Thinking the Unthinkable

Thinking man


Media for Thinking the Unthinkable is a talk given by UI expert Bret Victor.

In the talk, Victor speaks about how through the history of mankind the invention of new types of media allowed us to think new thoughts.


One example he gives is language - specifically the written word. The fact that we can write about concepts enables us to think in powerful new ways. Writing made thought visible.

Mathematical notation

Another example is mathematical notation. Representing mathematics through symbols rather than words enabled people to think about mathematics in new ways.

New types of media

Victor is interested in designing with new types of media, which are more interactive. For example, rather than expressing the operation of an electrical circuit in words and symbols, by representing it in an interactive way, users can gain a much richer understand of the behaviour of that system. It allows them to think and perceive things which were completely non-obvious in traditional media.

His slides contain this quote from Richard Hamming, which was an inspiration for his work:

Just as there are odors that dogs can smell and we cannot, as well as sounds that dogs can hear and we cannot, so too there are wavelengths of light we cannot see and flavors we cannot taste.

Why then, given our brains wired the way they are, does the remark “Perhaps there are thoughts we cannot think,” surprise you?

Evolution, so far, may possibly have blocked us from being able to think in some directions; there could be unthinkable thoughts.