000.100-Filing Systems_Indexes_Databases for the Creative-Logical-Efficient




GM Davies is right: be it between creative or logically efficient, art or science, the divide is undeserved.

The post above also got me thinking about personal filing systems, indexes, databases; and how some obsessive-compulsive types can reach for extremes, in their urge to ‘properly’ and completely record+organize their every single reading, thought, (cross) reference, musing/insight. Before revisiting my own dark compulsion in this quest during younger days, here’s a look at how some Creative-Logical (the pairing of this seemingly-opposing dyad is intentional) overachievers carried out their own cartographical mapping of their mind-worlds towards efficient and illuminating productivity.

Fischer Black

“He always carried with him a package of note cards, and would pull them out to make a note the very moment the thought occurred…
What happened to all the notes? They all got taken back to his office where he would review them and decide what to save and what to throw out. Everything that got saved then got placed into an elaborate filing system where Fischer could put his hand on it within seconds should he ever need it again. Each note had its own sturdy manila file folder, with straight-cut tabs across the top to provide room for a detailed label, usually indicating the problem that the note addressed. As computer technology improved, Fischer augmented this paper filing system with an equally elaborate electronic filing system.”

“He did almost all of his work in an outlining program called ThinkTank, which he used as a kind of external associative emmory to supplement his own. Everything he read, every conversation he had, every thought that occurred, everything got summarized and added to the data base that swelled eventually to 20 million bytes organized in 2000 alphabetical files…Reading, discussion and thinking that Fischer did outside the office was recorded on slips of paper to be entered into the database later. Reading, discussion, and thinking that took place inside the office was recorded directly. While he was on the phone, he was typing. While he was talking to you in person, he was typing.”

-from the biography, “Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance”*

A character which inspired way back as a youth was the protaganist from Robert Pirsig’s “Lila: An Inquiry into Morals” where the Phaedrus-character** as thinker/writer organizes thousands of his thoughts/ideas as notes on coloured cards in card-catalogue drawers, the colourful cross-referencing juxtaposition of which can lead to exciting insights in new directions.
[My own younger self co-opted this into an even more elaborate framework, which predictably in light of its greater degrees of freedom, also meant a greater number of points of and propensity for failure.]

My compulsion with systematically organizing my readings, thinking, ideas probably began when as kids, we learnt about the Dewey Decimal Classification; I love the DDC (the amazing card-catalogues!) and thus took my first fallen adamic step towards the ultimately-futile act of organizing my world, ‘knowledge’ and mind.

Early gifts of beautiful journals, filofaxes, planners soon gave way to self-made binders incorporating only the best features, augmented by an ever-growing system of different-type/format/media files. And even more important, was the filing methodology and indexing system designed to capture+organize loose-sheaf and different-sized notes, diagrams, clippings, scraps of paper, (anything!) into a database to encourage, grow and especially to cross-pollinate, different ideas.
With the computer age, the task grew ever larger (predictably with the obstacles of reconciliation and synchronization) with early efforts into optimizing an object-oriented use of Microsoft Binder tools as the primary interface for my own Babel project. This failed irreparably, and in despair even thought of turning to relational databases for the solution.

Eventually, as with all Sisyphean labours and cycles, the tides turn.
Events, from something as minor as losing physical files representing years of beaver-like work and terminally crashed harddrives, to other more life and time-altering happenings, can take place which may cause one to release his fixation on establishing his own epistemology, and return to an original and unadulterated state of mind.

And in truth, the pure and simple (but not simplistic) mind, unfettered by the constraints and limits of mere ‘systems’, can make the most amazing connections and maybe even bring forth revealing insights.

It is bemusing how some of the ‘futuristic’ technologies and systems I so strongly desired as a youth to aid towards the building of my babel database (large-capacity handhelds, personal-area-network, remote access/platform/storage virtualization, ubiquitous thin-client applications, cloud computing, true O-O/rich multimedia content management…) have now largely come to pass. And yet, I have allowed it all to pass me by and instead returned to beginnings, relying simply on only journals and sketchpads; and to let that now dusty and rusty database/system die its natural death.

The return:

“The purpose of fish traps is to catch fish. When the fish are caught, the traps are forgotten. The purpose of rabbit snares is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snares are forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.

Where is the man who has forgotten all words? He is the one I would like to speak with.”
-Chuang Tzu

“Every burned book enlightens the world.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

To paraphrase Emerson hopefully then: every burned system/database of the mind may just enlighten the being.

[*Fischer Black, noted economist and egg-head genius, co-developer of the Black-Scholes option pricing model.

**Robert Pirsig (and the character Phaedrus) is of course more well-known for his first book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.

legacydaily’s post on Complex And Inefficient Systems warrants referencing here:

{The clips from Bruce Almighty and Brazil (first link at top and within the legacydaily post above) may provide other perspectives on the complex systems around within and without us, of dubious or sometimes divine efficacy}


7 thoughts on “000.100-Filing Systems_Indexes_Databases for the Creative-Logical-Efficient

  1. Interesting post to which I can relate. There is probably no single “right” answer for everyone or even for a single individual. Different stages in life seem to come with different requirements.

    Regarding the pure mind generating insights, I must add that at least in my case this requires perception of internal and external order. Without this order, I find myself unable to focus. Perhaps this is my Sisyphean punishment. Chaos is what it looks like but everything has its order, its reasons, its role.

  2. Don,

    Perhaps finally I can recommend you a book you’ll find interesting in return for all the ideas you’ve given me. In ‘Lasker’s Manual of Chess’ my chess hero since childhood states that he has spent most of his life forgetting things he has learned, venturing that the method is far more important than the dead weight of knowledge. This decluttering of the mind reminds me of so many modern organisational methods, but adds ‘method’ as the centerpiece for one’s cogitations. This strikes me as being a vital supplement.


  3. legacy,

    Yes, finding order within chaos, or as it may be, that finely-perturbed chaotic-quixotic within order, may indeed allow the aligning of the internal and external worlds.

    While Consonance is almost always pleasing on the surface, and the higher-order Assonance can provide the counterbalance for a deeper and more complete natural intuition;
    it may be Dissonance, whether cognitive musical or language, which may allow a rending of the illusory veil for a glimpse into the true rhythm and nature of things.


  4. Nigel,

    What you said “he has spent most of his life forgetting things he has learned” can strike fear into the hearts of the diligent and pious learners and gatherers of ‘knowledge’;
    and this most prescient of observation can come only from those who have first laboured long and hard to climb those steep steps up the towers of ivory and ebony, only to discover that their hard-won ascent is also a mysterious Escher-ian descent.

    Thank you for the recommendation for Lasker’s book. I have a feeling I will enjoy this one tremendously.


    [I remember when the Ueshiba-lineage master from the aikikai foundation visited the local dojo for a demonstration, he said that for the higher level practitioners, the hardest work is to forget all earlier techniques, keeping only ‘circles’ in mind.
    This is of course not directly applicable for the light-belts; painful hard work is required to first ‘burn-in’ those techniques until they become part of your nature, before attempting to let go of them.

  5. My pace of reading has decreased considerably compared to earlier years (the dreaded S-curve catching up?) and infact, find myself spending a lot more time rereading old material.

    One such text which I have kept nearby recently, has several passages which seem to chime with the above comments:

    “In a Zen koan someone said that an enlightened man is not one who seeks Buddha or finds Buddha, but simply an ordinary man who has nothing left to do. Yet mere stopping is not arriving. To stop is to stay a million miles from it and to do nothing is to miss it by the whole width of the universe. As for arriving, when you arrive you are ruined. Yet how close the solution is: how simple it would be to have nothing more to do if only—one had really nothing more to do. The man who is unripe cannot get there, no matter what he does or does not do. But the ripe fruit falls out of the tree without even thinking about it. Why? The man who is ripe discovers that there was never anything to be done from the very beginning.”

    and a warning against false negativa/forgetting/letting go:

    “False humility and the illusory ideal of self-annihilation. I distinguish this quite clearly from the real annihilation of the mystics, which is another matter. But a contrived “annihilation” simply sets up one figment against another and has them cancel each other out. The “self” sits by, smugly watching the operation and indeed directing it, and is not annihilated at all. On the contrary, this is a sure way of avoiding annihilation. Such “humility” becomes a last refuge in which the self remains impregnable.”

    -Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

    And so, since “there was never anything to be done from the very beginning”, off I go searching for some ripe fruit…grapes will be nice at this hour.

  6. I once browsed through the mentioned Lasker’s book. I remember being marveled at his thoughts on the difference between tactical chess and positional chess. Very clear and succinct. To my patzer’s mind, only a highly accomplished master of the art can make it so very clear like that. It’s a book I will need to revisit.

    “Such “humility” becomes a last refuge in which the self remains impregnable.” Another highly accomplished master of the art :-). How very true — speaking from experience, as I used to be one who used humility/outward-calmness as a facade/defensive-wall of the ego. Much easier to see your own problem when you yell/curse/argue/kicking-and-screaming; much much much harder when you act kindly/warmly. Can not let go if one does not see the load on one’s back.

  7. roamingwind,

    Yes, this “last refuge” of false self-annihilation is a real tough one…Especially for any would-be Odysseus who thinks his enlightened Self is safely lashed from the siren calls of the Ego.
    A constant struggle which may never end, only quietened.
    [Wax in the ears may work better here than lashings :)]

    I think you’re right that sometimes ‘yelling/cursing/kicking-and-screaming’ may work out better, and may be why ol’ Bruce managed to get the Almighty’s attention.
    Perhaps letting it all out with some alliterative and blasphemous, “Smite me, O mighty Smiter!” will get you some divine notice.


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