A treatises on how we think.

Ontology is the study of the nature of being, specifically examining the basic categories of being. Practically, systems of categorization are essential to the maintenance and retrieval of information. Given a group of people and their mutual ideas of importance, categorization must be:

  • Universally useful — Enable individuals to easily pickup and maintain the structure of the categorizations.
  • Appropriate — Because there are multiple ways of categorizing a given set of objects, the categorization system must cater to the group’s values.
  • Timeless — Create one system of categorization; resist changing it over your lifetime. The way you think about things moves very little. Similar to putting time into creating a database schema at the beginning of your project instead of iteratively.


  1. Alpha, March 7, 2009. Preliminary introduction, definition, levels of importance.
  2. Beta, March 9, 2009. Fleshed out experiences into full sentences and paragraphs.
  3. Gamma, …. TODO(collect a more useful and comprehensive bibliography.)

What does it mean to think about thinking about thinking?

How do you think in real life? How do you categorize information? I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown circularly thinking about how I think about how I think about how…

  • What are memories? How do we remember them? What does it mean/feel to remember something?
  • What is knowledge? How do we recall it? What is the relationship between memory and knowledge?
  • Is how I think the same as what I think? What does the previous sentence even mean? What do sentences mean? (At least from Bertrand Russell, I know what to mean means.)

I’ve wasted precious couple of days deriding my responsibilities. Everything is dangerously free-form when you let it (structuring your thoughts) go. I want to call up my friends in a panic and exclaim, “I forgot how to think! Help! Can we meet soon over coffee or maybe dinner so you can remind me…” Questions multiply into other questions which eventually transform back into the original(?) questions. I am in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Eventually, I am exasperated and mentally exhausted. For some reason (everyone has at least one saving grace), I do my best work when I am frustrated. I start hacking and clawing at the nearest wall in reach.

On thinking, remembering, and action:

In Data Structures and Algorithms (book), we learn about the fundamental separation between data structures and the algorithms (not) that operate on them. (For some reason, many programmers are in an absolute rush to forget this concept, resulting in much horrendously hardwired code that has the view practically making out with the model.) One can think about:

  • experience as data,
  • memory as structured data,
  • wisdom as creating appropriate structure/abstractions; indexing on the correct variables; database schema,
  • instincts as algorithms,
  • intelligence as the speed at which one can access primed data.

To give an example, I was recently at dinner with a good friend of mine. As the waiter recited the various fish of the day and I struggled to remember the difference between salmon and sturgeon, I was struck by the enormity of it all: how many thousands of types of fish I would see in my lifetime. On my plate, in the supermarket, in a magazine, on a train; in my stomach, on the beach, green, blue, and rainbow. I resolved, right there, to start keeping track of fish.

As I gathered

Writing being eminently linked to memory, on dairies and journals…

Hard drive : journal :: RAM : memory


I’m interested in creating just categorization scheme that I can: carry to multiple services and use in my own internal representation of knowledge.

There are two important elements of representation: (like) and (is a).

  • (like) — how different items relate. for example, this is related to memory representation within our own heads and should be related to frameworks. they create a ring. this post is also related to (designing good) data structures in computer science.
  • (is a) — allows one to effectively browse and search by narrowing.

I think categorizing tags is the best. It offers control and allows error.

On some level, it is always arbitrary. This is the hardest part of tagging. But then again, there always is someone who does things for you as a public good/service. One very nice system is the Colon classification.

So now what?

* I don’t even know how to group these ideas up logically anymore. They all seem related. Something about the precision cut of a scaple.

* How do people translate wants into thought? Into actions?
* The value of thoughts as a currency. How does one communicate with others?

So this post is actually about how people THINK. It’s simply that is so wrapped around CATEGORIZING. how surprising.

* Sense -> Neural Network -> Action -> …
Introspection -> Frameworks/Skills -> Observations/Actions -> …
Viewpoints -> Actions -> Efficiency

What questions now?

Annotalia is my attempt to understand how I think by drawing upon everyone.

This is why I can’t have nice things.  This is why I’m destined to die in a fire.



  • Traditionally, there are two different approaches to classification:* Hierarchical-enumerative: a taxonomic top-down scheme, in which knowledge is divided into progressively narrower and more specific categories (a hierarchy). Analytical-synthetical: a faceted bottom-up scheme that breaks down a subject into individual concepts (analytical) and provides rules to use these concepts in constructing headings for composite complex subjects (synthetical). New elements can be developed as new concepts emerge, often without superseding the previous categorization activity.” – <http://www.iskoi.org/doc/folksonomies.htm>
  • How to make a faceted web classification scheme. “Kwasnick (1999) identifies four classificatory structures: hierarchies, trees, paradigms, and facets. When one of the first three works, use it. If some other organizing principle, such as a timeline or ordering by size, works, use it. The design of the classification must follow its purpose, and different things can be classified in different ways for different purposes, requiring different structures. If the others are insufficient, look to facets.” – <http://www.miskatonic.org/library/facet-web-howto.html>
  • “Some commentators have suggested that ontology is overrated, even irrelevant. That there is no hierarchy in ideas, only links. This may be overstating the point a little bit. While often many hierarchies can be created for any given set of data, hierarchies are indisputably useful for a major type of information retrieval task: browsing. When we do not know exactly what we are looking for, it is much easier to be able to broaden and narrow our area of interest than to perform some sort of random walk from idea to idea.” – <http://heymann.stanford.edu/taghierarchy.html> (Useful bibliography, academic.)
  • Giant map of categorized tags from delicious. – <http://heymann.stanford.edu/mgfgsm/newmethod-300-biggest-0.199.png>
  • “According to Joshua Schachter of del.icio.us, adding hierarchy to the folksonomy model would decrease the level of usability and ease of access which are so valued in these systems.” – <http://infotangle.blogsome.com/2005/12/07/the-hive-mind-folksonomies-and-user-based-tagging/>
  • A cognitive analysis of tagging (or how the lower cognitive cost of tagging makes it popular). Finally, there are no second chances in categorizing digital objects. Well there are – but those are fairly expensive. – <http://rashmisinha.com/2005/09/27/a-cognitive-analysis-of-tagging/>

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