Tinderbox Meetup Video - Saturday, June 10, 2023: A Discussion with Jerry Michalski on The Brain and Tinderbox

Tinderbox Meetup - Saturday, June 10, 2023: A Discussion with Jerry Michalski on The Brain and Tinderbox

Level Intermediate
Published Date 6/10/23
Type Meetup
Tags 5Cs Learning and Knowledge Management, Learning and Knowledge Management, Note-taking, Second Brain, The Brain, Third Brain, Tinderbox
Video Length 00:00
Video URL Tinderbox Meetup - Sat., June 10, 2023: A Discussion with Jerry Michalski on The Brain and Tinderbox - YouTube
Chat File chat.txt (11.9 KB)
TBX Version 9.5
Instructor Michael Becker

In this session, we explore Jerry Michalski brain. Jerry is a global technology thought leader and an expert on The Brain, a software note-taking app. Jerry has been developing his brain for over 25 years and has over 500K notes.


Please comment

Please help with the development of future sessions by answering the three questions below.

  • What were your top 2~3 key takeaways from this lesson?
  • What do you want to learn next? Learn more about?
  • What exercises would help reinforce your learning?

Great meeting! You may find it interesting @j3rry that some people (a single person?) are already working on the inter-tool protocol for collaboration between different PKM tools. → https://samepage.network

1 Like

Thanks. A reflection I took away from the session was when @j3rry noted that he optimizes for efficiency/for spread in The Brain. I very much appreciate that point and I’d love to find a way to do something similar with Tinderbox.

I’m not sure how to articulate this exactly, but I’d love to have a flattened link view (i.e., a flat hyperbolic) that would enable me to create notes and link associates with ease without the constraints the containers. I"m going to need to do some experimentation on this, try to see what I can make work. I suspect I’m going to need some perspective shifts in my mind.

I tried playing with The Brain yesterday. Again, I really like the ease with witch you can create/collect notes an structure them, but I found the unfamiliarity of the UI challenging and, in the end, can’t get my head around having to curate my interaction in two places, e.g., The Brand vs. Tinderbox. Tinderbox offers me so much flexibility I’m struggling with how I’d long-term effectively use The Brain. I’m not sure I can, given that output is so important to me and getting stuff out of the Brain is so challenging.

1 Like

I had a similar thought. I find hierarchies both useful (at times) and extremely irritating (at other times). It seems that TheBrain comes pretty close to solving that problem, though I haven’t done much more than dabble with it at various times.

I guess TheBrain is basically an “Everything Bucket” (at least, @j3rry seems to use it that way) from which you extract certain information in measured quantities when you want to do something with that information.

Yes, and this is where I then get stuck with The Brain. I love the ability to flatten the visualization of The Brain partent/child relationships and the quick navigation, but then it ends about there. Not ever attributes, not being able to explode, templatize, or export is so very crucial to my workflow.

Different tools for different purposes. I’m a sporadic user of Tinderbox because most of the time I don’t need the features it offers. I’m no longer involved in academic work, and I don’t write much these days, even for myself. But I do read and collect bits and pieces of material that seem interesting or pertinent to the psychotherapeutic work that I do. At the moment I just dump these into DEVONthink, which is a less than ideal way of doing things. What impressed me about the demo given by @j3rry was the very fluid way he could link material together and create a matrix of connections. I find that very attractive.

Nobody has mentioned the price of TheBrain – it is SO expensive. I have havered over taking out a subscription in the past, but have never been able to convince myself that it is worth it, for me.

Just to return to this for a moment, one of the things I like about Curio (yet another different tool, with different affordances and uses) is the fact that I can see an outline view of the whole file and also a mind map at the same time.

(And just to attempt to prevent @mwra from bursting a blood vessel, this not another one of those “Why doesn’t Tinderbox do what application x does?” :smile: If I want the features provided by Curio, I can use that!)


More tools are good. If X does a feature subjectively better than Y, use X. After all the aim of tools for thought is the enlightenment they give, not wasting hours quietly cursing our tools as we try to make them do things they maybe don’t want to do. (Unless of course one like the latter!)

So, don’t use containers.

Except that am “everything bucket” (DEVONthink, Yojimbo, Eagle Filer) actually holds things. The Brain holds a name for the thing.

1 Like

Actually it can hold lots of things:

Your Brain can store an unlimited amount of all kinds of information. Write notes for all your ideas. Save files, web pages, images and even emails into TheBrain for instant access. Adding things is as simple as drag and drop.


Correct. But Michalski reported that his practice was to avoid that, and to maintain links to things stored elsewhere in the interest of compactness and speed.


Which may or may not be necessary with the power of modern computers.

I would imagine a TBX file could hold a lot more notes if the notes linked to the note content elsewhere. I suppose this is getting back to having the data separate and accessing it from many tools. It’s just kinda nice to have everything in one place!

Realistically, a Tinderbox map is limited to thousands of notes. If you had a million notes, you’d likely have trouble visualizing it, even on a large array of large screens. At some point, you can’t see the big picture because it’s too big, and if you do, the individual notes are too small to be useful.

The Brain’s neighborhood view avoids that by not offering any way to see the big picture. You see the immediate link neighborhood, and that’s all.


That is really not an option when you’re working off a “single” brain (i.e., TBX file) and curating assets (e.g., Zettles, atomic notes) across multiple projects (reports, books, articles, events, sales pipeline, etc). All these projects pull from common atomic notes. When you start getting to 1,000s of notes, some hierarchy structure in map view is useful. I guess one could gravitate to adornment and agents, but this “feels” hard and difficult to scale.

To this point, this is where containers come in handy.

For those interested, the “Jerry’s Brain” discussion is also actively happening here: Tinderbox Meetup - Saturday, June 10, 2023: A Discussion with Jerry Michalski on The Brain and Tinderbox - #43 by eastgate.

I assume the hyperbolic view comes to the rescue in navigating large maps?

I think a fundamental confusion here is that The Brain equates to Tinderbox Map view. Not so! It equates to Tinderbox Hyperbolic view. The Brain (only) shows linked items, has limited degree of choice as to the style/display of items and offers the user no control over the layout of the view. Tinderbox hyperbolic view uses a different layout algorithm, but functionally is much closer to The Brain than Map view. That might help stop us going ritualistically round the buoy on map view and containers.

I do think that people are confusing the piece with the performance. Jerry’s Brain is most impressive when Jerry’s ‘driving’ it. The latter doesn’t devalue the content, but it does alter how we experience it. Anyway, without the author, it’s someone else’s thoughts with all the rich and meagre spots you’d expect looking at parts we do don’t ourselves know well. He’s spot on about how the inability to share/merge that data (or experience/knowledge) with that of others limits its use—but those are limits of current affordances rather than self-set limits. Also insightful is the author pointing out that he’s quite deliberately not using all The Brain’s features. Plus, c.35+ years experience of the tool is a relevant factor.

Taken together (author and ‘Brain’) are pretty impressive; apart, the data alone is less tractable. But the same holds for viewing someone else’s, zettelkasten, second brain, GTD, or simply a large TBX following no tightly-defined process. Too easily we overlook the human in the loop as the source of value and the inconvenient fact that the closer the fit of our data to ourselves the less well the fit to others; it one reason process travel less well than imagined.

†. It’s faster and more responsive in demos and videos because I suspect he’s using The Brain’s desktop app and not the Web interface which—at least for me—runs glacially slow. Of course, that’s an issue of the display not the content.


Impressive, indeed – it was actually jaw dropping to watch him do more than merely demo his Brain – he was actually adding to and enhancing his Brain as we interacted.

I was surprised about the features he does not use such as the indexing and note functions – which for me are critical since my use of the Brain is more limited and focused as a research tool. In a sense my Brain is less of a map and more of a bridge in my workflow. As my Bookends collections of references continue to grow (41000+ as of today), and with DevonThink indexing every entry, what my Brain provides is a dynamic perspective that reminds me of the different topics and ideas related to each of the bibliographic entries I’ve made overtime.

Example: today I read an article on the difficulties the US federal system poses for more effective disaster relief. I made my Bookends entry (which was indexed in Devonthink) and entered the article as a Thought in the Brain Plex, linking it subject thoughts such as federalism, disaster relief, FEMA, etc. – concepts that already existed from previous entries. In the process related concepts and bibliographic entries popped up, leading me to other articles on collaborative arrangements among local governments and similar topics. Yes, I might have followed that path eventually, but the Brain facilitated the process visually.

No doubt TBX can be structured to do the same, but for me there is the “sunk costs” factor (I have thousands of Thoughts in that particular Plex). My hope is to use TBX on the composing and output side of the workflow…