writing as embodied thought
What is the most transformationally revolutionary technology?
- electricity ?
- internet ?
- atomics ?
- powered flight ?
I believe Language is our most transformationally revolutionary technology. Our ability to communicate, to share thought among individuals. Each person a neuron capable of sending and receiving signals, across a communal brain.
More than five thousand years ago, people little different than us learned to inscribe symbols with a stylus in wet clay, and thus preserve, in many cases for all subsequent time to date, a record of what they had eaten for lunch that day. With this act, they literally abolished prehistory and invented history.
'One November day in the British Museum in London 150 years ago, a man called George Smith jumped up from the desk at which he had been working and -- to the astonishment of onlookers in that hushed space of learning -- "rushed about the room in a great state of excitement," pulling off articles of clothing as he went, uttering cries of delight and shouting: "I am the first man to read that after more than two thousand years of oblivion."' -- @gilgamesh
This is the fundamental promise of writing and also of the internet: that humanity may communicate knowledge across space and time; that knowledge need not expire with its biological host or community participant. That knowledge, learning, doing, opportunity, growth, and value accrete not only within the individual, but among the community of all individuals.
First, man spoke. Or more likely grunted, howled, then sang. But first, man possessed orality.
Next, man invented scriptics. Script made possible the lossless transmission of thought across space and time.
Then, man invented printing. Print is the mechanization of, and enablement of the mass production of, literacy.
Now, man possesses the internet. Digitality, the net and the web.
Language is our most transformationally revolutionary technology. With it we literally share thought, and instantiate ourselves within a communal brain. Literacy, the written word, means the extensibility of that thought across space and time.
Why does so much of what we do and know remain opaque to our trans-spatial and trans-temporal community? Why have we not further embraced transparency through the written word? Do we jealously guard our thoughts? or are we ashamed of them? or do we not truly believe in them?
Richard W Hamming wrote, in The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn, 'The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity'.
Importantly, in this formulation, knowledge comes before learning. It is an antecedent, a precursor. We do not learn to know, we learn to do. And the more we can do, the more opportunity we discover to grow and generate value and share that value with others.
Surely some institutions and organizations do a better job at this than others, but just as surely there is no company of souls which does as good of a job of instantiating its shared external graph mind as it could do.
In many companies, institutional knowledge inheres in individuals who are subject to sudden, disruptive departure.
They more or less largely rely on real-time, face-to-face, oral transmission of knowledge. Why?
As teams, as organizations, as institutions, as political or national entities -- as companies of souls --, our value lies not in the specific modicums of knowledge which inhere in each of us, but in the totality of what all of us know, and can learn from, collectively. The more knowledge each of us offloads and inscribes in the folds of the shared external brain that is our distributed information graph, in a way that renders it both discoverable and legible, -- the more freedom, the more capacity we realize to pursue further knowledge as well as to productively draw out novel connections from that same externalized graph mind.
As communities, why have we abnegated our responsibility to maintain SOPs? We would love to tell people who come to us with issues or with questions to 'RTFM'. Not in a confrontational or a dismissive way, but in a beneficial and a generous way. In a teach-a-man-to-fish way. However, we are not allowed to do this, because the manual does not exist.
I thank God I have at least the faith to believe in my self, the value of my own thought. I want to communicate that thought with others. And too I believe in the value of the thoughts of others. I want to send, and to receive -- thought. This is an essentially optimistic enterprise. To possess sufficient faith to believe in the value of what you and others think, and to believe that value might productively be communicated across space and time.
So I am always thinking about how best to record those thoughts, those whose genesis is somehow in me, and those which come into me: that they might be subsequently passed on, crackling electrically over our communal brain.
Some years ago, the concept, made famous by Niklas Luhmann, of the Zettlekasten, was making the rounds. Among other posts, I read this one on LessWrong. I found it helpful.
Of course, for those biased towards ideation over action, it can prove too easy to fall into the trap of always thinking about getting down to the brass tacks with which to affix the slip-cards to the walls of Proust's cork lined room rather than just slapping a bunch of Post-It Notes all over the place. Forest for the trees.
I also read or read most of Lion Kimbro's How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think, another very powerful framework for thinking about ... how you think. Highly recommend. Like Hamming, Kimbro is essentially concerned with interrogating and developing styles of thinking, and learning, rather than the various specific contents of thought.
That is where we are at now. This website is my attempt to get down to brass tacks, and slowly cultivate a "digital garden". To work with the garage door up.