Mind mapping Connections and related things

09 Mar 2021

example of Rico clustering

There is a notation, which lots of people routinely use in one variant or another, of a labeled graph (this is the "Seven Bridges of Königsberg" kind of graph, not the axes and Cartesian plane kind of graph).

Mind Mapping and/or Rico Clustering

In mind mapping, one starts by writing down an idea, a short sentence or phrase, and then drawing a circle around it. You free-associate that idea to other ideas, and write them down (or a word or phrase that reminds you of the idea, given this context), and circle them and connect them. Eventually (after filling the page, for example) you have a a "mind map" - a graph with nodes labeled with ideas, and an edge from A to B when thinking of A may lead you to think of B.

Tony Buzan has promoted something that he calls Mind Mapping, and it's marketed pretty heavily (which makes me think he's an asshole). His tradition and examples have particular features, including a tree shape, thick and thin branches, and strong recommendation of the use of color and pictures. Gabriele Lusser Rico has promoted something that she calls clustering (in her books "Writing the Natural Way" and "Pain and Possibility: Writing Your Way through Personal Crisis"), which in contrast uses a general graph rather than a tree, does not use different colors or widths to the edges, and only uses text labels.

Burke's articles are cycles

In James Burke's "Connections" articles, he follows a standard structure. One thing, such as a person, idea, or fact, leads to another in a long chain through history of science, and eventually leads back to the original.

For example, in one article, he started in a department store, thinking about buying a cup. Specifically, Wedgwood, and then free-associated to Josiah Wedgwood who imitated designs collected by William Hamilton, and linked Hamilton to something else, and so on and so forth, eventually leading to Samuel Morse, whose Morse code was used in railways, railways that organized themselves into a particular organizational form, which was imitated in big commercial stores, called department stores.

If you were going to mind-map James Burke's articles, the graph would be a cycle.

Hesse's Glass Bead Game and HipBone Games

Herman Hesse wrote a book, called "The Glass Bead Game", which is set in a world where the eponymous Glass Bead Game is central to the culture. The book doesn't give enough to actually pin down the rules, but various people have taken the attributes of the fictional game from the book as a (probably impossible) game design challenge.

One game designer, Charles Cameron, suggests starting with an unlabeled graph, and alternating labeling nodes with ideas. If the label of node A is "pepper", and someone puts "salt" on a node B adjacent to A, and all players agree that the ideas "pepper" and "salt" are substantially related, then the player who put "salt" on node B scores a point. Based on the phrase "the hip-bone connected to the thigh-bone", these games (plural because you can start with different starting graphs) are called "HipBone Games".

Though this game can be described as if it were competitive, the intent is to play for enjoyment of the moves, meditatively, or aesthetically.

Tarot Spreads

The Tarot, as sold, routinely includes a book or booklet of "secret" meanings for the cards, and also one or more "spreads". A spread is a procedure, often described as if it were a two-person procedure, though one person can play both roles. The querent might start with some nebulous concern or current context. The fortune-teller says something like "This card is your present". Let's call this part the claim. The claim stays the same from one use of the spread to another. The fortune-teller draws and lays out a card. For concreteness, let's imagine that they draw "The Empress". Then the fortune-teller and the querent discuss and try to synthesize an interpretation that links:

This is similar to attempting to label a HipBone game node that is connected to three other nodes, which are labeled with ideas A, B, and C. The interpretation sought and found might be only tentatively and loosely held.

Then the fortune-teller. and the querent move on to the next step in the spread. The fortune-teller says the next claim, something like "This card is the challenge", and draws another card. For concreteness, let's imagine that they draw "The Two of Cups". Then the fortune-teller and the querent discuss and try to synthesize an interpretation that links four things.

As they go through the spread, and extend the interpretations, they might experience clashes, where previous interpretations do not seem extensible to fit with a new card. Then you might go back and reconsider those interpretations, and try to find an interpretation that is compatible with the new constraints. (Backtracking like this, searching for a new interpretation or perspective on the same nebulous situation, is perhaps a valuable cognitive or emotional skill, and doing Tarot spreads might help practice it).

Eventually, the spread ends. Ideally, skillful interpreting of the Tarot spread would act as a technique to think both deliberately and creatively about the nebulous concern or current context.

One way to view the Tarot spread is that it's somewhat similar to playing a HipBone game with a simple, robotic, opponent. The robot gets lots of "advantages". It goes first, it labels two nodes (one claim and one card) each turn, and you don't get to pick which node you label.

diagram of a Tarot spread as a HipBone game

The similarity between the Tarot spread and the HipBone game yields a perspective, a theory or structure that either allows or encourages "slipping" or "blending" particular aspects of the Tarot spread to create similar-but-different procedures. The important quality of the Tarot cards, according to this analysis, is that they supporta rich polysemy, allowing a sort of pareidolia-ish finding of symbolic associations. Maybe you could substitute something else that has a rich set of symbolic associations for the 78 cards of the Tarot. The 7 planets? The 12 constellations of the zodiac? The 88 constellations, on and off the ecliptic? Maybe the 30 or so characters from Supergiant Games' Hades? Or just the 26 letters of the alphabet - surely "words starting with E" is sufficiently polysemous to function for this purpose? I think trying to use Mike Wilks' "Ultimate Alphabet" for divination is a somewhat ridiculous idea, but it just might work.

Another form of slipping is already present in the Tarot tradition, slipping the claims from one sequence to another. This is "using a different spread". There are structured sequences of questions outside the Tarot tradition, such as "G.R.O.W." or Gabriele Oettingen's "W.O.O.P.". Can you use those as a spread?

Blending a little bit of Tarot into HipBone, you could devise a solitaire rule for HipBone games where the nodes in the starting board are numbered (maybe a Hamiltonian path through the graph) and you play with two robot "opponents" or "collaborators" - decks of ideas, one sorted in its own normal internal order (like claims in a spread), another shuffled (like the deck in a Tarot reading). On the robot turns, they play the top card in their respective decks to the lowest empty node on the board. On your turn, you put a general idea into the lowest empty node in the board and try to score as high as possible.

Solo journaling RPGs

There is a variant on paper-and-pencil role playing games (things like Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, and so on), which are intended to be played alone and generate a narrative. They're something like a genre-inflected writing prompt generator. One Day at a Thyme is a simple example. Essentially, the mechanical engine of the rules, dice, and card deck generates a somewhat incoherent, vague, or inscrutable writing prompt, something like "An unexpected encounter, regarding: tending your garden, a singing teakettle, and a neighbor, who is an antlered person". Then you apply your human intelligence to interpret that writing prompt, and write a journal entry.

Another solo engine, Cut Up Solo leans on the "cut-up method". The engine dices to find scraps of text from within some genre-establishing texts, and uses those as writing prompts. This is a very general strategy, that relates to Markov Chains, and Shannon's estimation of the entropy of english in his paper "Prediction and Entropy of Printed English". You can easily see how to take some large body of text with a narrow focus, style, or genre and use the cut-up method to convert it into a generator of somewhat disjointed text with that focus, style, or genre.

These solo journaling RPGs might be viewed as a divination technique, divining fictional narratives within a genre, or Tarot spreads might be viewed as a journaling RPG.

Oulipo games

Oulipo was a French literary group, who experimented with constrained writing, rules such as "write a novel without using the letter e" (George Perec's "La Disparition"), as creativity techniques. The random mechanism of the Tarot spread, or the solo journaling RPG, are recognizable as Oulipian constraints.

In the palindrome Oulipo game, the first part of the piece acts as a constraint on itself, later in the piece. You might use this idea within a new kind of Tarot spread - imagine that you draw three cards from the deck, but then you re-use the first two cards, maybe in opposite order, as the answers to five total claims. This might lead to more clashes, and more backtracking, than a more traditional spread. In order to find interpretations of the cards you need to use multiple different aspects of the same card, which means it might stress knowledge of multiple aspects of the cards more than other spreads.

In the Exquisite Corpse Oulipo game, a single piece is created by a team of successive authors, none of which are able to see the entire original - only a fraction of the previous author's work shows as a starting point for the next author's work. Or possibly, as a party game, N pieces are created simultaneously by a team of N authors, passing the pieces around. Is there a way to "cross" or "blend" this Oulipo game with these other concepts?

In black-out poetry (a constrained-writing technique that I think of as Oulipian, even though as far as I can tell, it isn't historically Oulipian) an artifact such as a page from a newspaper or official document is revised with a black marker, showing only a few chosen words from it. Is there a way to "cross" or "blend" the black-out poetry game with these other concepts?

Floppiness, Uno and Set, the Fano plane

There is a quality of looseness, free-association, meandering or daydreaming, poetic or allusive thinking, punny unseriousness, and floppiness in most of these systems. I sometimes am disgusted this quality. I think the reason all of these have this quality is because the graphs that we started out discussing only have binary relationships, so every node can potentially act like a hinge.

An Uno card is legal to play if the top card is the same color (same suit) or same number (same rank). The game of Set has 3^4=81 cards that have four dimensions - not just color and number but also shape and shading. These are rigid griddy structures.

You can imagine playing a HipBone game where instead of labeling nodes with natural language descriptions of ideas, you label nodes with Uno or Set cards, and instead of natural language descriptions of relationships between ideas, the only relationships that count are "same color" "same number" and similar.

Alternately, you can imagine putting down an array of ten or so Uno or Set cards, and using that array as a starting graph for a HipBone game. The subset of the Uno or Set cards that you lay out still carries some of that rigid quality that's missing in the simple graphs. A triple of connected nodes can be a "same suit straight triple" or a "same rank straight triple", or it can have a kink in it - for example, "Two of Cups", "Two of Pentacles", "Three of Pentacles" has a kink. There isn't that "straight triple vs bent triple" distinction in ordinary graphs.

The Fano plane is an example of a finite geometry. It has additional structure, beyond an undirected graph. I'm not certain that the Fano plane is the right kind of thing, but it's an example of going I don't know exactly what additional structure would be ideal (a finite affine geometry? Schild's ladder?) to have more substantive systems of ideas emerge than HipBone graphs normally allow, but I'd like to figure it out.


I don't know much about it, but Joe Edelman has written something about "Building a Second Heart". One of the ideas that he encoded in his "meaning.supplies" tool is that a "value" can be expressed using a two-sentence schema: "When <context>, I've learned to pay attention to <focus>. When I do this, life gets <benefit>". This schema puts a 3-dimensional structure on these "values". You can slice the space of values holding a particular context fixed, or a particular benefit fixed, which might be interesting. The 3-dimensional structure allows or encourages "slipping" and "blending" values to create new values by changing one or more of the dimensions.

This suggests that a schema with placeholders might be a nice way of organizing ideas, if such a schema can be found.