“Augmenting Human Intellect” Concept Experience

From Conceptual Chain to Conceptual Network

We’ve already spent some time experiencing the concepts of “associative trails” and “human-computer symbiosis.” Now it’s time to experience the meta-concept of “conceptual networks.” Engelbart’s idea was that “human-computer symbiosis” could make “associative trails” into a kind of 3-D version of the way we think. By doing so, we could improve the way we think about thinking, an improvement that would then further improve our ability to think, both singly (thought vectors) and together (concept space). He sums up this process when he writes:

The Memex adds a factor of speed and convenience to ordinary filing-system (symbol-structuring) processes that would encourage new methods of work by the user, and it also adds speed and convenience for processes not generally used before. Making it easy to establish and follow the associative trails makes practical a new symbol-structuring process whose use can make a significant difference in the concept structuring and basic methods of work. It is also probable that clever usage of associative-trail manipulation can augment the human’s process structuring and executing capabilities so that he could successfully make use of even more powerful symbol-structure manipulation processes utilizing the Memex capabilities. [Note: this is an early example of what Engelbart seems to mean by “thought vectors in concept space.”] An example of this general sort of thing was given by Bush where he points out that the file index can be called to view at the push of a button, which implicitly provides greater capability to work within more sophisticated and complex indexing systems.

Note, too, the implications extending from Bush’s mention of one user duplicating a trail (a portion of his structure) and giving it to a friend who can put it into his Memex and integrate it into his own trail (structure). Also note the “wholly new forms of encyclopedia”, the profession of “trail blazers,” and the inheritance from a master including “the entire scaffolding” by which such additions to the world’s record were erected. These illustrate the types of changes in the ways in which people can cooperate intellectually that can emerge from the augmentation of the individuals. This type of change represents a very significant part of the potential value in pursuing research directly on the means for making individuals intellectually more effective.

This concept experience asks you to work within these ideas as a framework for thinking about your thought vectors—and some others as well—in the concept space of the course to date. In other words, this concept experience asks you to make a conceptual network. Yes, this is a concept experience about concepts!


Here’s what Engelbart writes about conceptual networks. Notice that he uses the word “argument” as a way of thinking about “concepts.” That’s an interesting move.

Conceptually speaking, however, an argument is not a serial affair. It is sequential, I grant you, because some statements have to follow others, but this doesn’t imply that its nature is necessarily serial. We usually string Statement B after Statement A, with Statements C, D, E, F, and so on following in that order–this is a serial structuring of our symbols. Perhaps each statement logically followed from all those which preceded it on the serial list, and if so, then the conceptual structuring would also be serial in nature, and it would be nicely matched for us by the symbol structuring.

But a more typical case might find A to be an independent statement, B dependent upon A, C and D independent, E depending upon D and B, E dependent upon C, and F dependent upon A, D, and E. See, sequential but not serial? A conceptual network but not a conceptual chain. The old paper and pencil methods of manipulating symbols just weren’t very adaptable to making and using symbol structures to match the ways we make and use conceptual structures. With the new symbol-manipulating methods here, we have terrific flexibility for matching the two, and boy, it really pays off in the way you can tie into your work.


You’ve completed these written assignments:

  1. “How it feels when I think”
  2. Vannevar Bush Nugget
  3. Associative Trails Concept Experience
  4. First progress report / research reflection
  5. Licklider Nugget
  6. Revised Licklider Nugget w/links
  7. “Analyzing the Obvious” (Formulative Thinking) Concept Experience
  8. Second progress report / research reflection
  9. Engelbart Nugget w/links

Go back and read all your writing, as well as all the comments you’ve received. Take some notes about any patterns you see, anything at all that suggests not a chain but a network.


Write a blog post in which you do the following:

  1. Select two of your favorite sentences from each of your written assignments. These need not be consecutive sentences. This assignment may be more fun and interesting if they’re not. You should have a total of eighteen sentences.
  2. Select a favorite sentence from four other students’ blog posts. (Total: four sentences.) Copy the URL from each post for your later reference. Note: this URL should be the “permalink,” i.e., the link to the post itself, not simply to the blog. You can find the permalink by clicking on the title of the post. When you see that post only, along with its comments (if any), look at the URL in the address bar. That’s the URL you want.
  3. Select two of your favorite sentences from each of the readings so far: Bush’s “As We May Think,” Licklider’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” and the excerpts we read from “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” Note the URL for each reading. For the Engelbart reading, note the “purple number” next to the paragraph in which your sentence appears. You can get a very precise URL (an “anchor point”) that way. See http://christinaincs.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/tips-for-blogging-about-doug-engelbart-and-his-work/. This step yields six sentences. As before, the two sentences from each reading do not have to be consecutive. It may be more fun and interesting if they are not.
  4. You now have twenty-eight sentences. Now make a conceptual network out of them. Arrange the sentences in an order, and in paragraphs, in ways that make sense as a total post of twenty-eight sentences. In each sentence, choose one word that you will link to the original post or reading. Try to choose a word that’s not only a keyword but also an inviting or intriguing word, the kind of link word that your reader won’t be able to resist clicking on. This is both an informational and an aesthetic decision. Your conceptual network (the concept space you create out of these thought vectors) should be coherent and persuasive, but it should also be interesting, and fun to explore.

This is probably a more involved concept experience than any you have attempted so far, so you may have until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 25 to finish the concept experience. You will have an opportunity to reflect on the experience in your assignments for Thursday and Friday of this week.

For an example of an assignment like this created by a former student, Ms. Brooke Baugher, please see http://bbaugher.wix.com/meta-team-vtclis13#!travels-through-time/c1z6m.