I was browsing the shelves of the library at the college my wife goes to and came across a book on alzheimers. Flicking through it there’s no surprise I found lots and lots of information about how the brain works and fails, about memory, etc… Since I’m addicted to cognitive stuff lately I had a read. And of course whatever I read I relate it to my perspective of life, and that’s through a KM lens.
What I noticed is that it reminded me of an old post of mine where I talk about how we filter the world and how an artist, like a writer or film maker does this, using narrative to give us a story. When an artist does this filtering it’s called art, whereas in everyday life, filtering information is simply what we do and who we are. The more a film maker does away with a narrative, the more the film comes closer to simply being switched on and observing. From this approach the film really isn’t that much of a film as it’s not filtering life into a perspective and story. Much like us as people, the information we choose to filter and retain becomes the lens we view life through; what gets through the filter is part of what makes our character and personality…how we see and react to the world (basically our illusion of the world).
Here’s an excerpt of my past post We make choices…it’s what we choose…:
I was watching a movie the other night called “Wonderboys”.
Towards the end there was a great part about the student reviewing the teachers book draft telling him he was not practicing a technique he taught, and that was to make “choices”.
She said his book was too detailed, he lacked making choices, choosing what we see and what is told. Basically the narrative wasn’t sharp enough, anymore obtuse and we just have real life, or documentary without narrative, just observation. This sub-text or theme paralleled with his own character in the movie where he didn’t really live life, he just let things happen, he avoided making decisions, including harnessing the omens and the things nature throws at you..acting on the subtle signs.
Anyway I thought of this movie when I was reading a passage in a book by Deepak Chopra (Life After Death), who was talking about a book called “The Biology of Transcendence”.
It said that savant children don’t perform tasks from their own accord, they instead respond when asked, similar to a computer.
“The normal brain filters out information for good reason-it takes narrow experience to form a self, a separate person with limited beliefs, goals, memories, likes and dislikes. We deliberately reject huge portions of information, but a damaged brain is exposed to everything through its inability to select and filter”
It seems that children with this type of condition, don’t carve out a life, they don’t make choices, all they do is process information and then incredibly recall it when needed, almost like a computer.
I wonder what would happen if I didn’t make any choices in life and passively absorbed the perpetual information that bombards me daily…I think I would have a break down, and perhaps this is why people with this condition seem numbed or indifferent to the world.
Basically if we didn’t filter we wouldn’t have a library, but instead a pile of books…we wouldn’t have a film, but instead a video observing real life, etc…filtering is life!
A point here is the different between blogging (anecdotal raw truths) and a report (which has a narrative or agenda). The report is structured to achieve a goal, whereas the blog posts are simply more raw. I explained how this relates to KM in my post, Real KM : It’s about the match play, not the scoreboard. Basically if we watch the match we understand holistically why the score is what it is, compared to a report that may have an agenda or narrative which filters out stuff…and we may miss out on the meaning on the "why" and "how".
An excerpt from Nassim Taleb’s book, The Black Swan, describes this perfectly:
“The journal was purportedly written without…knowing what was going to happen next, when the information available…was not corrupted by the subsequent outcomes.” “While we have a highly unstable memory, a diary provides indelible facts recorded more or less immediately; it thus allows the fixation of an unrevised perception and enables us to later study events in their own context. Again, it is the purported method of description of the event, not its execution, that was important.”
This then connects to Dave Snowden’s concept of Seek patterns first then data, Information carries too many assumptions to allow it to be context free, and Micro-narratives - from information to data to patterns.
Anyway let’s get back to the hippocampus…
I noticed the way the hippocampus works is similar to how we work as I have described above…the world is a grain of sand.
The following is some excerpts from Dr Vincent Fortanasce’s book, The anti-alzheimer’s prescription (p 153, 160-2)
…the hippocampus (a small bean-shaped area in the brain) receives the barrage of sensory information from the cortex and starts filing it away. To prevent the information overload that would accompany having to retain the entire influx of information, the hippocampus sifts through and picks out which information to store and which information to discard. The hippocampus’s decision to store memory is believed to hinge on two factors: whether the information has emotional value and whether it relates to something the person already knows…most of what we learn and remember relates to the brain’s ability to form and retrieve associations
…memory is…dependent on emotional context. The hippocampus is more apt to tag information for long-term memory if it has emotional significance. Interactions with other people are an important trigger of emotional responses.
Because each memory is represented in many different cortical areas, the stronger and richer the network of associations, the more your brain has some protection if it should lose neurons and dendrites. The larger your brain "safety net, " the greater the chances are that you can solve problems or meet challenges". That’s because you have many more pathways at your disposal from which you can reach a conclusion.
Imagine you are meeting a new client…instead of listening to the person’s name and shaking their hand, I’d like you to focus on the following:
1. …feel of their hand…soft…cold…
2. …small…are they wearing a scent…
4. …unique charactersitics…tall…mole
5. …past memories and associations…does that person remind you of someone…
You have now tagged someone’s name with not, just one or two associations, but with at least four very personal connections
This got me thinking about online social bookmarking sites like "delicious". They work similar to how we recall things. I used to use delicious tags kind of like folders, but then I decided to use it as subject keywords, and then I threw in other facets like document type, diagram… The idea is to perhaps go one step further…don’t just tag it’s aboutness, but also tag it’s characteristics according to your perspective and past. ie. with terms that somehow had impact on you when you read the article, whether it was an emotional story or because it reminded you of the past.
I recall an article about enterprise 2.0 used the phrase "yellow-brick road", and for some reason that word had impact on me. If I ever have to look for that article the best thing to do for me personally is to tag it "yellow"
Another article was about potentiation (which is a word I rarely remember) and I remember it had a diagram with a neuron path, and whenever I think about that article that diagram surfaces in a second. If I ever have to look for that article the best thing to do for me personally is to tag it "path"
Yes, tag for aboutness and other facets, but don’t forget to use those powerful recall tags that may be odd, but not odd to your brain (ie. to you and your past).
The point here is that if we tag and object many different ways then there’s more chance we will recall it, just like the hippocampus tags or associates to a memory many ways…if one path is broken, another can lead to the memory.
The hippocampus sounds like me as a person. I sift through information via social networks as a filter and then blog about the stuff I want to retain. That’s how I cope with information signals; and soon enough what filters through becomes part of who I am (yes, it’s important to choose your sources and a variety of disciplines so you don’t live in a bubble).
I think if information has emotional or narrative elements it resonates and has impact; but whether your hippocampus decides to keep it in the long-term I guess relates to how information resonates with me as a person (does it strike a chord with me, does it associate with other memories/patterns).
So the more associations the brain has (the more connected the neurons are for a given thing) the more resilient your brain is at remembering ie. if some pathways are down or can’t be recalled there are other pathways to tread, and ultimately continue to have capacity to deal with things.
This reminds me of organisations being more aware and connected ie a networked organisation…that collective mind type lingo. I don’t think organisations are one giant brain, but we can do our best to emulate these advantages by networking…sharing our information and connecting creates awareness…many pathways and associations, opportunities to swarm around issues.
That is, if we all learn from each other; when one of us is down (unavailable, vacation, leave the company) there’s a good chance my information has been learnt by others and the issue can be explored without me, as part of my know-how and know-what has been carried on.
So in a KM way it’s not about a filing cabinet, it’s about connecting. This is the best way to find and filter information, to re-frame it to our context through conversations. From this approach we retain the information as personal knowledge due to the discovery, interaction, relationship and subsequent action having a greater impact on the brain compared to reading some facts or a best practice or a report). Symbols, visuals, stories are the middle-ground here ie. they are other people’s experiences (have emotional impact)…and the whole mirror neuron thing.
The brain retains information that has emotional impact, and also associates with the context of past patterns, it imprints information when we action it (again and again)…the more we do and have experience, the more it’s a skill and becomes part of us.