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Johnson and Search – No, Exploring

By - January 31, 2005

SjnytThe ever wonderful Steven Johnson riffs in the NYT about a tool he’s been using for a few years in his writing, one that we probably all wish we had.

The raw material the software relies on is an archive of my writings and notes, plus a few thousand choice quotes from books I have read over the past decade: an archive, in other words, of all my old ideas, and the ideas that have influenced me….

…The other day I ran a search that included the word ”sewage” several times. Because the software knows the word ”waste” is often used alongside ”sewage” it directed me to a quote that explained the way bones evolved in vertebrate bodies: by repurposing the calcium waste products created by the metabolism of cells.

That might seem like an errant result, but it sent me off on a long and fruitful tangent into the way complex systems — whether cities or bodies — find productive uses for the waste they create. It’s still early, but I may well get an entire chapter out of that little spark of an idea.

Steven emailed me that he has a longer explanation of his software and process on his site, here.

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