Using your brain

I’ve been reading about the human brain. This got me thinking about software I used to use a lot for my research. Called the Personal Brain it provides a way of structuring information by forming associations between different thoughts and sources – very similar to the way our memory works. This is a very useful application for anyone involved in research or writing – a useful resource for an active blogger.

Mind mapping and brainstorming are great habits but I’ve never found mind mapping programmes easy to use. But mind mapping with Personal Brain is very simple. It is an effective way of mind mapping, bookmarking and storing information sources.

Most information management systems are hierarchical – Windows explorer is an example. In contrast, Personal Brain organises information associatively using non-hierarchical linking. Associations can be formed between web pages, applications, data files and thoughts. Internet bookmarks are expanded to include documents, worksheets, databases, images, videos, applications, email messages and other files together with ideas or thoughts and all of these are non-hierarchically linked. Movement around this network is quick and easy (see an animated demo). This enables effortless browsing of ideas and information in much the same way our brain does it. For a real example of a personal brain have a look at this video.

Personal Brain reviews


Sherman Hu provides a web conference review of Personal Brain and three other mind mapping applications. at the Personal Brain 101 blog offers advice on setting up your own Personal Brain. See below for a short video review.

If you are an active blogger looking for a better way to manage your information, thoughts, ideas and articles have a look at Personal brain. Let me know what you think.

video Personal Brain 4 Review 4 min 44 sec

Related Articles:
Why do we believe?

14 responses to “Using your brain

  1. This looks like really cool software, Ken.

    Two thoughts come to mind…

    1. I haven’t seen how it is non-hierarchical. The top ‘thing’ seems to be ‘my brain’, and then you have categories/items ‘under’ that, and sub-categories/items ‘under’ those… The difference seems to be that any categories/items can be directly linked with other categories/items regardless of how many links they are ‘under’ the my brain ‘source-point’… Then, it appears that the program shows what you’re looking at in relation to what it is linked to (both directly/hierarchically and indirectly/non-h.), and doesn’t simply show what is ‘above’ and ‘below’ it… Basically, what I can tell is that it is both hierarchical and relational – which is good, because life seems to work like that… Of course, ‘hierarchy’ having to do with ‘source’, rather than ‘rank’, etc.

    2. Will users who use programs like this ‘too much’ be in danger of reducing the (for want of a better term) ‘strength’ of their memory (retention capacity)? I’ve heard that the way we use information is rapidly changing. For example, we can store information not only on paper (books/files/sticky-notes) for reviewing/re-remembering[:)] later, but on hard drives and servers for quicker, searchable viewing, etc… What I’ve heard is that there is less and less that we have to retain, so we are losing our retaining ability, etc. It could also be (following the idea) that the way we are using information is resulting in a more (again, for lack of a better word) ‘shallow’ relationship to the info we use… We don’t have to hold thoughts in our mind, we just ‘access’ it when we need to, etc. Meanwhile, plug into TV or music and ‘switch off’, etc.

    Of course, sharing information and making it easier to access is surely a good thing… But is there a point when it makes us less human? Deep questions, aye? An analogy could also be that people used to grow their own food, harvest it, store it, prepare it, etc. – and now, if the power went out for a week, many of us would not know how to survive! Could there be a similar thing happening with information???

    What do you think?



  2. 1: Yes, I guess it’s not completely non-hierarchical – although links can be sibling as well as parent or child. (I admit most of my links are parent/child – I must consciously try for more sibling links to see what effect this has.

    2: I know what you mean – use it or lose it! I saw this in photography where we develop the habit of always measuring light levels whereas in the past we could judge them by eye. We lose that ability when we start relying on measurement. Still, I see information management programmes being used for more complex situations. Most of us don’t have the ability to store all the information we might want – we just remember how to find it when we want it. Thats where these programmes are useful.

    I also think there is a danger in storing information in our head – our mechanisms of perception are inevitably non-objective. We try to fit new information into preconceived ideas, etc. That’s where being able to actually check the real information, instead of just our memory, helps.

    Yes, modern technology has led to loss of lots of skills. I guess , though, we need to have the skills which enable us to live in the society which we exist in.


  3. Fascinating topic…

    On the 2nd point…
    I’m not sure that we so clearly avoid ‘subjectivity’ in not having to rely on memory. Indeed, I take your point that memory is hard to distinguish from imagination – and is thus (for want of a better term) ‘subjective’; but who is putting the information into the programme and linking it and selecting what to put in and what not to? There are countless decisions made outside the ‘safe objectivity’ of the programme.

    It seems that the programme is a digital expression of a person’s thought processes – they are controlling, guiding, manipulating it…

    A quick tangent:
    I think humans are capable, not only of incredible info storage, but very accurate judgment. Many of us, for example, have a mental-pattern that we use often; the imagery of extremes. We visualise things being at one or the other end of a spectrum. This is a very helpful tool for judgment… The way to strengthen this tool is to compare it with the ‘spectrums’ of others, and thus have your spectrum ‘widened’ or otherwise altered…

    Must run to class now…

    Fascinating topic…



  4. One of the problems of memory is that it can distort our interpretation of a document – hence the advantages of being able to refer back to a document rather than rely on memory. How often do we find that when we check the original it doesn’t actually say what we thought it did. I think that’s just a normal result of the way our brain works.

    The search for true objectivity is something else – that’s when we need to bring other forces into play. And here the methods of scientific investigation, including the social structure of science with its insistence on testing, rigour and peer review can play a powerful role.


  5. Hmmm… the search for true objectivity. I think we might be able to say that this search involves the (my phrase) ‘mingling of our subjectivities’… letting them correct each other, etc.. I think I’ve even heard objectivity more or less equated with ‘inter-subjectivity’… Much to think on…



  6. You might be able to say that – I don’t agree. No amount of “mingling of subjectivities” will work. You have to interact with the real world – that is where the objectivity resides. It is this interaction which, hopefully, works to destroy the subjectivities, the illusions.


  7. I think that’s a bit too strong… Yes, we (subjects) interact with the real world, but that phrase ‘the real world’ just rolls off the tongue a bit too easily, I think. Various subjects have varying perceptions, observations and interpretations of ‘the real world’ – that’s the whole point! Yes, let’s keep testing all of these perceptions, observations and interpretations as best we can – no doubt. But many of the experiences and events that ‘happen’ in ‘the real world’ cannot ever be repeated in a controlled environment, and therefore cannot be ‘proven’ or ‘demonstrated’… We’ll just never get to full ‘objectivity’… But of course, (as you would say) let not that stop us from trying…

    Also, ‘subjectivities’ are not necessarily ‘illusions’. Some could likely be, but a ‘subjectivity’ is simply a perspective of a subject. You seem almost to have an in-built frustration toward all things subjective… I reckon you might as well get used to subjectivity – much of human experience simply has to be placed in that category… and I think these experiences can reside there without being automatically cast-off as ‘illusions’…

    Of course, there are nuances and shades of meaning in this conversation that could be discussed for… well… a long time (subjectively speaking!)…



  8. My frustration is not with subjectivity – far from it because it’s a fact of life. My issue is the fashionable attempt to eradicate objective reality as the real source of our knowledge. Dennett, in his recent talk, referred to the attempt by Sloan Wilson (for example) to argue for a “practical truth” as being more important than a “factual truth!” And I see that reflected in a lot of the current criticism of modern scientific methodology.

    The motivation for this varies – some of it being postmodernist crap. But also I sense writers are using it to justify (or give some legitimacy) to “religious knowledge” in contrast to scientific knowledge.

    The key to this is of course to deny reality as a source of knowledge. In practice it is an attempt to validate a subjective world without any need to check it against reality. It’s easy to talk about the subjective nature of the model of the world we build in our brain – and that it may have some value in building a response. After all, we evolved to survive and reproduce – not to discover truth. But, if we want to build an ever more accurate model (still subjective but becoming less so) then we have to map our model against reality.

    You may worry that “many of the experiences and events that ‘happen’ in ‘the real world’ cannot ever be repeated in a controlled environment,” – but so what? Surely we don’t expect our pursuit of a useful knowledge to always be easy. The attainment of a lot of our current accurate knowledge didn’t require repetition in a controlled environment. The process is a lot more sophisticated than that – to describe it that way is to belittle it.

    “Mingling subjectivities” might be OK for “religious knowledge” (it seems to me to characterise a lot of Christian apologetics I come across) but as a species we didn’t get where we are today by ignoring the real world.


  9. Thanks Ken,

    I’m neither a ‘modernist’ nor a ‘post-modernist’. Both, I think are too extreme (at least at times). The modernist minimises the interpretation of reality, and skips to the end, as though reality interprets itself! The post-modernist, however, amplifies the interpretation of reality to the point where no ‘end’ is possible – or even desired! Surely there is a large middle-ground that can support the most robust scientific investigation while not absolutising its interpretation so firmly that it is no longer open to other possibilities.

    Sure, when talking about what will happen to a rock when dropped from a height, talk of objectivity sounds wonderful and secure, but life is more interesting than that. Relationships, feelings, choices… Love; these involve undeniably real things, but we struggle to ‘objectively’ test, systematise and categorise these processes… What is the ‘mechanism’ here???

    Also, I seriously challenge the notion that ‘mingling subjectivities’ is only relevant for ‘religious knowledge’. I refuse to be boxed in like that. As long as ANY two humans are talking about almost ANYTHING, there will be a degree of subjectivity-mingling. We must not continue to inflate the false ‘religion’/’science’ conflict!



  10. There may well be things we cannot “objectively” test (by either scientific or non-scientific approaches). Then again, I don’t think anyone is trying to. On the other hand, mechanisms may well be open to investigation. Neurochemistry may provide an insight into mental states, for example.

    I was a bit harsh to say “mingling subjectivities” might be OK for religious knowledge – we are all prone to protection of our subjective ideas from mapping against reality for sure. Emotional attachment to favourite beliefs is common to all of us. I like to think that scientific experience teaches us lessen the attachment, or at least be willing to expose beliefs to empirical evidence. I know that is hard at the individual level. The social environment of science does encourage, almost insist, that ideas be modified or replaced on the basis of evidence. If only this approach was more common in other areas.

    Again, I may be wrong. However, I do think that a theological approach relies almost completely on subjective ideas and developing argument through logic. There seems to be no testing against reality. I am certainly unaware of any such testing. Hence arguments become circular and more and more tenuous (in my view). That is the basis for my dislike of theology – I know that whenever such a development of argument goes on for any great length in science it is inevitably proved to be false when the final testing against reality comes.


  11. Thanks Ken,

    (round and round we go…) 🙂

    You go on and on about the need to ‘expose beliefs to empirical evidence’ and complain that theology has ‘no testing against reality’ as if it were a simple matter of needing to look at the clock to see what time it is… You know it’s not that simple…

    I must say, I do agree that our ’emotional attachment’ does play a role in how much we ‘open’ ourselves to criticism of our beliefs. I’m fully aware that I am attached to my Christian faith. It has been sharpened and shaped quite a bit over my 8 years as a Christian…
    I am aware of this…
    I want to believe in a God…
    I see it as a good thing…
    And naturally, this affects my judgment.

    I also would suggest it works for ‘un’-attachment [my term! :)] as well… Many fundamentalists simply do NOT want to believe that evolution could have happened… they do NOT want to entertain the idea that the Genesis account could be ‘true’ while not being ‘literal’… Also, I wonder if the same could be true for some atheists?
    They do NOT want to believe in a God…
    They see it as a very bad and harmful thing…
    And naturally, this would have to affect their judgment…

    That, perhaps, is (at the very least) a part of the reason(s) behind your ‘dislike of theology’…?

    Two things (call them ‘requests’ if you will)…

    1) Consider how the fact (well, I presume it’s a fact, anyway!) that you don’t want to believe in a God (and a God of any kind, mind you) might be affecting/influencing your judgment…

    2) Consider that there are many ‘articulations’ of ‘God’ out there, and that some of these may be less ridiculous sounding than others… What kind(s) of g(G)od(s) do you not see evidence for? Is there a relationship between the kind(s) of g(G)od(s) you don’t believe in and your lack of desire to entertain (be ‘open’ to) the possibility of a g(G)od???

    I know these are ‘theological’ questions (well, actually the first is perhaps more ‘philosophical’), but actually, you’ve already engaged in ‘theos’-logical reflection in order to come to your non-‘theos’ position (not to mention your dislike of ‘theos’-ology)…

    What do ya reckon?



  12. Yes -I know it’s not simple and have made that point myself. Consider the huge expense and human effort that has gone into understanding the development of the universe. It’s produced an exciting story with much of it confirmed. Human society puts a lot of resources into the scientific effort and reaps huge returns. But it all does depend in the difficult, expensive and demanding mapping of ideas against reality. I don’t think theology does that.

    1: Of course people become emotionally attached to ideas and I am no different. I’ve never seen it as “wanting” to believe though (perhaps more “wanting” the evidence to be there when it wasn’t). But certainly I can remember this sort of attachment in political, scientific and ideological spheres. I’ve certainly had to modify my earlier socialist beliefs. I felt an attachment to a “steady state universe” which I was able to ditch with learning new evidence. I really disliked Richard Dawkins (see Putting Dawkins in his place) until I read the God Delusion (the first book of his I read). I could go on. Yes, it’s not always easy to change ideas but I am at least open to change. And if I have learned anything from these changes in world view it is that when I ignored the evidence of reality my ideas just became more and more ridiculous.

    2: As I have said before I don’t place much importance on the belief or otherwise in a god. Personally I’ve never felt that the concept added anything to my understanding of the world, quite the opposite. Agreed, there are many ‘articulations’ and that is why I see little value in discussing the general concept – only a specific hypothesis has any value for consideration in my eyes. The only ‘articulation’ which has any credibility in my view is that of Einstein – an attribute for the order implicit in the universe. (I certainly believe such order is implicit). Richard Dawkins also accepts such a “god” – but I do agree with him that it was a bit silly of Einstein to actually give it that name. It’s caused no end of misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
    But certainly, I don’t see any evidence for the traditional God of the Bible, Koran, etc., or the Hindu gods, the ancient Greek or Roman gods, etc.
    Perhaps for me the evidence has to come before the god belief – it then becomes a matter of science rather than theology (which to me appears to start with the belief). The theological arguments don’t interest me but the scientific arguments do.


  13. Sorry for the delay, was in Wellington Thursday-Sunday…

    Quickly, I would push back (again) against the language of ‘confirming’ the development of the universe… As I outlined in an earlier post on my blog (,
    I think such statements should be balanced. The further back we look in time, the more theories pop up to explain the wonder of all wonders – the origin of the cosmos. We’re not simply ‘on the verge’ of explaining/confirming things once-and-for-all, quite the contrary, we find our most basic ideas about reality being stretched and tossed about as we try to imagine how it could have happened…

    1. I too have changed/shifted/re-nuanced many of my beliefs, and I continue to do so. Such is life!

    2. I would be interested to hear more about the “attribute for the order implicit in the universe” that Einstein expressed (and which Dawkins ‘accepts’ and you see as having at least some ‘credibility’). I’d love to hear more about how you (or Dawkins or Einstein) would define, explain or describe this ‘attribute’. It seems pretty cut and dry already, though. We observe implicit order, and the ‘attribute’ is a logical/rational part of that observation, no? That would seem to fit with your ‘evidence first’ request, no?

    Further, at what specific point(s) would this kind of ‘attribute’ differ from general modern ‘Deist’ (not theist, but deist) notions?

    Cheers, hope all is well.



  14. Pingback: our current Accurate - Mobile Companies | Mobile Companies

Leave a Reply: please be polite to other commenters & no ad hominems.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s