Byte Tank

Pedro Lopes Notes

Writing as a Form of Thinking

Large language models (LLM) like ChatGPT triggered a remarkable societal and computational shift that feels comparable to the impact from the initial internet era with its first impressive search engines like Google. LLMs are the toast of the town.

Writing emails, reports, school homework, analysis, code, summaries. The list goes on.

Save from when you would delegate this task to another fellow human, long hours would be passed in the past trying to conjure a piece of text that could communicate something to another entity. Now this can be made at scale, at low cost, with low effort.

Since we are still liable for the results of this tool, i.e. it’s still our name on the email sender, instead of just sending that email, we might first read that LLM output, interpret it, understand it, and then send it.

More than just text

Text is a form of communication. If something, or someone wrote it for us, certain decisions were made along the way to convey the goal that we gave. Out of the many paths possible to crystallize that piece of knowledge into a piece text, one of them was chosen.

I would claim that something gets lost on that delegation.

The writing process is more than just the production of text. Many times it requires the exploration of different perspectives, thinking deeply and coming to terms that we don’t know enough about a subject and need to learn more about it.

For example, it’s essential for me to have a notebook at hand to take notes during meetings and formal discussions. I write phrases, loose words, make small diagrams, jot down some reminders. Some of them are never to be re-read again, others I revisit to structure them down into a concise structure. Most of all, they help me think about a problem.

Same holds for notes and articles. I start with a cloud of loosely related ideas, which I attempt to refine into a structured form. Similar to the double diamond process.

Same for books. Several times I’ve come to terms that I learned close to nothing about a book read one month before. Or conversations. Or movies. Or experiences.

This is, except if I reflected or acted about them. Except if I wrote down my conclusions about them.

For me, taking notes helps make sure that I’m really thinking hard about what’s in there. If I disagree with the book, sometimes it takes a long time to read the books because I’m writing so much in the margin

Bill Gates