Roam is expected to be the digital twin of your brain. Working with Roam is like “building a second brain”, the community echoes, after the training course of Tiago Forte by the same name.
Looking at Roam as a second brain is understandable. It is conditioned by a long history of swapping metaphors between computer science and cognitive science. At first computer science used the brain as a metaphor for the computer. This was reciprocated by cognitive science taking computer as a metaphor for the brain. But, as Lakoff and Johnsson convincingly demonstrated, metaphors are not innocent figures of speech. And indeed, the-brain-as-a-computer was not just a metaphor. It was, and for many still is, a guiding light and a paradigm in cognitive science. As with computer, the brain was understood as both a location of the mind and as a processor of representations. Both computationalist and connectionist schools in cognitive science and philosophy of mind held this view of cognition and still do1 Now, to go through all the arguments on why this is not the case is beyond the objectives of this article, but the curious ones are invited to follow them2. Let’s just say that, if you are using Roam with the expectation that it will be your second brain, you might be disappointed. But here’s the good news:
Roam is even better than that.
If the smallest unit of matter is the atom, and the smallest unit of information is the bit, then what is the smallest unit of cognition? George Spencer-Browncame with a convincing answer: distinction. It’s only due to our ability to make distinctions, that we can distinguish anything from nothing, and are able to separate a thing from its background. Everything starts with a distinction.
Now, before diving into distinctions, it’s worth bringing another strand into the story and that is the influence of George Spencer-Brown on Niklas Luhmann.