Nugget # 1 – As We May Think

“The real heart of the matter of selection, however, goes deeper than a lag in the adoption of mechanisms by libraries, or a lack of development of devices for their use. Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.

The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.”

I like these two paragraphs because he essentially explains my disdain with the traditional style of organization. My father is retired military and requires everything to be organized in some chart or flow from lowest to highest or chronologically. The problem for me was the charts disrupt the way I associate things in my mind, and forces me to adopt an unnatural association as he sees fit. I struggle to understand the ideas or concepts we discuss as efficiently as I would have in my own unique format.The second paragraph actually reminds me of my blog posting on how I feel when I think.

Vannevar Bush states that one of the things holding society from utilizing the wealth of information at our hands is how it is organized. By forcing that unnatural way of association on our thought process is not allowing us to use our mind to our full capacity. I fully agree with that because, as illustrated in my above answer, I struggle to retain information in an organized manner that I could remember for years in my more abstract way of association. Even from the time I was young, my mother would tell me to clean my room so I would be able to find things and I would tell her I find things better in my cluttered room and I can’t find anything when I put them where they say it should go. I suppose Bush sums how I feel very well with his conclusion.

“The applications of science have built man a well-supplied house, and are teaching him to live healthily therein. They have enabled him to throw masses of people against one another with cruel weapons. They may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome.”

If we cannot move from this unnatural style of organization we might never achieve the ideas he talks about, and reach the potential of humanity as far as the mind goes. The fact that the mind operates at a much faster rate than even the fastest of computers when recalling information, the idea at the vary least warrants consideration.

15 thoughts on “Nugget # 1 – As We May Think”

  1. “I find things better in my cluttered room and I can’t find anything when I put them where they say it should go.” I love this personal ‘indexing system’ which I appreciate as well. But how might others access your taxonomy if you wanted to invite them into your room and also make senses of your organization?

    It’s an interesting challenge if you believe your system might be one that could contribute to a better understanding of how to sort/access information.

    1. That’s a question I have never considered but I believe it would require a connection among people. People I have known for even a couple of months often surprise me by asking me if they can use or borrow something and when I go to show them where it is, they will tell me they know where it is. This often prompts me to wonder and ask how? By far the most common response it “I just know how you would organize things.” So I believe the key to being able to link such systems would have to come from knowledge of someone’s personality. The profile of a person would be your guide into their mind much like criminal profiling.

  2. Ah yes, more reason to not clean my room.

    This is definitely worth thinking more about, what would be the more effective organization system? Because it does seem like it would have to be a personal thing.
    And then would we change the way we organize things on a computer as well? When things are stored in files they go numerically and then alphabetically, but it seems like, aside from folders which contain the more associative files, that’s the easiest way to find things! Or maybe I just have an outdated way of thinking.

  3. It’s funny that you mention a clean versus dirty room. What our parents see is a big mess we see as organized chaos. It’s true that personality plays a big part in how you like to, or don’t like to, organize your things, but I think that diversity is what makes our society function so well. If your father were forced to think freely and draw on a white board rather than print out a flow chart he’d probably feel just as confined as you when having conversations. To reach those ideas Bush talks about I think that the more diverse the better. If you suffered from an unknown illness you wouldn’t want three doctors that think the same way to try and figure out what’s going on. Three doctors is as good as one at that point.

  4. I am conflicted over your analysis, in some parts I agree and others I disagree. In certain areas organization helps, for example writing an outline for an essay helps keep me organized and makes sure that I don’t leave I don’t leave anything out. Although doing the Associative Trails concept did help me realize how association helps you learn more, I was able to start learning about one thing and by the end I had learned about more than just one subject. I do completely agree with the room cleaning. As a child, I had my own system of organization that often looked like chaos to others. My parents didn’t understand, but of course I could find what I needed to in an orderly manner.

  5. I really liked this post, its very entertaining yet thoughtful. This post makes me think about how others perceive my personality as well as how I perceive others. When knowing a person, you start to understand where they’re coming from and why they act the way they do, and diversity nowadays has been bringing a lot of that.

  6. I chose the same passage, and it is very interesting where you took the piece. This assignment itself shows how leaving an assignment open-ended allows for people to develop their own style of education, but with minimal guidelines. I realized this after I read your post, because we developed completely different associate thoughts from a similar passage. This just goes to show that people take away different ideas from similar explanations, the way education should be.

  7. The post is quite amazing. I agree that Brain works with the association. Our emotions are linked with our thoughts. Before knowing anything, we do not know what we are going to expect from certain thing.

  8. I strongly share your experience with your father; my parents were very strict about events, sorting them in chronological order and from highest-to-lowest in terms of importance. I agree with categorization of certain things, but I’m more of natural, laidback person, contradicting my parents’ behavior.

  9. Interesting post, this causes me to consider how our fine friends at Google could create variations in association processes for people to use depending on their preferences. This could soon become a reality.

  10. I was the same way as a child, I would get so mad when anyone would clean my room. I had no idea where anything was! I can still find just about anything simply from seeing it in passing in my condo but the organized chaos has lost it’s luster as I get older. I have to say, a clutter-free room makes for a stress free environment but numerical/ alphabetical order is just a bit much to ask of a child.

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