Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thought and Paper

Here's an open question: What do you need in order to think? I'm not asking this question philosophically or physiologically, but practically. What do you need at hand in order to think through or solve problems?

Some people need to look at their fingers to count, or to hold up both hands to tell their left from their right. I find that some of my thoughts require speech (either with someone else or just to myself), others typing, still others -- especially math problems -- a pen and paper. I've completely conditioned myself to solve higher-order algebra problems by writing -- and not typing -- a series of equations. I don't think I could calculate them in any other way.

I said that I wasn't interested in philosophical implications, but I'll speculate on some anyways. To what extent does thought occur as a purely mental process, and to what extent does it exist in a series of embodied actions? To put it in Descartes's terminology, is the "I," the "thinking thing," as much the hand tracing the curve as it is the mind judging that curve to be immediately certain, and therefore, true?


Robin Sloan said...

I think much better while walking. Finally -- it's taken too long -- I've learned that if I'm stumped I need to get up and take a walk. A fast one -- not a wander.

To be clear, this is creative thinking -- solution to an odd problem, idea for a page layout, etc. It's not mathematical thinking and it's not writing/editing thinking, either.

Heard the claim, very boldly stated, from Kevin Kelly recently that "people think differently on their feet." He thinks big wall-sized screens are coming fast, and when they become the de facto way to look at information in offices, it's actually going to change things a lot. The Age of the Desk gives way to the Age of the Wall.

PoN said...

I think much better in the mornings.

Steelcase is making a treadmill desk now, so people can walk while working on their computer. I want one.

DDanielle said...

I have a few ways and none of htem involve pen and paper.
For everyday problems I do the best problem solving in the shower.
When that doesn't work or the problem is more technical/mathmathical in nature I need to distract myself away from the problem for a bit like walking or even internet surfing.
For a bug in data at work, I find that if I just stare at the data long enough the solution sometimes will jump out at me. Its kind of freaky when that happens.