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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
This man wrote down his every thought - why?
By Giles Turnbull

Armed with just pen and paper as no computer was up to the job, for three months Lion Kimbro wrote down every thought that came into his head. It left little time for much else. Now, was that necessary?

When was the last time you thought hard about something? When you actually set aside some time in the day to just sit and think, and note down what was on your mind?

No-one does that, do they? Time's too precious, life is too short. Not for Lion Kimbro, a 26-year-old geek and computer games tester from Seattle.

Last year he spent three solid months writing down everything that came into his head. He got so immersed in making notes that the rest of his life was put on hold while he sorted them and understood them.

And when he says he noted down everything, he means everything. So much that he warns in the introduction to the book he wrote about the experience: "If you do the things described in this book, you will be immobilised for the duration of your commitment."

Thinking so hard that you can't move? That's quite a radical concept.

Rodin's The Thinker
Thinking too hard can be "immobilising", says Lion
Lion's system, painstakingly explained in his book (which can be downloaded for free from his website, see Internet links on the right), makes enormous demands on a person's time.

The system breaks down into simple jottings made during the day - what he calls "speeds". These can be made on sheets of paper set aside for multiple subjects, or added directly to sheets dedicated to a specific subject. Speeds are made on the fly, as they happen, and it's up to the writer to transcribe these into another section of the notebook system later on.

Lion suggests using large binders full of loose sheets of paper so that individual sheets can be added, removed and moved from one place to another. Notes can be given subjects and context hints as they are made, to help the writer file them into larger, archived binders when the time comes to organise their thoughts.

Even so, the writer is expected to carry one binder around with them at all times, and add new notes as often as possible, augmented with diagrams, arrows and maps.

Eureka moment

Why would anyone in their right mind want to do this? "Because of the incredibly clarity that comes with it," Lion says. "It may feel that for the first time in your life, you really have a clear idea of what kinds of thoughts are going through your head.

You find answers - basically, it feels like watching Atlantis come up
Lion Kimbro
"I wanted to see if I could make myself smarter, by strategically placing notes to myself. Intelligence, as I define it, is getting the right information at the right time at the right place, towards whatever end you are going for."

Lion emerged from his experiment a changed man. As a result of spending months thinking and writing down his thoughts with a pen, his brain had started to work in new ways.

"You can think about hidden subjects - things that are really important, but that people don't have the time to think about, such as: 'How do we communicate?' 'How is thinking structured?' 'What am I doing?'

"And you find answers. Basically, it feels like watching Atlantis come up."

Artificial intelligence

Lion advocates his system over using computers because the machines just aren't up to the job. Yes, they store and sort data very effectively, but it isn't as easy to scribble and scrawl and draw all over the notes taken. Computers can do this sort of note-storing, but paper can do it quicker.

Woman at a computer
"Who am I? Where am I going? ... ooo, new message!"
He freely admits that the system is less than practical, and not intended to be used for a lifetime. And being immobilised while writing notes means the writer has no time for much of daily life.

"Yes, you do miss out on a lot of things. So I think it's best to get the best of both worlds: I would recommend doing the notebook system once or twice in your lifetime. I think I'll do it again, one day."

Lion predicts that computers will be able to take and manage notes like this, and do as good a job as paper and pen, within a few years.

In the meantime, he has taken to immersing himself in the closest existing equivalent - a type of website known as wiki that allows anyone to edit any page, instantly.

"Other popular communication systems like e-mail, chat and message boards are all message-based. Wiki is document-based; it's designed to exist across time. You can point wiki pages to each other. It's my notebook system all over again."

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