Tag Archives: notebook

Amplified intelligence

Decorative imageNotebooks have been used for centuries to extend people’s minds while computers and smart phones have taken the extension to a new level.  I find myself using the more than 500 posts in this blog as an extension of my brain.  Not only to recall information but to reconstruct thought processes and ideas.  Perhaps it is idleness or just faster than waiting for my neurons to shuffle through options until they reassemble the pattern that I am looking for.  Of course, this blog is a very public extension of my mind and was accessed from more than 140 countries last year, as it has been every year since 2016, based on data from WordPress.  It is difficult to estimate the total readership of the blog because it is published through several media but last year it appeared to increase substantially.  I started posting in July 2012 [see ‘Why RealizeEngineering?‘] but only started weekly posts ten years ago this week on January 7th 2013 with ‘Renewable Energy?‘.  Today’s post is number 548.

A cyberneticist, W. Ross Ashby coined the term ‘amplified intelligence’ to describe the role of computers in extending our minds [W. Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics, William Clowes & Sons, 1956].

Image: Painting in the possession of the author.

Space between the words

I am an habitual user of a fountain pen.  It is the only writing implement that I carry with me since I enjoy writing with a fountain pen and because I can keep track of one pen but no more than one.  I have used it, and its predecessors, to make notes in a series of forty notebooks that stretch back to when I started as a research assistant forty years ago.  I used to record laboratory results in my notebooks but nowadays I have a research team who perform all of the work in the laboratory.  I still use my pen and notebook to record meetings, ideas and notes on papers.  I find the process of writing notes by hand to be conducive to both remembering detail and connecting fragments of information into new thoughts and ideas.  I am not alone in having these experiences.  Researchers have found that taking notes by hand improves the performance of students in answering conceptual questions compared to students who use a laptop to take notes.  When you write on a laptop, it is easy to delete words and re-start a sentence, whereas to create a coherent set of notes in a book you need to craft a sentence prior to committing pen to paper.  Perhaps the latter process allows a more persistent assembly of neurons to be formed in your brain [see ‘Slow deep thoughts from a planet-sized brain‘ on March 25th, 2020]; or maybe it is just the irregular spacing between handwritten words which creates a more distinct pattern that can be more readily recalled than the repetitive single spaces in typed text.  I certainly feel there is a connection between recalling the image of a page from my notebook and remembering the content even though I cannot usually read the words in my mental image.

Crumb RM, Hildebrandt R & Sutton TM, The value of handwritten notes: a failure to find state-dependent effects when using a laptop to notes and complete a quiz, Teaching of Psychology, 49(1):7-13, 2022.