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Tools For Thought: From the Memex to index cards

Tools For Thought: From the Memex to index cards

In this talk I show why and how you should build your own system for thought on top of other people’s tools for thought in order to improve your thinking. I do this by connecting zettelkasten to Miller's Law to better note taking to better thinking to managing your inevitable decline with a combination of digital and analogue tools.

In the end I ask: what is to thought what literacy is to reading and writing?

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Ade Oshineye
PRO

June 11, 2021
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Transcript

  1. Tools For Thought: From the Memex to index cards Why

    you should build your own system for thought on top of other people’s tools for thought in order to improve your thinking Ade Oshineye
  2. “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk” Hegel

  3. Tools For Thought are the new hotness

  4. Brief history of Tools For Thought Europe • Conrad Gessner

    16th century Swiss naturalist is the earliest known user of Zettelkasten • Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book Zettel • Niklas Luhmann’s 90k slips in his Zettelkasten • Tim Berners-Lee wanted to manage internal documentation at CERN and we got the web North America • Vannevar Bush’s Memex in As We May Think never got built • Douglas Engelbart wanted to augment human intellect but we got hypertext and the mouse • Ted Nelson’s Xanadu offered a rich vision of hypermedia with bi-directional links and transclusions • Ward Cunningham’s WikiWikiWeb • Atul Gawande and his Checklist Manifesto save lives every day
  5. History is written by the...losers?

  6. Another lens: Low cunning vs High modernism Conrad Gessner 16th

    century Swiss naturalist is the earliest known user of Zettelkasten Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book Zettel Vannevar Bush’s Memex in As We May Think never got built Douglas Engelbart wanted to augment human intellect but we got hypertext and the mouse Niklas Luhmann’s 90k slips in his Zettelkasten Ted Nelson’s Xanadu offered a rich vision of hypermedia with bi-directional links and transclusions Tim Berners-Lee wanted to manage internal documentation at CERN and we got the web Ward Cunningham’s WikiWikiWeb Atul Gawande and his Checklist Manifesto save lives every day
  7. What are Tools For Thought? A guiding vision “By “augmenting

    human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by “complex situations” we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers—whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human “feel for a situation” usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.” Douglas Engelbart
  8. Chunking express We think in chunks of negotiable abstraction and

    recursion Miller’s Law (7+/-2) is true-ish: human brains are limited Hacks for these limits: Notation to create more compressed chunks Composing chunks Intertwingling chunks
  9. What are Tools For Thought? Chunks == thought legos ==

    cards == notes == blocks
  10. What are TFT? Mechanisms for playing with chunks More and

    better chunks to bypass human limitations Better recall of chunks Better recall of connections between chunks More sophisticated manipulation of chunks TFT == technologies that help you better manipulate chunks
  11. What are TFT? Better communication

  12. What about another layer?

  13. Systems For Thought Layer on top of your TFT that

    aligns and magnifies their impact Your choices Your routines Your habits, conventions and practices Your pipelines for connecting various TFT
  14. Example Luhmann felt he was communicating with not through his

    Zettelkasten TFT as a medium for interchange between: Past-me Current-me Future-me Both approaches require different periodic routines and artefacts
  15. The current Tools For Thought scene Note-taking text editors e.g.

    Keep and Obsidian SaaS e.g. Notion and Roam Visual thinking e.g. Muse Digital Zettelkasten e.g. Zettlr and The Archive Collecting e.g. Pocket and Evernote Spaced repetition e.g. Anki and Supermemo Prompting e.g. Orbit and Subconscious Personal digital gardens e.g. Compendium
  16. The current Tools For Thought scene Lots of fragmentation Lots

    of unproductive tool-hopping Orthodoxy nudges people towards writing down other people’s ideas Pockets of knowledge accretion Interwingling rather than categorisation
  17. Spaceships for the mind 10x thinking and moonshots 1 big

    bet Pattern of heroic failure that mocks success Transmission of flawed lenses to future generations Search for the ‘one best way’ Search for the ‘one best tool’ Spaceships for the mind place a ceiling on our imagination
  18. Bicycles for the mind 1.x over time => compounding Bicycles

    for the mind place a floor under our imagination
  19. Some bicycles for your mind Instead Checklists Index cards

  20. Some bicycles for your mind Instead Spider diagrams Maps Of

    Content/Speculative outlines
  21. Better note-taking Capture atomic and evergreen chunks in your own

    words Connect and intertwingle these chunks Create multiple speculative outlines as tentative lenses that reuse these chunks Use journals to connect chunks over time Review and refine these chunks Over time your (types of) chunks will settle into pace layers
  22. Note-taking to sense-making Taking notes: source to corpus without touching

    your mind Making notes: you have to decide what you actually think Other people’s thoughts stick out This corpus becomes a mirror that enables metacognition What do you do about beliefs that didn’t age well? Do you keep yourself honest? Can you?
  23. Better selves vs managing your decline How do we send

    help to future-me? Establish notation Evolve notation Capture insight
  24. Better selves vs managing your decline What do we wish

    future-me could send to current-me? ??? Move cognition from endo-self to exo-self to enhance and then preserve it The balance between endo-self and exo-self must shift as we age The SFT we’ve established in advance of decline can help us navigate that re-balancing
  25. Trusting the other guy?

  26. Getting your hands dirty: heuristics • Do your own thinking

    ◦ Craft your own routines ◦ Use your own notation • Make the tools conform to you ◦ Expect your tools to go away over time but ‘simple endures’ ▪ Local-first with cloud backups ▪ Bet big on plain text ▪ Establish analogue baselines ◦ Use many tools on the same corpus not 1 corpus per tool • Think of the notes as cards and play with them accordingly ◦ Bet big on hypertext
  27. Getting your hands dirty: Dusk • Folder of text files

    versioned with Git ◦ Obsidian vault pointed to the folder ◦ Slowly ingesting notes/data/references from every other tool into this folder • Simplenote as a mobile inbox/outbox ◦ Copying notes into Obsidian vault ◦ Resonance calendar
  28. Getting your hands dirty: Dusk • Google Photos ◦ Paper

    notebooks ◦ Index cards ◦ Drawing apps ◦ Diagrams: spider diagrams, 2x2s, etc • Missing: scheduled prompting
  29. Getting your hands dirty: recommendations • Obsidian: https://obsidian.md/ ◦ Roam

    Research: https://roamresearch.com • Alex Komoroske’s Compendium is open source: https://github.com/jkomoros/card-web • Actual analogue cards in a zettelkasten • Build your own software...
  30. Open problems, literacy and the undiscovered country • 1 player

    to N Player ◦ This isn’t collaborative editing of notes but intellectual tennis • How do we effectively prompt and nudge future-me? ◦ How can we be good ancestors to our future selves? • How do we make the material of thought legible enough that it’s possible to perform structure-preserving-transformations and refactor our own minds?
  31. What is to thought what literacy is to reading and

    writing?
  32. Bibliography How to take smart notes, Sönke Ahrens Tools for

    thought, Howard Rheingold The Turing option, Marvin Minsky and Harry Harrison Notebooks of the mind, Vera John-Steiner