The Plex — Context and Meaning

TheBrain (content area closed)

This is part 2 of my series of posts about a personal knowledge management application called TheBrain. Find part 1 here.

In the past I’ve called TheBrain’s central feature, known as the Plex, a GPS for my information. It’s a map of my data guiding me from one thought to another. You might protest that sounds like a graph in Roam Research or Obsidian. Well, kinda. Those apps build those visual connections automatically based on the hyperlinks in your notes. TheBrain works in the opposite way. I manually create the visual links and TheBrain adds them to my notes. TheBrain’s way is more useful to me, because it feels more purposeful, which means it is more meaningful.

That is just the start of how I can add meaning and context to my information.

Meaning is conveyed with where I attach one Thought to another. Thoughts are linked through Gates. Each Thought has three Gates, one on top, one on the left and one on the bottom.

Let’s take a small step back. In the Plex you surface notes manually. The currently surfaced note is called the Active Thought. Any Thoughts linked to the Active Thought from the top Gate are called Parent Thoughts (a Thought can have more than one parent). Thoughts linked from the bottom Gate are Child Thoughts. Those Thoughts that are related to the Active Thought but don’t benefit from a hierarchical association, are linked from the left Gate and are called Jump Thoughts. You can also see the other thoughts linked to the Parent Thought. These are Sibling Thoughts.

So, just from the geography of The Plex, my notes gain context and meaning (see the screenshot above for clarification of the concept).

I can annotate the relationships further by adding labels to the links.

But wait, there’s more.

I can categorize my Thoughts in two ways. I can add Tags to the Thought, or I can assign a Type. Thoughts can have multiple Tags, but only one Type. Tags and Types can be nested. So, for example, I can have a Type called Task, with sub-Types of High Priority, Medium Priority, Low Priority. Thoughts inherit the attributes of their Types, so I can add a task icon and code the priority with colors as in the screenshot below:

With Types, I can identify Thoughts visually by color and/or icon.

There are other ways to manage tasks in TheBrain, but this makes for a clear example of how to use nested Types to add meaning and context to Thoughts. I’ll write about tasks in a future article.

Tags can add visual context. In this example, let’s say I have a list of customers. Some of my customers are local, and some I work with remotely. For a quick reminder of which customer is which, I can create a Tag. Tag icons appear attached to the Thought. My remote customers have a globe icon, and my local customers have a building icon. I also want a visual reminder of which customers are still just prospects, so I create another Tag with the icon of a target. Now I can see quickly which customers are prospects, which are local and which are remote, as in the screenshot below:

Tags allow me to add multiple indicators to my thoughts through the small icons that line up on the bottom right of each Thought. (Note that the writing in red are annotations I made to the screenshot, and are not a feature of TheBrain.

These have been relatively simple examples. I can get things more complex or keep them simple, whatever suits my needs.

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Stephen Zeoli

Stephen Zeoli

Carl Sagan and Edward Abbey are among my heroes.