Keynote: Humane Representation of Thought: A Trail Map for the 21st Century
Humane Representation of Thought: A Trail Map for the 21st Century
New representations of thought — written language, mathematical notation, information graphics, etc — have been responsible for some of the most significant leaps in the progress of civilization, by expanding humanity’s collectively-thinkable territory.
But at debilitating cost. These representations, having been invented for static media such as paper, tap into a small subset of human capabilities and neglect the rest. Knowledge work means sitting at a desk, interpreting and manipulating symbols. The human body is reduced to an eye staring at tiny rectangles and fingers on a pen or keyboard.
Like any severely unbalanced way of living, this is crippling to mind and body. But less obviously, and more importantly, it is enormously wasteful of the vast human potential. Human beings naturally have many powerful modes of thinking and understanding. Most are incompatible with static media. In a culture that has contorted itself around the limitations of marks on paper, these modes are undeveloped, unrecognized, or scorned.
We are now seeing the start of a dynamic medium. To a large extent, people today are using this medium merely to emulate and extend static representations from the era of paper, and to further constrain the ways in which the human body can interact with external representations of thought.
But the dynamic medium offers the opportunity to deliberately invent a humane and empowering form of knowledge work. We can design dynamic representations which draw on the entire range of human capabilities — all senses, all forms of movement, all forms of understanding — instead of straining a few and atrophying the rest.
This talk suggests how each of the human activities in which thought is externalized (conversing, presenting, reading, writing, etc) can be redesigned around such representations.
Bret Victor has designed experimental UI concepts at Apple, interactive data graphics for Al Gore, and musical instruments at Alesis. He’s responsible for “Inventing on Principle”, "Learnable Programming, “Media for Thinking the Unthinkable”, “Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction”, “Magic Ink”, and everything else at http://worrydream.com