Language for thinking

I’m curious what you think about the importance of langauge?

  1. starting with linguistic determinism hypothesis, which I find intriguing - in strong version says that you can’t think things for which you have no words
    • as an experiment I started writing my notes in e-prime (english without “to be” forms), I don’t think I have enough experience to share any insights yet
  2. I can see a difference between language used as a tool for communicating (spoken, books, articles, shared workspaces), and as a tool-for-personal-thinking (zettelkasten and related systems) - I haven’t seen a shared-workspace system which takes that into account

Okay here goes my hypermess on point 2, “language for thinking” VS “language for communicating”:

:brain: In language for thinking, the main benefit seems to be that “only if something is written down it is fixed enough to be discussed independently from the author” (Ahrens, 2017).

When we’re just on our own, we can use symbols, metaphors, analogies, coined words that are meaningful to us, anchored to our brain but that only we understand. We can work closer to the real associations of the mind, and thus not overload the short term memory bottleneck with terminology. We can also be fuzzier, maybe?

I suspect this may work less well if we’re talking to our future self, where maybe the mental associations (context) have changed.

:speech_balloon: In language for communicating I’d separate the classic linear form from the hypertextual form.

In classic linear form, the art is not only about thinking about our audience and the terms they would understand, but choosing what’s the adequate throughline that connects the ideas we want to express. In other words, in which sequence we paint the colours in the other person’s mind so that she’ll understand what we’re going to introduce later on. This is what Ted Nelson calls gradually condensing your flying pages.

In hypertextual form, I feel in unexplored territory. We do have wikis and other sorts of generally unidirectional hypertext, but I don’t know good examples of hypertext conceived as a communication form (from “I wrote a blogpost” to “I built a mesh of text, here’s an entry for you”).

Regarding how these two ways of looking at language (and associated workflows) should shape tools differently, @szymon_k what do you have in mind? The only slightly related thing that comes to my mind is: tools don’t help you much moding yourself in creative exploration mode (divergent) or judgemental edition mode (convergent).

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When we’re just on our own, we can use symbols, metaphors, analogies, coined words that are meaningful to us, anchored to our brain but that only we understand.

Agreed, I noticed this happening in my own notes.

We can also be fuzzier, maybe?

Great that you added this, the fuzzy part seems quite important to me, and touches on the problem of naming notes, especially with exploratory/uncertain ones.

The only slightly related thing that comes to my mind is: tools don’t help you much moding yourself in creative exploration mode (divergent) or judgemental edition mode (convergent).

Yes! I also suspect that adding a collaboration layer to these kinds of tools might require more than just allowing multiple people to edit the same entries.

This may be a bit of an erratic connection:

I heard Sönke Ahrens say that he intentionally saves contradicting ideas in his Zettelkasten. This touches on the principle that you need to write things down in a good enough way to think about them properly. So, according to this, if you’re precise about what you write (“this seems realistic to me” or “XYZ finds this solution appropriate” rather than “this is it”) you have a better chance of elaborating on those notes, essentially thinking in writing.

By precise I don’t mean complete or accurate. Fuzzy can be precise if you focus on unloading your thoughts and being honest about them.

For reference, another constraint for content that is to help with thinking:

To use an analogy here: It’s easier to manage a port that deals with containers than one that deals with boxes and parcels of any form and size.

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