Next Up Previous Contents
Theory of Notebooks

8 Theory of Notebooks

In this chapter, I want to talk about:

This is a short chapter; I've already intertwined many of the ideas about how things work in the previous chapters.


Major reasons:

Minor reasons:

``Repeated thinking'' is when we think the same thoughts, over, and over, and over again, without really getting anywhere.

``Lost progress'' is when we have solved a situation before, but we go back and return to it.

Frequently we find ourselves in one frame- a frame that we've already solved before. Surely, if we kept records and mapped our thoughts, we could keep a map in mind, and identify our position on the map and the transitions to solved states.

This applies technically; It may be possible to apply psychologically as well. My technical attempts have been very successful, but my psychological attempts have had only very limited success.

The best function has been to keep myself internally ``up-to-date'' with my thoughts; I did not lose much knowledge.

I can give a demonstration of something that I gained:

I discovered at one point that large scale social ethics are too complex to calculate, and that social ideologies are necessarily unscientific.

It something that I had discovered before in my life, but somehow had ``lost''. This time, when I learned it, it was clearly there in my notebooks. Any time a thought came that ignored that conclusion, it had to be placed into the integrated structure. It would eventually come to the test of the principle that large scale social ethics are too complex to calculate, and thus died, or was cast as a member of a particular social ideology; Either one I subscribed to or didn't. But I recognized over time that even though particular social ideologies are more in line with my values than others, that the whole thing is so complex that I cannot say with a degree of certainty which is better than another.

That progress was not lost, as it was before.

Now, I am not using the binders. It has been a few weeks since I have stopped. I am not testing everything against the binders: Is everything lost?

I don't believe so.

(We're getting into ideas about thinking, so we'll just continue into it.)

I mentioned that the binders have a ``freezing'' affect on the mind. That's true- it can stagnate your mental growth. (Perhaps there is a way around this, by computerizing parts of the system, as I describe below, in order to make it more fluid.) But by the same token, it is also reinforcing.

I am no master of psychology or metaphysics, by any stretch. But, I have found a model of learning that is agreeable to me.

Michael Ende wrote that we learn things and forget them, learn things and forget them. His idea was that these build layers in our mind that, though we can't see them, are still there, and support us. Thus, they still benefit us.

Performing the notebook system for a period of time seems to be like organizing your conscious thoughts, and etching a foundation in your mind. Whether it is good or bad- it can be remade later.

Since we're here, I have a couple other ideas about thinking that I want to explore:

I'll start with: Is our thinking process structured? Just at a glance, it seems rather chaotic: There's a thought here, a thought there, and another one. However, it once occurred to me to find a pattern in my thinking.

I found one, and built a collection of markup icons to label the different pieces. I am not alone in this idea; Robert Horn did something similar, but he did it to technical documentation, rather than to an individual writing his thoughts, thinking a problem through.

See: ``What Kinds of Writing Have a Future?'' by Robert Horn rhorn/images/spchWhat I have not seen his full classification system for elements of explanation, but I can describe my own loose structure for elements involved in my thought process:

It includes:

These are the primitive elements of thinking that I have found so far, and I have found a few common aggregates as well.

This is beyond the domain of a book on notebook systems, but I thought it was related enough that I should include the idea.

I use the above icons (graphics not included, sadly) to identify the major elements of my thinking, and how they piece together. They appear most commonly in POI and on speed lists (my ``psy'' column).

Next: There are different ``thought moods''.

WARNING: This is not something that I have tracked, and not something that I have given any organized thought to. So what follows is off the cuff, and may well be wrong.

Most of our time, we're either doing work and focusing on the very next task to complete (if we are fortunate), or we're repeating thoughts about just whatever. Those thoughts are largely uninteresting, rehashing whatever we already know in a particular domain. After a while, however, we can come across a ``solution'', or glimpse a new vision, or get something that is truly useful. We stumble across a puzzle piece.

Somehow, I don't understand quite how, it seems that the mind gives you solutions if it knows that they will be implemented. If you are habitually throwing out good ideas, over time, it seems to me, your mind stops giving you solutions. But by keeping your thoughts in a trusted system, the mind gets happy about solving problems, and gives you more pieces.

This is what I have observed; Now that I am not keeping my notes, and have been tossing good ideas left and right, they appear to be dissipating.

I don't worry about this; I know that I can pick up my notebooks whenever I like, and good thoughts will start surfacing again.

There's also a certain mental mobility possible when you aren't keeping notes. While you can ``lose ground'', you can also ``leap high'' in ways that the note keeping process makes difficult.

There frequently come points in the day, where, all of a sudden, a million thoughts come to you at once. I don't think that it's that your brain suddenly gets hyper; Rather, I think it's that one idea triggers another idea, and then that another, and the frequently trigger ideas across subjects- across great mental distances even, and there's this sort of chain reaction. Recording it is quite a wonderful experience, unless you don't happen to have a piece of paper around, in which case it's a miserable experience as you start pegging thoughts and compacting them into itty-bitty syllables.

So, we've talked about ``day-to-day repeating'', about how good ideas come spontaneously, and about when we are concentrating (the icons of thought fit in here.)

Finally, one of my favorite topics in theory:


As opposed to the previous section, this is something I have thought out well, and carefully integrated.

We have the subject matter- information, knowledge, and wisdom. And then we have the process of handling all that, with the aid of the notekeeping system.

First, the subject matter:

Information is little pieces of idea that you have. Your speed lists will probably consist mostly of information.

After you collect a bunch of information, you'll detect patterns and relationships. As you integrate ideas together, it becomes far greater than the sum of the individual pieces- it becomes knowledge.

What is Wisdom? I define it as knowledge that has been integrated with your life. Or ``integrated with your living systems.''

That is: IF your knowledge makes a difference in how you life, THEN it is not just knowledge, but Wisdom as well.

The old Dungeons and Dragons handbook never had such a description, but suggested by analogy. To paraphrase: "Knowledge is knowing about rain. Wisdom is knowing to come in when it rains." By my criteria for Wisdom, it explains the D and D analogy perfectly. The person who knows about rain is thinking about rain as collections of integrated information, but the person who is wise is actually DOING something based on that knowledge.

Now, the notebook system is a system for manufacture Knowledge and Wisdom!

Here's a diagram of how it works:

    * .          --.     ___*___
  L *  .          /|    /       \
    *   `-.      //|   /  --*--  \
  I -.     `-__ //     | /     \ |
    * `--.     */    \ |/---*---\|
  F *     `----*------\*'        OO------->
    *     _____*------/*`___*___'OO    `
  E -----'     *\    / |\       /|      |
    *      __.~ \\     | \     / |      |
    *     /      \\|   \  --*-- //    (   )
    -----'        \|    \       /     (   )
                 --`     ---*---        |
               ^       ^                |

How's that! Do you like it? Isn't that great?

What, you want me to explain it to you? Okay. :)=

Lets start at the left:

That's your life. Your life emits many many thoughts through your mind. The thoughts are the little stars: *'s. However, most of the thoughts are uninteresting.

The first step is to collect the good thoughts together. You put them onto your pan-subject speeds and your speed lists.

Then, through various mechanisms (such as the subject speed lists, and the ``hint'', maps, and just looking over your speed lists and recognizing), your thoughts are placed into ``locals'', places where related thoughts are found.

That's represented by the three major arrows, pulling the collected thoughts into specific locations.

After a few thoughts are collected in the same place, you think about them. That's the ``opening part'' of the diagram: There are two little stars at the end of the middle big arrow, and those thoughts are then reflected upon, likely in a POI entry.

Whoah! Suddenly your two thoughts became a gigantic number of thoughts!

This is a time for EXPANSION. You're brainstorming, the thoughts are flying. You don't necessarily want to limit your thinking right now: This is time for explosive hot thought-on-thought action.

Your job is to write down what these things make you think of. You have ``reflect ons'', ``analyze this's'', lists to build, all sorts of things. It blowing out.

After you reach a certain point, you've written up your major ideas.

Now, you can see them all, and you can start organizing them.

This goes in the OPPOSITE direction: Instead of making ideas, you are reducing them, by packing them together into a synthesis. Some will go away, some will be compacted, some will be found to be identical representations of the same thing, etc., etc.,.

Finally, you end up with a synythesis: the square arrangement of four O's on my diagram.

Congradulations! You have a conclusion, a synthesis! Not necessarily- it may be that you've created a model, too, or something else. Regardless, you have a product.

It can be ``shipped''- arrow to the right.

But what happens now is that it feeds back into your system.

Perhaps, by building your synthesis, several previously existing Speed thoughts are unimportant, since the POI does such a good job of encapsulating them. You can put the POI# on the map, take off the S#'s. If you like to ``preserve'' the S#'s, you can put them in their place in the final POI entry where they end up.

There are many things you can do.

The resulting thoughts also affect your thought-collection system. Perhaps new subjects are suggested, or new constallations within existing subjects. Perhaps new maps need to be made.

And finally, your new synthesis affects your life. This is akin to Michael Ende's ``learning and forgetting.'' The thoughts coming out of your head will now be different, by the new addition.

This is my understanding of the process.

There is room for greater understanding:

I cannot shake the feeling that this model has implications for the AI community. If the types of thought and synthesis' were understood better, it may be mechanically implementable.

There is still the ``life'' region of the map- where the ideas come from in the first place. I think that by some analysis of personal psychology, that could be understood better, and abstracted for computers. Something to do with placing attention by strategic consideration and the mere position of the organism.

I have now described my system to my satisfaction.

The next two chapters are on the Question of Computers, and how to get started.

Next Up Previous Contents