Making tools as thinking.

The watchmaker George Daniels wrote about how an apprentice couldn’t really use a particular tool until they had made a version on their own. One simply didn’t understand the knowledge embodied in subtle shapes until you had to solve the same problem.

Justice Anthony Kennedy supposedly asks each of his clerks to draft an opinion independently, while he drafts his own. He told Bryan Garner that one cannot see the problems, or the right solutions, to writing an opinion unless you try it yourself.

I think that this idea is correct: You have to make a tool before you can use a tool. Sometimes, your tool is better, other times you’re ready to use the standard one.

As a scholar of the history of texts, I spend a lot of time transcribing. In 2017, I wrote a long piece on it. I have, however, continued to think about the problem and I was happy to see how much that early version had influenced my thinking.

A text is a sequence of symbols representing a series of decisions by someone in the past. To transcribe is to recover those decisions, as best we can, in the present and represent them in the present. How do you do this when we type one way and the past may have written a whole other way?

You do this by looking at lots of texts, trying to describe them, and adjusting. My current thinking has become a small format I maintain for all my work, JPDoc. I call it after myself not out of arrogance, but to say that this isn’t a general solution. This is my solution. You should copy it and break it, adapt it, make it your own, so that you understand the problems involved.

Then you can come back and decide if I did it right.