One Brain to Rule Them All

February 9, 2009
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gearhead150.jpgOne Brain to Rule Them All:
Creating a MegaBrain.

There are many types of Brains you can create from your favorite hobby to visualizing mission critical business strategies.

For some people your PersonalBrain is for organizing documents, for others its research projects or keeping organized at work. And then there are the MegaBrain users.  Oh yes. :)

Mega Brain users (who I personally adore) have reached what we describe in our stages of Brain development Webinar, Level 4: Mind meld.

At level 4 your Brain becomes more than the sum of its parts, a reflection of your life, your digital identity. Just how does one create and become a MegaBrain user?

Just ask Jim Keravala, entrepreneur, CEO and cofounder of Flaii.

jim_k.jpg       “It can take several months or years to fine tune your
       system.  The trick is not
to rush it nor to succumb to
       the mindset of trying to ‘complete’ your brain. It’s 
       journey, a blueprint of your mind or an entire journal
       of your thoughts if you like.”

 With 50,000 thoughts and growing I decided to ask him a few questions.

statistics.jpgHow big is your Brain and how long have you been using the software?
My brain is currently around 50,000 thoughts and it is still the same one I started back in 1998! Since that time I’ve not lost a single thought or file from my brain, even with the occasional hardware glitch.

Why do you use PersonalBrain? What do you use it for?
I think PersonalBrain stands alone in the field. Its astounding capability derives in part from its conceptual simplicity. I’ve always intuitively appreciated that the value of information lies as much if not more in its context rather than simply the information alone.

I use PB because it seamlessly allows me to capture my thoughts, ideas and content and acts as a hard-drive for my mind! I don’t have any directory structure on my computer for my data; everything is internal to PB in my single brain file. With this approach my PB covers everything that is relevant to me. I include personal items, business projects and ideas. I link it comprehensively with Outlook so all my contacts are embedded in the brain in the relevant locations, as well as emails. All my files are of course there too so I only have to click the relevant thought and my data opens automatically. The only external files I have are shortcuts to software that I also open from within PB! 


Was their a particular moment after you discovered PersonalBrain that it “clicked” for you?
That’s easy, about 15 seconds after first running v1.
What are some of the key areas in your Brain?
When deciding to nurture a large brain, this is an important question. Three of four times over the last 10 years I undertook a major overhaul of my brain’s structure as my requirements expanded and my reliance on it became all encompassing. When working on multiple projects and commitments at the same time it is impossible to keep track of everything without some cool organizing.

In terms of information I tend to think of passive and active. Passive is stuff I’ve drawn into PB. Mostly like websites, documents, references and all sorts of other reference information. Active is stuff I’ve generated, photos, documents data, ideas etc. Now I have one of my Study sub topics called Business Studies. Under this thought I have 63 other thoughts; about half of those thoughts have dozens under them too and so on.


However, if I’ve started a company on building widgets, I don’t want my accounting, project management, plans and documents generated to be mixed up with wikipedia sites, general providers web Thoughts, external reports etc. This issue crept up on me slowly over a couple of years until it reached a critical mass of inconvenience. Over about 3 months I then separated hundreds of thought classes out of the Study and created a new class of Thoughts called Portfolio. Under that I created separate numbered Portfolios for different projects and activities that I am specifically doing. From that point on I had the basis of active and passive dimensions as well. So for the most part now I hang round my Portfolios and then jump to different parts of my PB as required.

What are your most used Thoughts?
The most used are the Portfolio thoughts that are the door ways to specific projects. I have 42 Portfolio thoughts and 19 of them are currently in use. My physical library of books, documents etc also then reflect those Portfolios, so in effect the structure of my brain is reflected in the structure of my physical data. Each Portfolio project is then jump-linked to various reference and study thought sections

How did your Brain grow to over 50,000 thoughts? 
I carry my laptop with me wherever I go. Although not such a high level of propinquity as a PDA for example, it is just the way I do things now. Every thought gets added in as I think of it. If I don’t have that handy then I use my windows mobile phone to scribble notes and sync it in later. Every piece of information, file, data even thought that I have I now automatically think of it in three dimensions: content, context and time. That is the data, where it sits, and what action do I do with it. If it’s reference then I just link in context with other thoughts, If it’s actionable then I use Outlook tasks with Taskline added. I also have the Getting Things Done module for Outlook which I use at the same time. So for the most part it is a constant flow of additions as a way of life. There have been blocks of thoughts added. When I’m researching a topic, I ususally spend a few weeks doing so and can pull in dozens if not hundreds of webreferences, files, notes, documents etc.
How do you maintain your Brain?  
All my files and data are internal to the brain; that’s key. For the most part I don’t go scouring thoughts to correct or augment links or other metadata. I don’t mind a certain amount of fuzziness although the whole thing is quite lean now and everything connected well.

What advice would you give to new users?  
It can take several months or years to fine tune your system.  The trick is not to rush it nor to succumb to the mindset of trying to ‘complete’ your brain. It’s a journey, a blueprint of your mind or an entire journal of your thoughts if you like.

You will notice the need for changes to your brain as they become apparent, in the meantime just let the stuff flow. In order to start, I would spend 10-15 minutes thinking about the main classifications of your life that are important. It can be Work, Family, People, Projects etc – whatever works. Also realize that these are just starting points to be built upon, in many ways you could consider them scaffolding for your building rather than the structure itself – that follows. Allow your thoughts to flow.

At first it may appear harder because there is less context – every new thought is beating a new path initially. Stick with it and within a few weeks the associations become more obvious as trunk thoughts start to crystallize – those main arteries of context thoughts that content thoughts connect to. I’ve actually sat down with a few folks and helped them structure the first one or two hundred thoughts in a brainstorming environment which really helps too. If you can find a PB user then steal an hour from them for this! Also check out the webinars on the PB website. I would also recommend (as with anything) a clear backup strategy for all your data. The PB Forums have plenty of advice on this.

You go by Spacenexus on the discussion boards what does this name mean?
In true DaVincian fashion, I believe everything in the world is connected and so am fascinated by everything; primarily I have a great passion for space and our future adventures exploring beyond our cradle. On the other hand, I could have just thought it was a cool webname to have many years ago! :)
What is the most ridiculous, outrageous Thought or area in your Brain?  
I have a ‘Fun’ thought which is a dump for all the crazy stuff folks send – I could probably do a two hour one man show with my laptop on my knee going through some of the jokes and videos. It’s also interesting to see how evolution of taxonomies transpire. For example, area on Politics has a section on extreme politics and then conspiracy theories.

From another location the History trunk thought has a sub thought called History, which in turn has one called Mysteries (ancient civilizations etc). There’s some fun stuff there for sure. What is interesting is that there are thoughts that then sit in Mysteries and also Conspiracy Theories. Subtle connections start to appear after such a critical mass of thoughts and previously unconnected information finds common context from completely different starting points. The outpouring of ideas at these junctions is part of the immense power of human augmentation that PB enables and is extremely difficult to generate otherwise.
What is the biggest impact your Brain has had on your life?  
I would say the biggest impact is the shear volume of information I have at my fingertips and the speed at which I’m able to retrieve deep connections and information. It affects the way I think and organize and I do believe lays the foundation for future interfacing and semantic technologies. As the state of the art of artificial intelligence increases I believe my brain file will form the kernel of my own self aware neurally connected personal cloud. But that’s for another conversation…. :)

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Filed under: Applications. How You Can Use TheBrain!, User Case Studies and Stories | Posted on February 9th, 2009 by Shelley Hayduk

17 Responses to “One Brain to Rule Them All”

  1. Michael Baas Says:

    Great post, thank you. I absolutely agree on “You will notice the need for changes to your brain as they become apparent, in the meantime just let the stuff flow.” – just don’t over-intellectualize that process of creating a Brain ;)

  2. Peter Monbailleu Says:

    I have been using PB for a few months now and there really is no other piece of software like it. It does everything you need to do when managing more than one project at the same time: from brainstorming to followup. PB really gets things done!

  3. Jim Steinhauer Says:

    Can you tell me us if you have found any hardware issues with a PB that is so large, i.e., slower searching, or practical limits to the number of embedded links?

    Can you also expand a bit on what your “a-ha” moment was that hooked you on this particular tool’s utility. This tool has obviously become a very important part of your life and you have invested hundreds, and perhaps thousands of hours in becoming proficient. Any tool, to be worth that kind of commitment, has to give you a really big bang for your “buck”, and it seems to me that it needs to be more than the cool interface. Perhaps another way of stating this … if you no longer had the tool, what would you be missing that only the tool is capable of providing?

  4. Wei Says:

    I am a PhD student. I’ve been using PersonalBrain for about four months, after two and a half years mind-mapping experience. Now I have nearly 40,000 Thoughts in my single brain. I run it on a Thinkpad X60. The instant activation becomes a bit slow now, sometimes it may take ten seconds or more to invoke the results. A solid state hard drive may help. But it is rather expensive. RAM is not a problem. I can spend 500-1000Mb of RAM running PB. Maybe thebrain guys can optimize PB for customers who are maintaining large brains and don’t mind RAM usage under 1G.

    I am learning something really complex now.Many of the Thoughts are from index of books. I import them and connect them. In this way, I can know the keywords in each page. So before I read a page, I take a look at the keywords and raise questions to myself, before dipping into the details on that page.

    Now I begin to transfer my history data into it. Such as info stored in txt,excel,word. It is quite a nice journey to do this. For what I have done before using a computer, I just recall it from time to time.

    In human history, people have invented numerious ways and techniques to present information: like calendar,tables,geo-maps, books, html, printed knowledge maps,timelines,stickers,logical reasoning,VRML,Panorama etc. PB provides dynamic ways to view and manage information. There are outline,pin,calendar,networked map. In fact, more ways can be incorported into PB, such as Table, Timeline, geo-map,logical and the most traditional book-like way.

    If a set of APIs can be implemented into PB, developers around the world can join in and make new features quickly.

  5. Omer Aziz Says:

    I’m at about 5000 thoughts now and have definitely fallen for making this my digital identity. I have a scanner at work and at home and ever piece of paper gets scanned into my brain if I think it has any relevance. This is a different approach than scanning everything and putting it into the brain for future possible use. It is very powerful to take 4 or 5 seconds of mentally assessing and indexing the piece of paper and if it gets scanned in, I usually link it to at least 2 or 3 related thoughts so the context is built right away. The other point I remember is that if there is an action related to that piece of paper, I create a thought that starts with an action verb (ie create powerpoint chart from sketch) and link it to a thought called Strategic Next Actions (a la GTD) which I have as a pin thought. There is nothing like the feeling you have when you have assessed and scanned relevant pieces of paper into your brain and they are all contextualized and any relevant next actions needed are captured.
    I also liked the comment about resisting ‘completing it’. Your brain, just like your strategic next action list will never be complete. Or put another way, its complete once your complete, but until then, its evergrowing, morphing, changing, evolving, maturing, just like you are!
    Single best piece of software I have ever come across.

  6. Chandra Says:

    I must say: great post. My PB is at 12K thoughts and it has become a major part of my workflow. I use it on Linux and enjoy every moment of work on it.

    And indeed I must agree with You Wei. An API would be a great relief for many time consuming tasks I perform manually at this time.

    Take the inclusion of scans or of notes from a mobile device as an example. In my personal workflow my mobile device and a network scanner provide most of the input. Documents are automatically added to one or more directories in a dump that is regularly cleared with cron or by hand. If PB could be triggered to automatically include those files as specific thought types within the PB structure according to location, name and format, that would be a major lifesaver.

    Also, a possiblity to query the brain from a shell with regards to content would be wonderful. I know this could be done with an xml export I suppose, but this means having two separate and not necessarily consistent versions plus having to manually export the brain from time to time.

    But as I know the development team of TPB, this will happen, sooner or later, …, I hope :-)


  7. Fun Chief Says:

    Although I use the brain for many years, I only have 1700 thoughts, i.e. 30 times less, but I noticed the ratio of links per thought to be 1.44 versus Keravala’s 1.58 – pretty close…is that a general rule of some kind?

  8. Wouter Says:

    This is great. I am a private Investigator specialising in organised crime and uses my brain to log all events and suspects. This realy works and has resulted in various arrests of suspects we did not even know were linked to the same crimes.

  9. Jim Says:


    Regarding hardware limits i’ve not found any problems to absolute capacity of PB’s database. However, the better the hardware capability the smoother the performance.

    The first ‘aha’ moment came i think when i immediately understood that one could richly connect information in any number of contexts without diluting the presence of the initial content itself. If you tried to shortcut or hyperlink your way to rich context in a linear system you’d rapidly spot the limits.

    It is a truly remarkable tool, and although does take a lot of investment in time and planning is well worth it.

  10. peter jones Says:


    Just advise that I maintain and have checked the link to The Brain and look f/w to downloading a more recent version.

    The link is under ‘Visualization II’ at:

    Users of ‘The Brain’ may find Hodges’ model of interest as a ‘reasoning substrate’:

    Peter Jones
    NW England

  11. PBLearner Says:


    Although the final comments were brief and passing, I’m glad you mentioned

    “…the foundation for future interfacing and semantic technologies. As the state of the art of artificial intelligence increases I believe my brain file will form the kernel of my own self aware neurally connected personal cloud…”

    I feel the same way, and hope that when an efficient human-computer interface becomes available, TheBrain people will be on top of it. As useful as PB is now, the real excitement is in what’s coming.

  12. Fun Chief Says:

    I just realized a major stumbling block in the way to “one brain to rule them all”. Access to my own data: if I build this one brain, do the nice people from TheBrain let me use my own information?

    Will there be a free API to get to the RDF of my own brain, since RDF tools start popping up all over the place now?

  13. wolfgang Says:

    I was delighted to read, what Jim had to say, as a matter of fact, his mega [meta] brain approach answered a vital issue: using ONE brain automatically provides you the capability to support “nodal thinking” [the way our real brain functions to "hardwire" human abilities, knowledge, etc.

    Many of the brain-users [rightly or wrongly] hesitate to put all into ONE brain and use deliberately several brains, only to discover, that there are whole sets of thoughts, which should be common to two or even more brains.

    How do we manage this ?
    One answer is Jim’s mega-brain, another idea could be the following: provide a function, which enables to jump-link from any position from, let’s say brain “A” to the relevant position [parent/sibling/child] in brain “B”, and if feasible, down to brain “n”.

    May be this can already be done ? Then I missed something.

    BTW: I am one of the guys who recommended the “save expanded view as…” function :-)

    Again my compliments to Jim, I consider myself a power-user, but Jim makes me look like a rookie :-)

  14. NKL Says:

    I made a Brain for the Holy Bible. I made a thought for each chapter, and pasted the chapter into the notes section for that thought. I am adding my notes, in a different color and font, to the notes sections. I am attaching commentary from the web and elsewhere for clarification. There can’t be a more searchable copy of the Bible in existence, anywhere. This is only one (albeit the most important) use I have found for PersonalBrain. Fantastic tool!

  15. Ron Says:

    I would love to see your Bible Brain. This is something I have thought of doing using john macarthurs study bible as a starting point….

  16. MArtin Says:

    Very interesting comments all round.
    I have not long found PB, and always had a feeling that there must be a better way of working for me than all those others forms of CRM, contact management, files, directories, journals, notes etc.
    Persistance is the key to finding answers to what you need. This software is a godsend to me,as a mature business person, I was begining to think no such miracle existed.
    Looking in the right places, following the links

  17. Bridget Says:

    Asking questions are really fastidious thing if you are
    not understanding anything completely, but
    this piece of writing gives nice understanding even.

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