In conversation with Tony Buzan

In an interaction with Amit Kapoor, Tony Buzan shares his journey of creating mind maps and how it externalizes thinking.

How did you come up with the idea about mind maps?

I did not like school and homework. I did notes in one color, in words on line paper, and to sum up, I was bored. Like every student, I was asked to not use color and pictures, and to be logical and rational. I was forced to be linear and monochromatic. Monochromatic is monotonous, monochromatic, and that is boring. 

I was boring myself to distraction, so I began to break the laws. I started to use color. I found that geniuses like Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein and many others used images and associations of some sort and doodling in their notes. This made me think that this could be the right way to do it, and I began to experiment. I then studied memory, and the more I looked into memory, the more I realized that all memory systems were not based on slotting things in like a filing cabinet. They were stored in stories, metaphors and parables. This led to the idea that memory needs more image, more imagination. Even Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. 

This is how the picture began to build that image association is the answer to the question of how memory and creativity works. I used to teach memory as part of a psychology course at the university, and after that I studied neurophysiology. Over the years, this strange creature emerged, the mind map. It is like an animal because like a living thing that has energy and that reproduces itself and connects to other things like itself, mind map lives in the brain like many things in the brain do live. It grows, changes and has extensions in its branches that reach out and form a web of connections

When people do mind maps, they fall in love with their mind map. Every one creates a mind map that is unique to them. We easily agree to share our linear notes if someone asks for it, but we are very protective of our mind maps because it is an original creation of our hands and brain. You can have a photocopy or a photo of it, but not it. Hence, the mind map can be defined as a living being.

It is like an animal because like a living thing that has energy and that reproduces itself and connects to other things like itself, mind map lives in the brain like many things in the brain do live.

There is a narrative that with the internet and advancements in technology, the world has reached peak IQ and now memories are fading. Where do you see the world going with the huge advent of things like internet and smartphones, and where do you stand on that?

Ironically, the smartphone can actually be a very dumb phone, it can decrease IQ. The academic and the global discussion is dyadic, because the discourse is either that the IQ is going down, we’ve reached the peak and therefore the human race is deteriorating, or that technology is going to solve all the problems and everything is wonderful. The fact is that when IT ignorantly used, it not only damages memory, it can destroy the brain, and not just with radiation. 

Mobile has now become a crippling extension of the body; people walk in a totally bent posture looking at their phones, and they see nothing else. They look but they don’t see, and therefore, their memory is actively wiped out because there is no association, no color, no rhythm and no location. Technology can blind people and make the brain malfunctioning and nonfunctioning. Naturally, the IQ goes down. 

However, if used well, technology can be your friend. For example, the mind map is your thinking tool that allows you to externalize your thinking, and the human brain always needs a map. When it’s in a new city, it needs to know where all the restaurants, the main roads and the theatres are, it needs to know the whole map of the city. The brain itself needs the map of its own thinking, and technology badly used fractures everything, and impairs our ability to communicate with each other. A mind map done well with colors and paper is a form of art and science combined, and engages all your cognitive skills. With good technology, you can transfer that to a computer, and even share it with the world. We can create mind maps about how to deal with and solve any of the problems faced in the world, and share it with the hep of technology.

The mind map demonstrates that the capacity of the brain is infinite in terms of its ability to associate and link. If a brain can link anything with anything, its creativity is by definition infinite. So, all the measurements on IQ and creativity are absurd. They don’t measure the brain at all, but the result of bad thinking. If a child is fed ignorance and all the wrong methodology, linear notes with no scope for imagination, the IQ would naturally be low. The child’s creativity can produce seven ideas on a topic for the day, whereas any child who knew how his or her brain worked, they could produce 5000 ideas on any topic by the end of the day. We don’t measure that, so all the geniuses in creativity tests are not geniuses at all.

I have coined a new phrase called the “endarkenment” because all the brains are being endarkened with fake news and rubbish today, and it’s regurgitating all the time. Therefore, it is a source of joy knowing that we do have this amazing living thing called mind maps, which can help us solve problems and create a better future.

How do you see the world changing and moving forward, and how can the mind map assure us that we are not going to get enamoured by the “endarkenment”?

The mind map is a thinking tool that allows you to externalize your thinking. When you can externalize thinking, you can communicate with it a lot more easily. When you have seven thoughts in your head and you start to juggle with them, the more you add the number of balls to juggle, you drop all the balls. But when you have got your thoughts out there in a mind map, you can have 50 balls in the air because they’re all visible. Therefore, the mind map can very quickly double your memory. 

In fact, the World Memory Championships has demonstrated that the memory been improved by thousand times by using mind maps. It has been proven that the mind map definitely raises your IQ. Business people who had bankrupting companies because they used linear ways of thinking have also used mind maps. It could be called a panacea because mind map helps you deal with whatever ills you have in terms of thinking.

The mind map is a thinking tool that allows you to externalize your thinking. When you can externalize thinking, you can communicate with it a lot more easily.

Don’t you think religion has been one of the biggest reasons for endarkenment and for pushing the negative ideas to the fore, and that the way the real world has transformed itself in the last 30 years has actually been about endarkenment of religion, fake news and all of this coming together?

It’s unfair to blame religion. The religions and religious texts have professed about some intelligent ideas. But then there are people who proclaim themselves to be the speaker for a religion, and that they are always right. They repeat ideas and the proclamation that they are right over and over again, and this is how fake news generates. The news does the same thing. It vomits out the same thing again and again, and does so with authority. They show isolated incidents of violence and impoverishment as images and video clips, again and again. Through the repeat broadcast of negative events, they push the narrative that the world is in deep trouble. The brain uses image association and location, and when the news fills the brain with negative, foul, horrifying images and thought, they manipulate statistics to convince you how the world is.

You are saying that it can manufacture ideas or manufacture false narratives?

Of course. The brain is a factory of limitless ideas and images, and the news always shows negative, foul and depressing stuff. In a survey that I have been doing, people in at least 15 countries have said that they have stopped watching the news because it depresses them. We can do a lot with the time we otherwise spend watching the news. We can learn how to think, how to create, how to study, how to use this magnificent machine called the brain.

What is fake news from your point of view? Is it Fox news or CNN or both of them?

Every news platform pushes some narrative, and authority they hold convinces the viewer to believe them.

If we are doubting and questioning everything, are we then in the post-truth world?

The word “truth” crops up in a lot of places. Now, more and more people across all cultures and backgrounds are checking the veracity of things they are hearing. When they listen to politicians, they’re not just letting it go in the eardrum. They’re analyzing it, sorting it, checking the logic and comparing it with what was said before. More and more people are turning the news off. They are switching to nature programs and scientific programs.

Geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci devoted their life towards seeking the truth. Children are most hurt by a lie, and when they find their parents lying once, they begin doubting every word they say. If the parents keep lying, the children end up despising them. So, the truth is pretty important, and we can define it as simply finding the probabilities for things actually happening. We need to keep checking the truth, and so the more one looks, the more one discovers the truth.

If you know how to learn, you can learn anything.

In a monotonous, post-truth world that can be caustic at many points in time, what are the two or three things that we need to be doing?

We need to focus on ourselves because it is the brain that has throughout history discovered astronomy, medicine, and so many things that we have growing knowledge banks. We ourselves are the growing knowledge bank, but when we look at the great thinkers from the different cultures, they are coming to the same conclusion. What is the most common word in the religions? Love. All great thinkers say that we should love ourselves. When we understand how wonderful we are, we’re not going to want to kill ourselves, but look after ourselves. We must learn how to really explore ourselves and to appreciate the universe’s gift, the God given gift of who we are.

 So, study the brain and how it works and its cognitive skills, learn about the body and all its systems, learn about the multiple intelligences including spiritual intelligences and develop them. When you develop them, you have no choice other than loving people, helping the environment and loving yourself. When you love yourself, you then can love more, because love is not in a package with a limited amount. The more you give it, the more it grows, and we are now on that cusp. Hence, the first thing we need to do is learn to love ourselves and to develop those cognitive and multiple intelligences. 

The second thing is to pursue global mental literacy. Make sure that every child and every teacher in the world learns how to learn. If you know how to learn, you can learn anything. Next, get some new friends called mind maps and travel around with those growing number of friends you got, and the world will be a lot better place. 

Many are saying that there is a huge challenge to the way the world looks at the truth and how it gets created. It can also be said that whatever you have said is probably not the truth as well and we have to question that. How would you react to this?

I would say, if you’re a thinker, you always need to think about the opposite and then you need to go and get some evidence on what I’ve said. I’m a human being. I consider myself to be an experiment. Check it out before you believe mind maps will do what I’ve said they will. At the same time, don’t get into a thinking trap as that synergistically spirals the brain into a black hole of thinking and you will think yourself into death. 

Secondly, study the geniuses, the real geniuses who just did things that were far beyond the norm. You’ll then have a lot more fun and you will find more truths. You can use truths on a scale; ask yourself, is it totally untrue or 10% true or 60% true or 90% true?

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