lili's musings

writing for self-actualization vs communication

There seem to be two modes for using each technology. In the first mode, you improve your understanding the world or yourself, you self-actualize. In the second mode, you communicate what you've learned to others.

Due to the nature of these modes, the second mode gets a lot more attention in our formal systems. Throughout high school, college, and graduate school, I was mostly taught methods to communicate better with my teachers, my colleagues, and the general public. Yet, the first mode is just as useful.

Thinking about it, for writing at least, there is a lot less structure in the first mode. When writing for yourself, you can be as brief or as long as you want. You might invent a whole system of shorthand for taking notes. You can reference intensely personal events. Who cares? It's just scratch paper for you to process. It's just a sketch, a rough map for your eyes only.

I wonder if there's better techniques for self-actualization. It's such a personal experience that there's few guides for it, and even those often vague at best and preachy at worst.

There's also an interesting dichotomy between the two modes in terms of how each tool gets replaced with new technology advances. For communication purposes, memory palaces got taken over by written notes, which in turn have now been replaced by digital text. It's possible that for communication, digital text may be replaced by text typed collaboratively with an AI model.

For self-actualization, we still use memory palaces to this day! Memorizing information allows you to experience the world in a fundamentally different way. Connections can be made more naturally, often spontaneously, as you're out and about.

Similarly, I think the act of writing an essay for yourself (as I indeed am doing now) allows you to consider ideas more deeply than stepping through thoughts in your mind.1 You also get better communication for free, although that's secondary to the self-actualization.

Chatting with a large language model gives you a different form of self-actualization still. It really does open up new ways to interact with information and thus allows you to explore self-actualize quite differently. Still, it cannot replace memorization or writing for self-actualization. Rather it provides a new modality for us to experience the world.

  1. Richard Feynman famously would say that you must write things down in order to do physics. I don't know if it's so cut and dry, Ronald Fisher for instance would do most of his statistics derivations in his head due to his poor vision. Still, I think it's hard to deny that writing makes it easier to do complex calculations.

#writing #meta