Idea Space: Thinking as Pathfinding in the Space of Ideas

The following are my notes and reflections around the idea that good tools for thought could lead us to think better by helping us traverse the space of ideas. Mostly riffing off TheSephist’s essays.

Were we to write about what we are thinking deeply about, they could nudge us towards other related ideas from our past so that we can synthesize new knowledge, but also towards ideas others have found fruitful, associations nobody has made before through mutation operations on our own essays, or even use predictions and noisy theorem proving to find conclusions and implications to an idea we come up with.

Tools like these could greatly enhance the current rate of progress for humanity, and also the enjoyment of intellectual and scholarly tasks.

A GPS for the mind

This great article by TheSephist starts off by describing current tools in the tool for thought space (mostly note-taking and search), and how they act as guides in ‘idea space’ by helping you find new paths (associating ideas, finding ideas in the neighborhood of another) or showing you the paths others have taken.

“I often feel like our individual notes and ideas only fill out a vacuously sparse subset of the space of good ideas, like dust motes suspended in stale air. With better tools, we should be able to map out entire sections of the idea-space, instead of optimistically poking holes in the space of ideas. I think that starts with tools that can ensure we don’t miss great ideas lurking just nearby good ones, just because we didn’t save a note in the right place.(…)
A good tool should also tell us where the well-travelled paths are.”

“It should tell us what’s around us. When we’re thinking of an idea, we should be able to immediately recall other, related thoughts from our past: have we thought the same before? Have I read something about this? Does anyone I know work on this stuff? Are there any traps – fallacies or obvious but disproven hypotheses – we should avoid?
Tags in notes, semantic search, and hyperlink-dense notes are all about making these tools better at telling us which ideas are in the neighborhood of other ideas.” [emphasis mine.]

Then it moves on to speculate on the future of some tools for thought, by extending them with Language Models or similar artificial thought enhancers.

“With further advances in AI and interface design, we may invent tools that proactively search for interesting explanations amongst known ideas, going on a billion autonomous walks through the combined knowledge garden of humanity every second, paving new roads faster than humans can do alone.”

“Notes and search engines are merely text buffers that we use to store information in between the times when we occupy ourselves deeply with those ideas. The real possibility space of tools that help us think – tools that guide us through the vastness of the space of all good ideas – is much broader.”

A GPS for the mind, @thesephist

The last two quoted paragraphs lead me to reader generated essays.

Reader Generated Essays

“If you have an exceptional ability to get lost on the Internet (I think you have, dear reader), you might have a career in the future creator economy: generating essays based on finding weird trajectories through other people’s knowledge graphs. It is a conceivable career.”

Reader Generated Essays, LessWrong

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19 Aug 2020 - importance: 5