Episode 112 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Jerry Michalski. Jerry helps organizations become more trustworthy by exploring their language, processes, and intentions. That’s fascinating in itself, but I wanted to talk with him primarily because he curates Jerry’s Brain, a deep repository of interconnected thoughts. He’s worked on this system for a quarter of a century, longer than any other such experiment I’m aware of. So, I wanted to find out why and how he does this.
Jerry first started working with TheBrain, a web-based idea capture system, while on a press tour its maker. The tool fit with how he works — and that’s one of the pieces of advice he gave during our conversation: ”People just need to figure out how to find their way to the tool that just resonates for them.” There are many such tools besides TheBrain; among others, we touched on Roam Research, Obsidian, and You need a wiki, which gives Google Docs wiki abilities.
What these applications have in common is that they allow users to capture granular ideas and link them together in rich knowledge graphs. Some, like TheBrain, are explicitly visual, while others, such as Obsidian, are more text-driven. Our conversation focused mostly on TheBrain, since that’s what Jerry uses. We tried to describe the system in audio, but you’ll get a better sense of how it works by looking at Jerry’s introductory YouTube video.
You think differently with these tools. I liked Jerry’s description:
the moment I decide something is worth remembering, which means putting it in my Brain, it shifts me into system two thinking. Here I’m going Danny Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. And mostly, we live in system one thinking, which is our responsive, reflexive reply to everything where we don’t really engage the gears. And one of the things I love about curating TheBrain is that daily I’m thrust into system two thinking of, is this worth remembering? If so… so yes. What is it? Where do I put it? Because I don’t have any orphan thoughts in my Brain — at least not intentionally. Everything is hooked like a Christmas ornament onto some branch, right? And then it’s like, okay, so what do I call it? What is it connected to? What can I learn from it?
And then I’ll google the thing some more and then I’ll weave a little bit. And so, I’m always doing this little bit of contextual weaving all over the place a little at a time with no particular order. It’s extremely random. It’s as life hits me, kind of, or as the task I set forth for the day or whatever. So, when you and I have this podcast, I had set up a node — a thought — for this podcast, and I went back to it where I had connected it to the document you sent me for prep, to you, I’ve got you in context, and I put you in a long time ago. So, that just refreshes my wet Brain immediately and I can step into the conversation like I’m stepping into a stream.
Jerry’s goal is to “reboot trust in the world in different ways,” and that entails “build[ing] a shared memory for humans so that we can make better decisions together.” So his use of TheBrain is ultimately in service to a higher purpose. It was a real treat to hear about his projects and how he uses this tool for thought. Check out this conversation if you’re into personal knowledge management — and be sure to spend some time poking around Jerry’s Brain.