Tools of thought

In my master’s in teaching program, we talked about student sensemaking, which is exactly what it sounds like: the process of students making sense of stuff (especially your lessons). I’ve been stuck on the word sensemaking ever since. It’s such a succint word for a process I go through constantly, yet I don’t think I’ve encountered that word in the wild since the program.

Sensemaking is what I think of when I see online discourse about tools for thought. As far as I can tell, there are generally two meanings behind “tools for thought”:

  • A product (normally an app) that organizes your life; often marketed as a “second brain”
  • An object, process, canvas, etc. that helps you understand what your thoughts are

I’m more interested in the latter. Typically tools of thought are used to progress your Knowledge® in some way, make u smarter as an intellectual. But I see tools for thought as being things that help us make sense of our entire internal worlds – and by extension – the external world too. (Yeah, I do think therapy is a tool for thought.)

Here are some examples of tools of thought:

  • Language
  • Writing
  • Digital gardens (woo!)
  • Your spiral notebook
  • Figma
  • Whiteboards and sticky notes

Lastly, the act of using tools for thought is just a really elevated example of metacognition. Just like how there’s evidence that some animals have theory of mind, there’s evidence that some animals can practice metacognition as well. Do animals use tools of thought? Maybe not, but this train of thought is giving “only humans use tools (except animals use tools all the time)” energy.