In answer to Luc’s questions;
In my view, simply marketing. People associate “brain” with “thinking” — as in someone being “brainy” — and (wish to) believe that they can buy something that will enable them to think better; whatever “better” means to them.
Products marketed “second brains” are in reality just sophisticated notetaking and filing applications; they don’t help you think, they are simply novel means of recording what you have thought.
No, so can’t comment.
It strikes me that what people are looking for in a “second brain” is a means to accelerate their understanding of a topic. They want is to accelerate the conversion of the connections (as perceived, whether correct or not) between facts into an understanding of the concepts to which those facts (may) pertain.
My understanding – and I’m not a student of this, so it’s likely entirely wrong – is that such connections first form in transient memory, the jumble of stuff that is “now”. Apologies if the terminology is wrong, but by “jumble of stuff” I mean what programmers call “flow”. Flow is very fragile – you’re working on something; you see a connection; you get distracted by the dog; it’s gone. And you can’t restore flow state. If the underlying facts are solid, like lines of code, you can perhaps rebuild something similar, but it’s never going to be the same state and you’re never going to know what’s changed; you just can’t because the original state was not a memory, just a set of things that were in memory.
An efficient note taking tool makes it easier to capture perceived connections in the moment. Moreover, the very act of doing something with that thought – of capturing the connection – emphasises its importance and seems to increase the chance that it will be shunted from transient to longer term memory. As importantly, if one end of the connection is something you already know, both the other end and the connection itself are then (at least tenuously) synthesised into the totality of “what you know” and can thenceforth be recalled.
I’m not a great believer in apocryphal moments; may be they occur, but they don’t seem to happen to me. Generally those more profound insights as I may have had have come from a slow stewing of proximate information. Something is going in the background without my consciously knowing it and I wake up one morning with a better understanding than I had the night before. In fact, it more often happens the other way: I have a bright idea, the perfect solution to the problem at hand, sleep on it and realise in the morning that it’s total rubbish. My “slow brain” has made connections that my “thinking brain” wasn’t focused on. I would suggest that any “second brain” worth its salt must include a similar mechanism.
It also seems to me that real brains are very different from software in that they are equally as good at forgetting things as remembering them. Maybe, in fact, they are better at forgetting than remembering lest we are overwhelmed by trivia important enough in the short term to make it from transient to longer term memory, but not exactly life changing. The only bit of last week’s shoppong list that I need to remember is the stuff I forgot to buy.
I can wake in the morning realising my bright idea was rubbish; the idea is still there, but the initial, overwhelming connection to “bright” has been forgotten and substituted with “once considered to be bright”. I know I thought it once, but when I recall the idea never again is there the emotional rush of “Eureka!”. Equally, I know there are things in my life that I have experienced – there are definitive records of them – that I simply don’t recall at all. It’s not infantile amnesia; I have definitely forgotten things I once knew and that, at the time, I probably thought I’d never forget; and it doesn’t feel like I shouldn’t have forgotten them. It’s not the same feeling as when, for example, metaphorically grovelling around for a word or a name, that unpleasant “knowing that you should know” feeling; and it’s not the same as “knowing that you knew, but could probably remember if you looked at it again” (for example, the chunks of Caesar’s Gallic Wars Book IV I know I wrote learned for my Latin O-level in the '70s)
So, are “second brains” second brains? Emphatically no. What would make a “second brain”? At the very least means of creating and forgetting new connections between facts that you, yourself had not seen. Software that, at te very least, might prompt you with “there may be a connection here, what do you think?” or “are you sure of this connection?”. Tall order, and it sounds rather like general intelligence so it’s quite possibly impossible. For the time being the best alternative is likely a colleague off whom you can bounce ideas.