For a while now I've been planning to do a series of posts about conceptual media.

A conceptual medium is a an expressive medium that primarily serves to express abstract thoughts and ideas. It is analogous to the concept of an artistic medium (e.g., painting, poetry, violin, etc), but pertains to the expression of conceptual thought rather than artistic expression.

Examples of such media would be speech, written prose text, programming languages, mathematical symbolic notation, geometrical diagrams, explanatory comics, conceptual network diagrams (a.k.a., mindmaps), interactive simulations, data visualizations, markup languages, and semantic web technologies. 

To be clear, I'm speaking about media in which thoughts are articulated/expressed, not media which encodes and transmits information. So for this perspective, an article in a print journal or an ejournal would be considered the same media (namely prose text with citations) although the latter is encoded and transmitted digitally.  Similarly, a TED talk viewed on YouTube is not essentially different from an in-person oral presentation from a conceptual media perspective, although clearly it has much wider reach, ease of viewing etc.

I'd like to connect these ideas with various key thinkers on the topic. My present list of thinkers includes: Leibniz, Lev Vygotsky, Vannevar Bush, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Douglas Engelbart, Andy Clark, Michael Bostock, and Nick Sousanis.

I want to consider how different conceptual media shape our process of discovery, invention, mutual understanding, and epistemic justification. Can we augment our intelligence by designing new media for thinking? If so, what is the best way to approach this task? What seems to make it so difficult?

What is I missing from what I wrote above? 
Are their key examples of conceptual media that I'm leaving out? 
What important thinkers on this topic that I should consider adding to the series? 
What conceptual media (past, present, or imagined in the future) should I be sure to talk about?

To get into the weeds a bit, I'd be curious if anybody knows of good academic work on the neurological and cognitive changes associated with the switch from a pre-literate language users to literate ones. I also think there may have been prior work done on the cognitive impact of various kinds of computer interfaces, for example the move from command line interfaces to GUI interfaces, or the move from offline computer knowledge systems to internet based ones, but I'm not sure where to start looking for this. 

Also any general feedback, comments, questions, or encouragement are welcome. 

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Dec 31, 2020


Bret Victor's seeing rooms (favored by Domminic Cummings) come to mind as one example of potential future media. 

Websites like Metaculus and GJOpen provide other interesting interfaces.

Thanks, I just watched Victor's Seeing Spaces talk and it is really cool. 

Vaughn Papenhausen

Dec 31, 2020


Andy Matuschak has lots of relevant thoughts:

Wow, there is a lot to dig into here. Thanks for this.

1Vaughn Papenhausen3y
No problem. I'll be interested to see what you come up with.