Compressing Thoughts



Context: just read Say What You Mean by David Schmudde, loving it

Today, I’d like to discuss the act of compressing your own thoughts.

  1. Mental work is creation & exploration interwoven with compression
  2. When we explore, we increase optionality; we increase the bounds of our map
  3. When we compress, we reduce the language needed to cover the map
    1. From a non-orthogonal basis towards concise language
  4. The compressed, orthogonal basis is declarative in the words of David Schmudde.

Application: use writing to compress your thoughts.

I like to write on the internet. Writing on the internet lets me thing. When writing, I roam in thoughtspace. Yet, the act of writing while roaming in thoughtspace lets me compress, not just explore.

I’ve come away surprised (perhaps even shocked) when people express disgust with writing things down considering the act of writing as a “dead”, “boring” activity.

For me, it’s not.

I experience it as living, creative. And the writing for me, has this special role of compression. If I did not write it down, I would not remember it as crisply. The writing makes my thoughts stick.

It’s also relaxing. By means of writing, I can deliver a train of thoughts. That liberates me from having to remember it. I can move on to other things.

Writing for myself, or writing to others.

I use writing as a tool to think.

I very rarely, if never, write when I do not need to use writing as a means to think. I generally strive avoid activityes that I find to be soul-killing. To the reader, I recommend avoiding killing your soul.

Though when we encounter creative resistance, how do we know whether what we are seeing is a soul-killing activity that we should not do, or merely lazyness on our part? Is this activity a soul-killing activity I should strive to avoid, or am I childishly, lazily rejecting having to do my chores?

Let’s talk about it differently. There are steps to writing for compression.

  1. First, there’s a problem you’re working on. Make sure you define that problem clearly.
  2. Then, compress that problem statement. Can you express it succintly?

And if (you should) try discussing things to other before the ideas are properly compressed, make that clear to the person you’re talking to. “I to discuss the idea right now, not its current representation. I’m aware that it’s a bit … raw. Can you please bear with me, then we can see where it leads?”

So, if “writing is boring”, I suggest considering whether you’re writing to compress, or whether you’re writing to communicate.


Rich Hickey’s Design in Practice discusses the important of a succint problem definition in detail. The act of working towards a more succint definition is an act of compression.

In Stop Writing Dead Programs, Jack Rusher’s style of communication caused me to reconsider what a good lecture is. Previously, I’d learned that in order to get my points across, I’d needed to slow down and explain more, explain in a coherent matter. Rusher talks fast, with little to no “uhm” and “where was I”. I believe he has done his preparations well, leading to a well compressed understanding of the points he is trying to get across. In other words, compressing your own understanding is different from communicating well what you understand. And the to are (not actually) in conflict, they are mutually helpful to each other. If you first understand what you are talking about well, you can more easily take the time you need when the time to explain it slowly comes. But you also learn a thing padagogy alone will not provide: you learn to make actual progress on the theory. Stop Writing Dead Programs is one such example, it covers a topic in breadth and depth from what you can expect from a one hour presentation.