Keeping Track of Your Own Ideas

I discovered rather late in life that you need to write down all your ideas, because no matter how vivid they might seem at the time, you will forget them, or perhaps only remember them with very specific cues that you might never get again. I learned it first with books on how to write fiction, and sort of figured it out for myself with science.

Now I keep a notebook of project ideas, with one idea per page. It's been great, and it's so inspiring to page through this thing. I have noticed, though, that the rate of idea generation varies depending on the book I'm reading. For example, during Minsky's Society of Mind and Hofstadter's Godel Escher Bach I produced many, many ideas. Now, reading Herb Simon's The Sciences Of The Artificial, not so much. It's frustrating. As I read the book, I feel like I'm not productive, because where are the science ideas?

It's making me feel desperate, and I look on my bookshelf at the upcoming books I have planned and re-order them according to which ones I think are going to be most inspiring

The other thing that bothers me is that I forget what's in books, and I mean big time. My old advisor Nancy was so good at remembering what was in books. I feel like I retain only a little bit (at least the project ideas are a productive residue) but I often just think about the content in terms of whatever else I happen to be thinking about at the time. So if I read Society of Mind and then Anderson's The Atomic Components of Thought, I compare those. If I'd read Churchland's A Neurocomputational Perspective instead, I'd have a different experience.

Makes me want to go back and read all these books again-- in different orders, so different books are back-to-back for comparison. That's depressing. Maybe after I teach this stuff for a few years it will stick into my seive head.

Pictured is an weird, intimidating cover of a box of tongue depressors I found in my doctor's office, featuring an enthusiastic, unshaven, young doctor.


Anonymous said…
I have the same problem with remembering arguments, authors and titles of essays. I am lucky if I remember all three at any given time. I find talking to people helps me to remember them more clearly. Expanding your book club or frequency might help. Also talking about the books you read to your class might help, too.

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