When people first encounter Gingko, they either get it immediately, or they balk and say that organizing text in this way would never work.
For the latter, the main complaint is that there is no defined order to be reading in.
Sure, you could say that gingko trees should be read “depth first” (go deeper to the right if you can, before proceeding downwards). In fact, if you are exporting the tree as text or as a slide show, that’s the order you’d get.
But asking what the right order for reading gingko trees is like asking “what should I look at first?” when faced with a painting, a photograph, or anything new in your field of view.
The answer is the same: look at what draws your eye, and let your eyes wander. At first you’ll glance quickly around, but perhaps you’ll settle in one area and give it more of your attention.
The thing to realize is that even with vision, only a small portion of the visual field is sharply defined, and everything outside that central focus is only hazily perceived.
So why does it feel that, when we look at a painting or a scene, it just seems to build in our minds effortlessly, as a whole?
Vision works in saccades. The eye settles on one point, then quickly jumps to another, and another, in rapid succession. Though often certain elements draw your eye first due to the overall structure & composition, there is never a strictly enforced order.
The same is true of gingko trees. Either the structure, or the content (a particular title, say), will draw your eye in a certain direction. As you follow the path, reading each card in focus, while still being hazily aware of the other cards nearby, you gradually build up a picture of this idea in your mind.
It’s not as fast as vision, but I believe that this “saccade” approach to reading non-fiction is a faster and more natural way to “see ideas”.
Here are just three reasons why:
- Research has shown that understanding context allows you to read faster, with better comprehension. This is why speed-reading always involves scanning for structure first.
- Self-directed ordering allows you to easily “stare longer and deeper” into parts of the idea that are still not clear to you, while simply glancing at the overview of sections that you already understand.
- Once you’ve already “seen” an idea this way, when reviewing it you can look at higher level summary nodes, and quickly remember and rebuild the idea in your mind, without needing to go deeper unless necessary. In other words, the advanced level textbook and your quick cheat sheet notes are on the same page, linked together.
So far, I’ve expressly limited my discussion to reading non-fiction, because the constraint of plot chronology makes this “saccade” approach unfeasible for reading fiction.
But who knows?
Maybe people will find a way of writing “impressionistically”, by using many cards with few words. Maybe there is a form of fiction that has yet to be invented, that works only in tree documents?