we could measure anything. The underlying problem simply is that we are part of the universe, so any action we take—including observing it by measurements—influences the universe. The consequence is that we cannot be omniscience. But as we have established in the first book, omniscience is not required in order to have an objective perception on reality (and vice versa, objective perception does not mean potential omniscience).

 

Something seems wrong, though. Can we really say that we know the properties of a particle if we cannot determine their position and impulse at the same time? Are entities like electrons or atoms really entities in the classical sense, similar to tiny pellets? Taking a look at atoms, we really cannot make a “photo” of an atom with its electrons, yet a very popular depiction is the core being surrounded by electrons:

(from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Stylised_atom_with_three_Bohr_model_orbits_and_stylised_nucleus.svg)

 

But this depiction does not reflect reality. Classical physics, with an entity-based philosophy, with a single particle (a negatively charged electron) orbiting the atom core (neutrons and positively charged protons), provides no explanation why the electron does not fall into the core. In quantum mechanics, there are no distinct electron particles but electron clouds around the nucleus based on the probability of where the electron could be. Ultimately, the point is that particles do not have a momentum or position. Heisenberg’s principle correctly identifies that position and momentum cannot be measured together. But it falsely implies that the principle merely addresses an issue of measuring hidden absolute quantities.

 

This leads to a problem with our definitions: concept creation involves making observations of reality, and omitting measurements in order to focus on the actual properties of an entity. But if we cannot make those measurements in the first place, they cannot be omitted either! Logically, it would follow that we cannot create concepts of particles in the (small) quantum world. But if we cannot create a concept based on entities for those small particles, what would that mean for our ontology?

 

In summary:

  1. Concept creation: Make observations and omit measurements.
  2. Small particles: Objective measurements cannot be taken.
  3. If no measurements can be taken, they cannot be omitted.
  4. From (1) and (3) follows that we cannot create a concept for these small particles.

 

Conclusion

 

In the Middle Ages, people discovered that our eyes do not send out “seeing rays” into the world and had to therefore go back to their original premises about human perception. With the discovery of quantum mechanics, we likewise need to go back and check our epistemological premises. Our journey through philosophy continues to the very edge of entity-based thinking, Western philosophy, and classical physics: can we build a bridge to process-based thinking, Eastern philosophy, and quantum mechanics? This will be the story of the following articles.

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THE BYSTANDER EFFECT

An interesting look at the Bystander Effect.

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Evolution of the Theory of Evolution

It makes one wonder what the evolutionary tree of this idea [the theory of evolution] would look like, were it an organism that could be mapped out by fossil record rather than words. The concept is one that faded nearly into obscurity, only now to be revived with slight mutation. What I personally gather from this is that survival of ideas depends less on the actual quality of the idea, but rather the climate into which it is introduced. Quite literally, survival of the fittest, but not necessarily the best. Aquinas and Evolution, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/319

 

When people think about the theory of evolution, it is typically Charles Darwin who comes to mind—he is celebrated as the one who came up with a revolutionary idea. But people tend to remember the first (or last) participants in a long series of events. For example, take the first humans on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are well known, but who remembers the person staying in orbit, Michael Collins?

 

Michael Collins was the third person of the Apollo 11 mission, remaining in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin descended onto the moon. The mission would have been impossible without him, just as the mission would have been impossible without the people building the moon lander, the computers, and the rocket, or the people managing the operation on the ground. “Heroes” would not have been able to land on the moon and successfully return. The operation was too complex to be achieved with a singular heroic effort; thousands of things had to be just right. Sure, the astronauts were risking their life, but so did the people on the ground, every day they drove to work.

 

Collins feared that something would happen and that he would be the only one to return, with all the spotlight on him, then being “a marked man.” In a recent interview, at the age 78, he said that he is bothered by today’s inflation of heroism and adulation of celebrities, adding that he is no hero and that “heroes abound, but don’t count astronauts among them. We worked very hard, we did our jobs to near perfection, but that is what we had been hired to do.”

 

Learning about the complexity of the moon landing relativizes the role of the astronauts, just like learning about the centuries-long evolution of the theory that Darwin made famous relativizes his role. Neither the moon landing nor the theory of evolution is magic or a singular heroic effort. Each can be understood by looking at the whole chain of industry, of scientists, and of ideas.

 

A Chain of Events

 

We are often taught only about the last element of a long chain of events. And those not familiar with a subject see this last element as almost supernatural. In science, with new theories and discoveries, it’s easy to overlook how theories were developed over centuries. This also applies to the theory of evolution, which is difficult to understand if one simply jumps over thousands of years of scientific progress and focuses only on the final result.

 

In ancient times, during Homer’s era (ca. 750 BC), life was understood as the result of the action of whimsical, inconsistent gods. In this world, the rather primitive statement by Thales “The first principle and basic nature of all things is water” launched a dramatic shift in people’s minds. No longer were people discussing the moods and personalities of human-like gods. Instead, these early philosophers looked for patterns in nature to explain natural events. Rather than relying on stories and myths, people were beginning to test truths on a first-hand basis.

One of the first documented thinkers who promoted this idea—that the phenomena of nature cannot be explained by supernatural gods or magic, but by observable facts—was Anaximander (610 – 547 BC). Starting with Thales’ idea that water is the origin of all things and the observation of humidification and cloud formation, Anaximander concluded that in earlier times, the Earth had to have been covered by water. The existence of fossils further strengthened his view, which led to the conclusion that humans also had to have emerged from water.

 

Not long after, Empedocles (490 – 430 BC) offered an explanation of why organisms in nature look as if someone had designed them for a specific purpose. Those organisms happened to have properties that allowed them to survive in their environment. Those that did not died and hence, were not part of nature anymore. He also held the view that life could have developed without an underlying purpose or a godly creator.

 

Further support to this idea was provided by Aristoteles (384 – 322 BC). He was an explorer of nature, classifying different animal species. He also recognized that animals’ properties were specifically adapted to their environment. He disagreed with Empedocles, though, as to whether or not they had a higher purpose.

 

Later, in the Roman empire, Lucretius (97 – 55 BC) took interest in the subject and based his work De Rerum Natura (“On the Nature of Things,” published by Cicero (106 – 43 BC) after Lucretius’ death) on the writings of Epicurus. The book describes the universe as a purely mechanistic entity, without supernatural influence. This idea thrived within an environment of the then-popular Stoicism, the view that to attain happiness, you need to understand nature. Contrary to the theory of evolution, though, people still believed that everything happened for a reason, that the world was designed for a purpose (teleology).

 

With the deterioration of the Roman Empire came the attempt to keep the empire together by raising Christianity to the state religion. Augustin of Hippo (354 – 430 AD), one of the so-called “Church Fathers” with a strong influence on the philosophy and theology, respectively, of Christianity. He argued against the idea of literal interpretation of the Bible, claiming that new species can develop.

 

The Roman Empire fell in 476, and it took until the 9th century until new learning centers in the Middle East rediscovered and translated old Greek and Latin books. Similarly to Aristoteles, Al-Biruni (776 – 868 AD) categorized in his Book of Animals over 350 different animal species, their environments, and their places in the food chain. One of his notable discoveries was that animals are constantly in a fight for survival, and that successful properties of the animals are inherited to the next generation, resulting in adaptations and even new species.

 

As climatic conditions in Europe improved during the High Middle Ages, scientific progress returned. From the Middle East, translations from Arabic books, old Greek and Latin writings, and even scientists returned to Europe, creating the foundation for people like Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274). His view was that God provided an objective world with cause and event in an endless loop, and that animals had a god-created potential to develop into new species. Besides the initial potential of nature to create this diversity, there would be no further godly interventions in this progress (opposed to what we hear from believers of Intelligent Design in the present).

 

The Crusades and the Mongol Invasion in the Middle East, and the subsequent destruction of libraries and the fabric of society, left Europe as the keeper of knowledge. With the beginning of the Little Ice Age (1300 – 1750), a strengthening of the Catholic church, the persecution of heresy by religious inquisition, as well as with a lack of literacy in the general population, it took until Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) for a revival of a mechanical view of the universe, as opposed to a supernatural one.

 

Benoît de Maillet (1656 – 1738) was a student of geology and discovered that the Earth must have been created not by a singular act of creation, but by a slow, natural process. He estimated the true age of the Earth at around 2 billion years and assumed that humans must have been developed from animals that came out of the water.

 

Finally, in the following two centuries, the idea of evolution took off.

 

First, while fossils were found and interpreted as being the remains of life forms from ancient times, the fossil record was very sparse. This gap began to close thanks to industrialization, which increased the need for professional geologists, and coal mining uncovered new fossils.

 

Second, ship voyages brought home a wealth of information about the flora and fauna abroad. The development of life in different geographical areas provided evidence for a relationship between the species.

 

Third, the ancient writings became known and available to more and more people. Book printing grew from a few hundred titles per year in the 17th century to thousands of titles per year in the 18th century.

 

Fourth, general science of categorizing the natural world created the foundation for further scientific theories including the theory of evolution by filling gaps, focussing the research on the questions that remained open.

 

Science Is a Collaborative Enterprise

 

Science is a collaborative enterprise spanning the generations. We remember those who prepared the way, seeing for them also. Carl Sagan

With this background in mind, Charles Darwin’s (1809 – 1882) Theory of Evolution looks like a much smaller step than when taken on its own. It did not come out of the void and we have to remember those who paved the way. Charles Darwin’s research certainly was a heroic act, given the resistance he faced (and still faces). His integration of all the pieces that were available to him, including his own research he conducted when taking part in the voyages of the HMS Beagle around the world, was revolutionary—despite having an evolutionary record.

 

Likewise, the history of the theory of evolution did not end with Darwin. There still were many gaps being filled in the following decades. Advances in other fields of technology opened the door for genetic research and we are only now slowly beginning to understand the code in which life is written.

 

To summarize:

  • Anaximander provided the idea that natural phenomena can be discovered through observation instead of relying on the idea of godly intervention.
  • Milet theorized that life emerged and originated from the sea.
  • Empedokles had the idea that the life forms weren’t just there, but that they had their properties in order to survive in their environment—without any higher purpose.
  • Aristotle conducted plant/animal gathering and classification work, agreed with Empedokles about their adaption to the environment, but assumed a higher purpose.
  • Lukrez and Cicero held the views of a mechanistic universe.
  • Augustinus had the idea that new species / life could evolve.
  • Al-Biruni again, like Aristotle, was someone who categorized animals (which seemed to be the key in understanding evolution) and proposed the idea that animals are in a fight for survival and new traits could be inherited to a new generation and that this way, new species could evolve.
  • Aquinas held the view that life forms have an inherent potential to develop into new species—without any intervention by God.
  • Descartes again picked up the view of a mechanistic universe.
  • Benoît de Maillet studied geology and found the Earth not static and original as it was created by God, but in a constant change. He estimated the age of the earth at 2 billion years and deduced that animals evolved from life forms from the sea.