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Future approaches to collective memory


Utilisation of International Documentation (Part #9)


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It is ironic, in the light of the word-list orientation of the previous section, that investigations of individual memory In the 1950's and 1960's focused almost exclusively on the recall of word lists. "At present, wehave reached the point where lists of sentences are being substituted for word lists in studies of recall and recognition. Hopefully, this will not be the endpoint of this development, and we shall soon see psychologists handle effectively the problems posed by the analysis of connected tests. (60, p. 2) But the same author continues:

:Most of the experimental research concerning memory has never really dealt with problems of the acquisition and retention of knowledge, but with episodic memory (storage of experiences) which is not at all the problem of interest in education. Simply replacing the words with sentences in our experiment will make the research no more relevant to education than it was before... I n contrast to short-term memory, there are only a few reasonably formal and specific models of organization and long-term memory processess... The experimental study of memory for prose, comprehension, inferential processes, and semantic memory is just beginning. Thus, memory theorists have shown an unfortunate tendency to realy solely upon list-learning data, to neglect other problems, and finally to construct not models of memory, but models of memory for word lists". (60, pp. 4, 74 and 79)

Is this not the problem with current storage and retrieval systems? What are needed for learning are patterns of subject information not lists.

"It is one of the most salient facts about memory that organized material is easier to remember than unorganized material, and that subjects actively strive to detect how to-belearned material is organized, and impose their own subjective organization if none other can be found... Storage, organization, and retrieval processes in memory all involve the operation of pattern completion". (60, pp. 74 and 83).

Furthermore, new learning presupposes the availability of such patterns in memory to which the new information can be connected. Learning does not consist in the passive recording of new information (60, p. 4). Moreover these patterns may be made up of generative rules rather than simple concepts.

"When one talks about the structure of memory, one tends to think about it as something given, something fixed, erected inside the brain in all its complexity, like a Gothic cathedral sitting in a town square. Alternatively, one may think of structure not as something existing physically but as a potential to be generated upon demand on the basis of implicit information and according to certain rules". (50, p. 23)

Despite its greater visibility, it may well be asked whether there exists any adequate model of the international documentation system with all its various subsystems. If not, why not? Surely this is a valuable way to investigate user-learner problems. It should be much easier to simulate than individual memory (as is done in artificial intelligence investigations). As a useful guide Nico Frijda has listed the structural properties which must eventually be incorporated in a model of memory. Such a model must (minimally) encompass the coding of single items (cognitive units), classes, relations (inferences, functions), higher order systems. In addition, any adequate model must deal with methods for transferring data, assimilating new information into the data base and deriving implications which influence future action. But, as Frijda concludes:

"It is one thing to give a formal representation of this complexity, and quite another to envisage learning processes that contruct the necessary categories as well as the specific structures. It seems to us that the study of learning processes which can account for knowledge acquisition, has hardly begun". (61, p. 159)

The current literature on individual memory postulates a rich array of storage systems; temporary way stations along the route taken by information in the process of assimilation. Memory overlaps with perceptual and decision processes not as a unitary system but as a synthesis of diverse cognitive activity. The explanatory progression has been away from registration of experience etched upon a suitably receptive surface towards a selective process in which

information is encoded, stored and retrieved following the operation of processing strategies which may vary with both task and material requirements. (62, p. XIII)

On this last point work is now being done in which:

"The end product can be described by a directed graph whose organization reflects the organization of the information in the user. What me would like to do is find experimental procedures which will readily reveal at least the major part of these structures". (63, p. 91)

The author then indicates the classification problem which is highly relevant to use of international documentation systems with rigid classification:

"Another problem is that the internal schemes organization is likely to be different for different groups of people. Thus, in a hospital, nurses will be likely to classify patients with tonsilitis and appendicitis together in contrast to throat cancer and prostate operations since the former need little nursing and the latter pair more intensive nursing. For medical staff, on the other hand, it would be more natural to classify the tonsilectomy and the throat cancer patients together and the prostate and appendix patients together on the basis of the parts of the body concerned". (63, p. 91)

More generally this suggests a major lack in user sensitivity of international documentation systems using logicalcategory schemes. Some work on individual memory is now focusing on associative or relevance networks:

"Relevance simply tells us 'what goes with what. This aspect of belongingness is to be found both in the world itself, in the sense of causal, spatial and temporal connections and structure, and also in the representation of the world in our minds, commonly referred to as our 'knowledge of the world: the author maintains the view that one very important aspect of this knowledge of the world is simply knowing these 'what goes with what' connections. This kind of knowledge is clearly not all that me need. In addition to knowing that chair goes with table, we also need to know a great deal of information about the relational (logical) nature of the connection. Considering, however, the extremely large amount of relational information that we all carry around with us in our memory, efficient retrieval of parts of this information demands that we should have the means for quick, global evaluation of what alternative possibilities need to be considered in a situation... My interpretation of word associations is that they are direct indicators of degrees of relevance between the concepts for which the words are labels through their word senses". (54, p. 108)

Such associative networks, crossing conventional categories, could highlight and facilitate possibilities for the integrative approaches recommended by the Club of Rome report.

"Word association norms, and particularly the Associative Thesaurus network, are thus fairly direct mappings of this aspect of structure of the organization in our minds. Not only do they tell us what the elements arewhich we need to think about in contiguity with each other, but they also indicate the degree of cohesion existing between them. The detailed study of this kind of organization is what the Associative Thesaurus makes possible for the first time on a large scale". (64, pp. 108-109)

Such networks as data bases also permit a whole new range of analyses of value to the user. This was a determing factor, for example, in the organization of the experimental Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential (2).

Although the production of relevance maps would be a major aid to international document users (16), the challenging requirements for comprehension and innovative learning already make such an advance inadequate. The problem is that such maps are too complex and disorganized to facilitate contextual memorability and comprehension, as opposed to detailed consultation (Again the use of subway maps provides a good example. They can be used but are difficult to memorize as a whole.) . As noted before, this is the price of moving away from a conventional hierarchical scheme of categories, whatever its disadvantages.

The problem is how to "pack" complex patterns of information in order to facilitate representation, communication and comprehension whilst retaining contextual memorability (10). Certain encoding schemes - the use of imagery, the method of loci, and the mnemonic pegword system are only the most familiar examples - have long been employed by mnemonists to assure the memorability of events (65). But it is not the curious abilities of memory prodigies that are of interest, rather it is the severememory challenge to users posed by the world problematique. The optimistic proponents of total "finger-tip" access are quick to relegate all memory problems to any computerized information system. This could ultimately imply a user defined as a "memory-less decider" between computer supplied options, namely a human "switching device" without any sense of context. This is totally inadequate for innovative learning.

As argued elsewhere (10, 13), new approaches are required. It is interesting that these make use of structured images, linking to the strong case made for images by the Club of Rome report (5, pp. 37-42) for different reasons.

"Recent studies of imagery have firmly established the fact that imagery variables are highly effective in a variety of memory tasks. Indeed, they are the most potent mnemonic variables ever discovered.. The information in images appears to be structured and integrated in a figural, spatial, or synchronous manner so that the components of the image are simultaneously available for retrieval... The verbal system, however, organizes information sequentially, that is, it concatenates discrete linguistic units into higherorder sequential structures... But none of the available information satisfactorily explains why image-mediated memories often seem to be more resistant to forgetting than 'pure' verbal memories..." (66, pp. 57, 77, 81)

How then can information systems augment their value to users by using "structured imagery" ? The difficulty is that the provision of imagery is seen as the intellectually disreputable task of the public information divisions of international agencies. As such the images have an extremely distorted "glossy" relationship to "soberly ordered" documents. This gap should be bridged if documented issues are to become memorable and if public information imagery is to have more than a superficial impact. Hence the use of the term "structured images" which should combine visual appeal with useable information content intimately related to information system concept schemes. Much remains to be investigated in this area (10, 13).

It would however be a mistake to be content with structured images in general. It could be that the really significant break throughs in the world problematique will only be possible with the development of focused structured images of it (40). Images are too easily lost in the "blip culture" mentioned by Toffler (6). The question is whether new kinds of more powerful image can be developed which can focus and guide user access strategies. Such developments lie at the frontier with the elaboration of a new symbolism. It is symbols which as "meta-patterns" provide the most powerful level of integration in relation to the user and thus empower users to act (10) . The question is how to find ways of linking the elaboration of operationally significant symbols with the pattern of a user's access strategies to relevant concepts in an information system (67).

Ideally what is required - to conteract the fragmentation of collective memory - are shared symbols rather than simply userspecific symbols. The challenge in user terms is to elaborate some symbol which could be the information system analogue to the earth-globe - with equivalent significance for the world community. Such a symbol would orient users in terms of the "functional roundness" of the world problematique rather than the present "flat earth" classification of societal functions as subject categories. Whether or not such shared general symbols can be developed to interrelate detailed access maps, users should be able to work in terms of alternative user-specific symbols, constrained by their particular horizon and interrelated by the controlled manner in which they can be generated for users from a data base. Ultimately the pressure for (and constraints of) collective comprehension may lead to efforts to map such symbols back onto the integrated phenomena of the natural environment from which they have been "extracted" - and with which they remain dramatically associated in many cultures whose participation in the societal learning process would be valuable (68)..

It is the web of such alternative symbols, tensed by apparent incompatibilities into the form of an unbounded spherical tensegrity network, which could contain the expanding societal "emptiness" of everincreasing ignorance (10, 59, 69, 70). The notion of incompatibilities in a tension relationship is in accordance with points in the Club of Rome report. Thus "it is the tension created by the pressure to select from among multiple values that catalyzes innovative learning" (5, p. 40). But "society... is inherantly conflictual and hence global issues are not "resolvable" in some final sense but need to be seen as conflictual" (5, p. 129). Global issues cannot be resolved by innovative social learning,but perhaps they can be contained by some new kind of comprehension structure (13).


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