MaxThink is, in the words of it’s author, Neil Larson, a HyperText Outline / Idea Processor. It’s still alive and kicking in a windows incarnation after all these years. I bought MaxThink from Neil around 1990 and upgraded to Max94 a few years later. I still have the wonderful printed manual. I figured out how to get the old DOS program running in dosbox on my ubuntu linux system. It’s still better than anything out there today, including the mind mappers.
I think I stepped out of the TARDIS into the past because I found a piece I wrote over 25 years ago. I’ll have more to say about my adventures with outliners in general and MaxThink in particular in another post.
Meanwhile, here’s the piece I wrote in the early 1980s.
Need method of getting raw ideas into a computer in a smooth, natural flow. As ideas occur to the user, that person should be able to transfer the ideas to the computer quickly. But ideas are not isolated symbols. To have real meaning as an idea, many? symbols are ‘related’ to form more coherent thoughts.
Ideas could be thought of a patterns of smaller symbols that make up a whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts (GESTALT?). The ‘linkage’ of these ideas is the tough part of using a computer as a ‘thought processor’. PROCESSOR? The human brain is the ‘idea generator’. How do you process ideas? To process something seems to imply that you DO (act) on something. Maybe to process something you ‘change’ that something so that something becomes something else.
Using a computer only makes sense if the particular task is easier to perform with a computer. If a task can be better performed by ‘hand’, then the task should not be put on the computer.
The following is an example/analysis of the though process of a person who is thinking freely (intuitively if you like), and a possible method of using the computer productively as an organizing tool. Computers are much better at ‘remembering’ details than a human brain. The computer’s process is strictly a ‘left brain’ type of activity, while the creative process is a ‘right brain’ type of activity.
It’s fair to say that the idea of AI or artificial intelligence is more concerned with the ‘right brain’ type of activity. Think of the implications of being able to enter right brain thoughts directly into the computer, then being able to easily establish linkages in the computer. That is what I would call an idea processor.
The earliest programs that call themselves idea processors are just now hitting the market. These programs are tools that allow the user to create an outline that can be expanded/contracted on command. What I have in mind goes beyond the outline type program.
The first step in my program would accept free form words/phrases, allow a screen display of the words/phrases, and also allow linkages between words/phrases to be created and shown graphically. This could be accomplished using keyboard, graphics tablet, [no mice yet -- remember this was written in about 1983] or voice input. The idea is to allow the user to enter a screen full of words/phrases that have been freely generated from a key word or phrase and to allow the user to establish linkages between the words/phrases that show on the screen.
Once the words/phrases have been linked, they can be further organized using a hierarchy beginning with the linkages, extending through various outlines leading to the final product that can be thought of as the same as a product delivered by a ‘word processor’.
I typed this word for word from an old printout. I changed the paragraphing and corrected a few spelling errors but left the wording and punctuation alone. I wrote the above piece on a TRS80 Model 100, the first real laptop computer, and printed it out on a pen plotter on adding machine paper. I pasted the printout onto a blank 8 1/2 x 11 and made a copy in the office. I didn’t date it, but the method did.
This was written before desktop computers used DOS and Microsoft was a startup. It was written 4 or 5 years before I had my first desktop. It was written long before I bought MaxThink.
I look back and wonder. After more than 25 years, people still use their computers like expensive typewriters. Good outliners are things of the past and that’s a shame. Computers should be helping us think better and mostly they do the opposite. I’ll have more to say later. I’ve gone on long enough this time.
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