Yesterday while walking my pet sheep I saw a pink tree. Now I’d be surprised if this is something that’s actually happened to you and yet I’d also be fairly confident that you didn’t have much trouble picturing the scene. If I said what is 5*10 theres a good chance your mind will flash 50 before you even know what is happening. These represent two methods or tools of thought that we employ almost everyday, rarely stopping to think about the power they hold. It seems that language had a transformative effect in allowing us to conquer the animal kingdom, writing allowed our societies to expand beyond anything seen in history, and Maths has helped us explain things that were divine secrets until its creation. Eugene Wigner talks about how Maths seems to be unreasonably effective, allowing us to predict how planets we have never seen will move or how a objects will behave in dimensions higher than our ability to comprehend and all by writing some symbols on a page. These thought processes are so natural to us that to imagine not using them is like trying to think about a colour you’ve never seen. But are there more?
Paul Graham in Hackers and Painters mentions how when you reach a certain level in programming you realise how different all programming languages are. You start to think in different ways. I know this is meant to occur when you learn other real languages but it seems like there is more difference with programming languages than actual languages that all seem to carry the same amount of information. He mentions how learning lisp made him think in terms of macros as well as higher levels of abstraction than if he had learnt a different language. This seems to be another example of a tool of thought, just one that is perhaps more niche. Recently I came across this essay by Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen on a new tool of thought. Their proposal is a form of essay interspersed with spaced repetition flash cards with the aim of making memory a choice rather than an effortful activity. This would be huge. Imagine the insights that you could have if you truly had a masterful understating of everything you had learnt at school/everything you had read. Another area that I think holds great potential is computer brain interfaces like Neuralink. Who knows what insights we will be able to achieve if our brain is able to seamlessly merge with computers. One thing that is true is that if it is really going to be a new tool of thought like the alphabet or maths it is likely that we cannot possibly know how it will change our lives and our society. If you had tried to explain to people what maths would be able to explain they would have likely thought that you were talking about a new type of God rather than some close form logic.
If you think there are any other existing methods of thought I’m missing or if there are other potential ones that I’ve not looked at let me know.