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  1. #1
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    Default On Encyclopedic Thinking

    There is a story that old Immanuel Kant was incapable of calling images to mind. Similarly, I think in terms of words, concepts, formal propositions, and syllogisms, which manifest in abstruse networks of ideas and subtile chains of reasoning.

    This helps explain why the abstract thinker can expound on Tolstoy's War and Peace in great detail, yet can't always decide where precisely he parked. Personally, I remember what I think easier than what I've seen. If I've thought about what I've seen, then I remember what I've seen only because I've thought about it. But thoughts are stored as pieces of text rather than photos. One might ask: why are some memories preserved while others are are not? Furthermore, what format is most economical?

    I submit that memory is a principle of selection. It should prove impossible for any human to remember everything they've ever seen, heard, thought about, and so on. Even walking through a parking lot on a given day one sees various licence plate numbers, absorbs lots of scenary, hears many conversations, and so forth. Yet, just because one looks at something does not mean they've seen it, and just because they've seen it does not necessarily mean they've registered it as a conscious thought (the detail could be preserved in the unconscious mind). This could be the case when a particular licence plate number from a parking lot of thousands of cars presents itself as a detail in one's dream, yet nowhere was such a thought registered conscously. Finally, even if a thought makes it to the lofty heights of consciousness, this does not gaurantee that it will be accessible in its original form at a future date. Yet, humans naturally tend to remember things that affect them personally and conduce to, or get in the way of, their desires.

    Now, why might it be more advantageous to store information as an encyclopedia rather than a picture book? An observation about computers can help us decide which is more economical. An arbitrary picture (1024x768 in JPEG) takes up roughly 166,244 bytes, while a 1000 word essay in PDF format is about 20,500 bytes. Now, if people are not being thoughtless when they say a picture is worth a thousand words, (and the strict thinker must hold one to the letter, as the spirit is inevitably inconsistent), it is clear by virtue of how much space it requires to store each that the computer can have eight thousand-page essays for every one picture. Thus, either people are wrong, which they often are, and a picture is worth more than a thousand words, or people are right and we are lead into the following. Given that rational choice holds that the rational decision-maker must opt for the most utility-maximizing option among the competing alternatives, textbook thinking clearly gives one a better bang for their buck, and is therefore a more productive area for the allocation of intellectual resources. Though, I admit there are likely exceptions where the value of storing a picture outweighs the value of storing text depending on one's point of view. From the point of view of a family man, he wants to have an image of what his wife and children look like. He will inevitably give up the eight essays for a clear picture of his wife for his mind's eye to look at so long as there's still books in the library. But supposing his wife died, all pictures of her were lost, and all he was left with is his textbook-like stories about her (though unable to call her image to his mind) would he be willing to give up all his stories in exchange for only one picture? I'd keep the text. What would you do?

  2. #2
    triple nerd score poppy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Provoker View Post
    Now, why might it be more advantageous to store information as an encyclopedia rather than a picture book? An observation about computers can help us decide which is more economical. An arbitrary picture (1024x768 in JPEG) takes up roughly 166,244 bytes, while a 1000 word essay in PDF format is about 20,500 bytes. Now, if people are not being thoughtless when they say a picture is worth a thousand words, (and the strict thinker must hold one to the letter, as the spirit is inevitably inconsistent), it is clear by virtue of how much space it requires to store each that the computer can have eight thousand-page essays for every one picture. Thus, either people are wrong, which they often are, and a picture is worth more than a thousand words, or people are right and we are lead into the following. Given that rational choice holds that the rational decision-maker must opt for the most utility-maximizing option among the competing alternatives, textbook thinking clearly gives one a better bang for their buck, and is therefore a more productive area for the allocation of intellectual resources.
    Just out of curiosity, are you speaking hypothetically here or implying that it is possible to choose one format or the other? Or that it would just be evolutionarily advantageous to choose the verbal/text format over the image format? In which case I would see pictorial memory as being more useful, at least to our ancestors, who would want to remember where their hut was or where the herds lived, or whatever. Storing that information in the form of words would take longer than just having a snapshot.

    What would you do?
    I have a very good verbal memory and I make associations in the forms of words very easily, so in many ways I can relate to this concept (which I hadn't ever heard of before). I assume though that most memories function as a mix of the two, and I think life would be difficult without an image-based ability to navigate the world (think driving with a list of written directions, but not having a map). Oh, uh, to answer though, if I had to choose between them I would probably choose verbal/text because it's what I'm the most comfortable with.
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    I would keep the stories and forgo the image, no question. A picture without any corresponding context or 'words' seems very strange/unlikely for me to imagine though.

    Have you considered that a picture may have an in-built 1000-word capacity, instead of being equivalent to a thousand words? So, our .jpg would still cost 160k bytes but would have in-built free storage space for a single 1000-word .pdf?

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    Habitual Fi LineStepper JocktheMotie's Avatar
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    I find this a difficult question to answer, and I suspect it is derived from the P/J or Ti/Te difference. For me, an image, a conceptual understanding, a technical drawing, an equation, or a map is far more useful than a set of words or instructions, simply because I find that words and instructions are derived from such things that I store in the first place. Information, data, what have you is never more important than the relationship[ it creates or belongs to. Nestled inside of a picture or a concept, is the ability to derive or place data accordingly to that model. But, this is all coming from a person who has a high visual/spatial learning style and having a good visual memory.



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    Senior Member wank's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JocktheMotie View Post
    ...For me, an image, a conceptual understanding, a technical drawing, an equation, or a map is far more useful than a set of words or instructions, simply because I find that words and instructions are derived from such things that I store in the first place. Information, data, what have you is never more important than the relationship[ it creates or belongs to. Nestled inside of a picture or a concept, is the ability to derive or place data accordingly to that model. But, this is all coming from a person who has a high visual/spatial learning style and having a good visual memory.
    Seconded.

    My associative thought process lies in psychological 'form' rather than, if you will, syntax orientated or textual derivative.

    I would take the picture, as it would offer less constriction to and in idealized memory for the long run.
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  6. #6
    it's a nuclear device antireconciler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Provoker View Post
    There is a story that old Immanuel Kant was incapable of calling images to mind. Similarly, I think in terms of words, concepts, formal propositions, and syllogisms, which manifest in abstruse networks of ideas and subtile chains of reasoning.

    This helps explain why the abstract thinker can expound on Tolstoy's War and Peace in great detail, yet can't always decide where precisely he parked. Personally, I remember what I think easier than what I've seen. If I've thought about what I've seen, then I remember what I've seen only because I've thought about it. But thoughts are stored as pieces of text rather than photos. ... I'd keep the text. What would you do?
    This is really interesting, although I don't know what to make of it. I perfectly cannot think abstractly without using simple images to represent various concepts. Various relationships between concepts appear to me as the very basis by which I am able to think them at all as all manner of, for example, maps or geometric figures or relationships. Words I use have simple, childishly simple, pictures to go with them. For example, "articulation" appears to me so much like roots expanding and branching out, "substance" appears to me like two planes in parallel where the lower one is here being referred to, etc. More complex relationships get simple metaphors.

    But none of this is possible without the text to begin with. Articulation is temporal and cannot proceed without a sequence of reasoning. Words I think are themselves relationships which relate the sensory world (what we see or even the visual representations of our thoughts) to our awareness. Besides, a word, when thought, appears sensibly, as a drawing of the written form or perhaps a series of phonetic elements.

    I do think though that it is hard to see how your mind manipulates information by representing it to itself in strange sensible ways because the mind is devoting its attention to thinking about the material itself more than how it is representing the material to itself. Maybe the latter only becomes really apparent when the mind is struggling to actually represent the material to itself coherently (because the subject is complex), so the sensible relationships become important ... ?

    Maybe? Have not given this much thought.
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    Occasional Member Evan's Avatar
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    I don't think the actual reason that human memory is fallible has to do with storage space. I mean, I guess it may, but I think the bigger problem is data retrieval.

    Think about it, the more data the brain stores, the longer it would take (assuming processing power doesn't change) to bring up a single piece of relevant data. Take a library, for example. The best organization system would be to have the books that are checked out most often right at the front of the library, and the ones least checked out in some basement somewhere. The same reasoning likely holds for memory. Data that's deemed important on intake is probably placed somewhere near the front of the library, and the more times it's retrieved from memory, the closer it creeps to the front of the front. That's why repeating something to yourself over and over makes it easier to remember in the future.

    So there are two processes involved in memory storage. The first is deciding how important an incoming piece of data is and putting it close to the right place in the metaphorical library. The second is updating the location of the data based on the amount of times it's used.

    Any amount of books can be stored in a library big enough. But how the hell are you gonna find the ones you want?

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