How to Become a Neo-Cartesian Cyborg

I found this presentation a great philosophical perspective on the “Second Brain” movement:

What does it mean to build a “second brain,” and why do we think that’s a Good and Valuable thing to do?

I have lots of thoughts about this, but want to leave room for others to comment first without framing the conversation in a particular way.

What I want to highlight though, is the cognitive linguistics angle — this is pretty much what I’m focused on lately. My background is in computer science and I’m new to linguistics and cognitive science, but I’m deep enough into Lakoff, Johnson, and others that I feel there’s a lot of potential here to influence the way we build and design technology and software to help us think in particular.

If that sounds interesting to you and if the presentation above resonates, let’s talk!


Building a one more brain seems like a weird thing to do - when we already have a few billion of them - if you’ll have them same narrow letter-stream communication channel with it.

A better analogy for me is building an additional cortex for your own brain, which translates the incoming signals and outgoing actions in a more sophisticated manner.

  • You can’t observe the world economy, but the data analysis and visualization algorithms can put it into a form your eyes can absorb
  • You can’t feel the suffering of many people far away from you, but a well-crafted work of art may translate those emotions into something your senses can relate to
  • You can’t move in a way a vary agile game character (or, some day, a robotic body) moves, but enough experience the movements of your fingers on the controller will fade away from you attention and you will feel like its you’re the one who’s movements you seen on the screen. And when the virtual earth shakes, the controller’s feedback may well convince your brain that it’s your world that’s shaking

cognitive linguistics angle

i suppose you mean something like taking the metaphors we unconsciously apply to objects/processes, finding patterns in those and constructing thinking tools based on them?
would love to hear your thoughts on this)

I‘m with you that „2nd brain“ makes little sense. It‘s clever marketing though.

I mean categorization, metaphorical structuring, embodied cognition, and kinesthetic image schemas in particular. It seems to me that these universal patterns are more or less directly applicable to user interface design. That‘s just a hypothesis, I haven’t seen any papers that make that connection directly, but it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s probably more likely to find some research in data visualization where a lot of how we understand things like bar charts, line graphs, or scatter plots makes extensive use of spatial metaphors, e.g. More is Up. From there, thinking about interactive data visualization and exploratory data analysis, it‘s not that far to general UI/UX.

I find all this especially appealing, as we are moving towards an AR world where gestures and physicality will play an even more important role than they do already in touch screen interfaces. The trend of „bouncy“ animations and drag operations that emulate „weight“ are not just fashion but exist for good reasons. If you ever wondered what a user interface framework needs a physics engine for, embodied cognition seems a pretty compelling argument to me.

And there are likely applications beyond just UI/UX. Since these patterns are universally understood across languages and cultures, they can also be useful in teaching concepts more effectively by explaining abstract concepts like e.g. set theory with the intuitively understood container schema. Which is kind of what our intuition for these abstract mathematical concepts is based on anyway, but we usually have to stare at a lot of abstract symbol manipulation to magically absorb that intuitive understanding ourselves. This should be at least as relevant if not even more relevant to teaching programming.

I realize that I spent a significant amount of time in that particular rabbit hole to emerge from it with a shiny new hammer, and now there‘s a lot of nails everywhere I look… I‘m sure it‘ll work on at least a few of them though.