, 45 tweets, 9 min read Read on Twitter
A brief rant on note-taking apps and the structure of thought. Or "Why Evernote is a terrible second brain."
1. We form complicated beliefs about how the world works, through observations, abstractions (like defining words), model building, and inductive and deductive reasoning
2. Our beliefs and observations come together in a non-linear way

The observation you make today influences your belief about Premise A (I can trust person X to know about Y)

That update cascades to flip decisions or reasoning chains you've formed long in the past (Z is true)
3. That's how things work in your brain -- There is a structure between the thoughts -- the structure resembles something like a graph of nodes and edges with probabilistic weights.
4. We don't put numerical weights on things -- we use words like -- Maybe, Definitely, Probably -- and we feel in our gut something like our probability score for the belief
5. As William James says "Belief is the willingness to take irrevocable action" -- when you make a big decision -- marriage or divorce, moving to a city or country, taking or leaving a job -- you feel some resonance around how much you believe you are doing "the right thing"
6. The thing is, if you want to take those thoughts out of your head, basic human I/O says you have to turn the graph into a stream. You can only speak or write one word at a time.
7. For others (including your future self) to absorb, effectively criticize, and build upon your thoughts, they have to take that stream of words/ideas, and rebuild the original graph in their own heads.
8. Good communicators make this process easier -- this is why speakers, teachers, and salespeople will often follow the formula of

- Tell them what you're going to tell them
- Tell them
- Tell them what you told them

It lays out the scaffold of the idea, then fills it in
9. For really important ideas though, this is hard. Because some ideas or model aren't going to make sense when you've only heard one piece of them, or they look counterintuitive when you've just heard the scaffold
9.a An example -- A sociologist I trust was recently raving to me about Niklas Luhmann, who he claimed "has the best model of society that exists" but it doesn't make any sense until you've read about 600 pages of his writing. His ideas are like a foreign language.
9.b A foreign language you don't learn by mastering a single word (though you do need to learn one word at a time), but through immersion, seeing more and more words together in context, until things start to click.
10. The problem with our note taking systems is this -- even if we have to eventually present our thoughts in a linear sequence -- writing isn't just a tool for communication. First and foremost, writing is a tool for thinking, it is a way of expressing our thoughts to ourselves
11. The kind of thinking I'm talking about, the kind where you are carefully thinking about the structure of your beliefs, is incredibly exhausting, and rare. Kahnemann calls it "System 2" -- its also essential if you want to do things like launch rockets and cure disease.
12. System 2 thinking is exhausting because it requires holding so much in your head -- the relationships between complex beliefs, the models you've built from years of experience and observation, 2nd and 3rd order effects of actions you might take.
13. To do that kind of thinking, we can't be limited to the 7+-2 slots of working memory available to us, we need to get things "out of our head,"

To quote Neil Levy "Notes... do not make contemporary physics (etc) easier, they make it possible."
Break -- Now for where I'll shit on Evernote (and every other Notes app for the most part) --
14. The problem with existing notes systems is that they're locked into metaphors from when everything was analog. Files go in folders, and can get tags. At best, they add in the capacity for links to other files-- since links are now something everyone will be familiar with.
14. Our thoughts -- particularly the sort of thoughts we have when we're trying to work through complex problems, don't fit neatly (or at all) into those sorts of metaphors
15. For one example -- you're trying to answer a hard question -- an open question like "Why did X happen?" or "What should I do to make Y more likely". One thing you may want to do is generate a large number of sub-questions to pursue -- folders right? tags?
16. You may want to collect a bunch of resources (build on other people's thoughts) -- like journal articles, essays, you may read a bunch of books... But then, you will quickly find that each paper may be relevant to many of the questions you're considering.
17. Well now you're in a bind -- the nice thing about folders (or a Workflowy Tree) is that it let you take a high level question and focus on smaller pieces -- but now each of those articles you read has claims that it makes that fit in different places in your hierarchy
18. The same article (or quote, or fact) might help you answer three different questions -- so do you put a copy of it in all three locations? -- if you do then any change you make to it later (anytime you refine or build on that idea, or invalidate it) will require 3x the work
19. If you rely on tags, you can group the same item into multiple collections, but you lose the ability to move from a higher "strategic level" down to the more granular question -- and you end up trying to remember which of your 100 tags is useful to each concept.
20. Folders are a good idea -- because hierarchical organization is fundamental to human thinking -- we like categorizing things. Folders are a bad idea because every actual thing fits into multiple categories.
21. Tags are a good idea because they allow you to create those overlapping collections. They are great for browsing, and that is a genuine source of insight. They are bad because they are flat (and difficult to merge together) & require you to guess your structure ahead of time
22. What is missing in our existing systems is this -- we need better way of organizing the questions we are trying to answer, and making explicit the lines of reasoning we hold.
23. When you can't do something as simple as say -- I'm building ideas Y and Z off of idea X (where X is the combination of A, B, and C), and make that relationship explicit, you're bound to get lost. So says I.
24. What I want in a second brain: I see something online (or I capture a thought myself) and think -- oh, that's interesting. Interesting for what? I don't know yet, but if it's good, its because I expect it to influence my thinking about something else in the future.
25. The key thing I need though, is a way to A) filter down these observations for the ones that are most important, and B) connect my thoughts together, and build new thoughts out of old thoughts
26. Occasionally, I find an idea which invalidates a whole slew of other observations -- like the concept of "Chinese Robbers" -- slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/16/car… which basically convinced me that I too was susceptible to media manipulation. (See also Immigrant Violence and Hate Crimes)
Evernote is great for capture

Clipping articles, web pages, powerpoints, YouTube videos.

What it is bad at is taking those things you capture and then carving them into pieces (this 30 second clip, that slide, this sentence), and then putting those in new contexts/threads.
28) Because it supports threading, and the limits to tweet length force you to address ideas atomically, Twitter can actually be a better second brain than Evernote

29) The downside to Twitter as a second brain is you shift away from thinking thoughts that might embarrass you, or put you at social risk
30) For better or for worse, keeping your second brain public makes you a node in the Global Social Computer In The Cloud

31) Twitter isn't the really the right tool yet either. And I wouldn't count on it moving in the right direction

32) The "right tool" would be able to beat index cards, organized in a Zettelkasten system

Which means taking "cards" out, laying them on a table, reorganizing them, and then building a new thread

34) My current best recommendation for a second brain is a combination of Twitter and a fast plain text notes system with great search, and internal links with autocomplete

Specifically nvalt

brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt/
35) A plaintext notes system doesnt store web clipping -- but if you've got a good system for managing and clearing your tabs and browser's native bookmarks, you don't need that

Here's what you want instead

36) Do not underestimate how much you will want autocomplete for links

Incredible power, especially when linking to a note that doesnt exist yet will create it

Related -- Explanatory Content is Multi-Scale

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