For me, the best writing takes complicated things and make them simple.
So everyone can understand them.
If it’s really great, it also takes simple things and makes them powerful.
So everyone can feel them.
Recently, I was watching a programme about neutrinos.
Neutrinos are a complicated concept.
For a start, they are everywhere all the time.
Millions of them are passing through our bodies every second.
Billions upon billions passing through our world ever day.
The entire universe is filled with neutrinos.
Constantly passing through everything we consider solid.
Just as if it wasn’t there.
In fact neutrinos can only be trapped by a certain liquid.
So the Japanese built a massive lake of this liquid, to trap some.
They built it inside a mountain.
Away from noise, vibration, smoke, sunlight, everything.
Because the neutrinos had no mass they moved through solid matter as if it wasn’t there.
Through the top of the mountain.
The sides of the mountain.
Even from underneath the mountain.
But a totally unexpected thing happened.
They found the neutrinos arriving at the bottom of the lake of liquid were travelling slightly slower than the neutrinos arriving from the top.
Something was slowing them down.
It was because the neutrinos at the top only had to travel through the mountain.
Whereas the neutrinos at the bottom had to travel through the entire planet.
So travelling through the greater mass was slowing them down.
For the scientists this was shattering.
It changed everything they thought they knew.
This meant neutrinos actually did have mass.
No matter how tiny that mass was.
The interviewer asked the scientist why that was important.
Could he put it into language ordinary people could understand?
The scientist said “The entire universe, absolutely all of it, consists of neutrinos.
Many, many more times than that which we consider solid matter.
They pass through us, and our world, as if it weren’t here.
And, because they’re everywhere, their mass is a far, far greater physical presence than ours.”
This was still a complicated scientific concept.
So once again the interviewer asked what does that mean to us?
Why should we care?
What the scientist said next fulfils the criteria for great writing.
He simplified all the complicated scientific jargon.
He reduced it down to something incredibly powerful.
He put it in terms that anyone could understand.
He said it in a way that would make anyone stop and think.
Even people who couldn’t care less about science.
The scientist looked down.
Then he looked up at the interviewer.
He said “It means we are the ghosts in someone else’s universe.”
For me, that last line is great writing.