Essays about game development, thinking and books

About the book "The Net And The Butterfly" en ru

The cover of the book "The Net And The Butterfly".

I bought "The Net And The Butterfly" by mistake when I was in St. Petersburg about 5 years ago and organized a book-shopping day. I bought about 10 kilograms of books :-D, grabbed this one on autopilot without reading the contents. I thought the book would be about the network effect and the spreading of ideas, but it turned out to be about how to "manage" a brain relying on one of the neural networks in it. Which network? For the book and its content it does not matter at all.

My opinion of "The Net And The Butterfly" is twofold. On the one hand, I cannot deny its usefulness, on the other… the material could have been presented 100 times better and 3 times shorter. Sometimes, the authors walk on thin ice and risk falling into information peddling/marketing fraud.

Useful in the book

If we cut through the fluffy stuff, the book provides a series of brain management practices that will help you think more effectively, generate and implement ideas better.

If you have little experience managing your thinking or are at a standstill, the book can help you think more effectively.

It is best to perceive it as a list of practices with curious examples rather than as a textbook with a complete theory.

That's all with the useful.

Oh, and the last chapter contains a summary of the previous chapters, which looks like an interesting solution. But given the style of the book, it's more like padding out the pages.

The book's shortcomings

I have many complaints about "The Net And The Butterfly" and I am surprised that its content still looks useful.

The authors did a significant amount of work but could not present it. Either I am not the target audience for the book, which is very likely.

Material presentation

The authors chose a style that I strongly dislike:

  • Appealing to (questionable) authorities instead of building logical chains.
  • Choosing factual material with an emphasis on entertaining the reader rather than forming a holistic picture of the world for him.
  • Excess of pathos. For example, the authors call their approach "revolutionary thinking," although there is nothing revolutionary in it. If there is, then I am Einstein.
  • Useful thoughts are drowning in verbosity, epithets, and metaphors.

If you remove the unnecessary, the book could have been compressed three times, and it's not that big already.

As a result, instead of a good reference book, we got a collection of random facts about funny and instructive thinking patterns.

Lack of systematics

What is not there is not there.

The book is the opposite of theories with a systematic approach to thinking (systems engineering, TRIZ, bayesianism, etc.), which try to identify the basis and build their structures on it.

There is no basis in "The Net And The Butterfly." In the text of the book, the authors often refer to brain research, to a lot of work done behind the scenes, but I could not notice significant traces of this work: axioms, basic statements, cross-dependencies between practices, or something similar. In the "best" case the worst examples of argumentation of "popular neuroscience" are sometimes visible.

Mixing concepts

Previous claims are a matter of taste. But there are more critical problems.

The authors systematically mix up/confuse fundamental concepts of the book.

For example, they mix the concepts of "idea" and "implementation of an idea." So much so that the book is positioned as a guide to idea generation (in the abstract and introduction), but half of it is devoted to idea implementation. For example, to the overcoming the fear of failure.

The latter is also important and valuable, but why confuse the reader? Practices for generating ideas will not be as good for their implementation and vice versa. If a person does not notice the catch, instead of benefit, they will get a serious mess in their mind.

In general, from an engineering point of view, confusing an idea and its implementation is inexcusable for a professional. At best, it indicates sloppiness, usually a lack of understanding of the subject area. I think the same position should be in science.

Fitting a square peg into a round hole

Periodically, the book contains statements that are clearly made to add scientificity but are actually dubious.

For example.

At the beginning of the book, the authors introduce a classification of breakthroughs (insights, breakthrough ideas):

  • Eureka — creative application of an existing solution in another situation.
  • Metaphorical breakthrough — the answer comes in the form of a metaphor (for example, in a dream), it needs to be interpreted.
  • Intuitive breakthroughs — depend on intuition, not explained rationally, based on "faith."
  • Paradigm breakthroughs — influence all humanity (Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Darwin).

In fact, they are trying to introduce a classification in which there is no basis for classification:

  • Eureka is determined by the way the idea is applied.
  • Metaphorical breakthrough is determined by the form of obtaining the idea.
  • Intuitive breakthrough is determined by the argumentation of the idea: if there is no argumentation, then it is an intuitive breakthrough.
  • Paradigm breakthrough is determined by its long-term result.

Each class is defined by a feature from a qualitatively different category :-D I would say it is difficult to get such a combo by chance. But it is easy when you are writing a term paper at the university, and you need to add some water.

This is a crooked classification. For example, Archimedes's original Eureka case can easily be considered a paradigmatic breakthrough. An intuitive breakthrough can be metaphorical, an eureka or paradigmatic.

Interestingly, after introducing these categories, they barely get used.

The authors continue to confuse red with heavy with square throughout the whole book, so the reader should be careful.

Contradictions, distortions, cringe

On pages 59-60 (Russian edition), you can find recommendations:

  • Do not listen to music with words to switch your brain between work modes, as pronouncing words turns on the brain system, which needs to be turned off.
  • Do something familiar: don't learn new songs, don't make your brain work.
  • Buy a press with an unfamiliar topic: if you read about fashion, buy Forbes.

I don't know how the last recommendation fits with the first two.

Many of the experiments in the book smell strongly of WEIRD.

At the end of the book, there is a chapter about the need for a higher altruistic goal (purpose) that would turn your work into a mission. However, the authors do not say a word about the number of people who not only "burned out" on this path, but simply broke their lives and the lives of others.


If you are completely unaware of "how to manage your brain," the book will show you where to start. But perceive the information from it carefully, critically.