I’ve reblogged, below, a post from our Sydney colleagues (with thanks), about the pleasures and uses of note-taking. It has links to some interesting articles on the subject, their general drift being that taking notes is a sign of brains, and proper organisation, consolidation, indexing and winnowing of those notes a sign of big brains. Experts take lots of notes; novices can’t see the point.Taking notes, when reading or in lessons, is not unlike an artist sketching. Sketching is not just a way of memorising or recording the world, but a way of thinking about it; when you make a sketch you are instantly selecting and pre-organising. You are also giving yourself time to dwell in front of whatever it may be. Similarly, taking notes is a way of thinking about what is going on. It is not just a record: it is an interaction.
It is also, it should be said, a royal road to psychosis. Note-takers (like list-makers) stand in danger of fetishising their art. It can become an obsessive ritual. Many list-makers never do anything but make lists; many note-takers accumulate masses and boxes and shelves of notes, and rarely if ever look back at them. Manias and paranoias are often represented in films, for example, by the shorthand of tiny cramped writing; dangerous lunatics fill endless reams of pages with notes. Leonardo da Vinci wrote backwards, after all, and he was clever no doubt, but also obviously a witch.
It is also true that if conspicuous note-taking is the sign of brains and ability, then it is also an easy one to mimic. But the world is a chaotic place, and many of our attempts to make sense of it – book-reading, language learning – are equally messy. Good notes are an index to the chaos, and a sort of figured bass to the cacophony of life.
Get yourself a pencil.