Wednesday, 2 February 2011

To speculate-On "Cognition"

The human capacity for effective and efficient action is affected by many factors. Discussing consistancy in color perception, Maturana and Varela argue that in the perception of color we cannot find a direct correspondence between the color consistency of the objects we see and the light waves reflected from them. They claim that it is not easy to explain how we see colors, but that we must stop thinking that the color of the objects we see is determined by the features of the light we receive from them. Rather, they suggest that the experience of a color corresponds to a specific pattern of states of activity in the nervous system that can be triggered by a number of different light perturbations (1992, 22. Also see 252, 253, 254).

Following this model, I would suggest that the cognitive function of people is not "distorted" by circumstances; rather, that human cognitive performance is context-dependent and multidimensional, and that to really understand human cognition it is not possible to approach it as a self-contained system. Human cognition should be approached as an integrated structure, where cognitive processes vary from situation to situation, depending on situational differences that relate to a broad variety of categories which overflow traditional definitions of cognition. These factors affect cognitive performance not necessarily in negative ways; experience permits people to develop efficient strategies to deal with new situations, responding to them by taking shortcuts and leaps of faith, in high-speed information-processing acts commonly called intuitive jumps. These "intuitive jumps" are connected with the goal-seeking character of our interaction with the environment and bring to the fore the role that guessing plays in cognitive performance.

Hidden underneath the litcrit discussions lie more subtle and difficult questions of intelligibility. As competent readers, we handle linear texts by taking notes, reordering and analyzing writings for our own needs. In reading current hypertext: web pages or interactive computer games and applications, our tasks also include figuring out what it is that we might take notes on, or reorder and for what purposes we might use it. These problems are often referred to in terms of navigation and orientation (what is it? how can I get around it?). We are literate readers: accustomed to genres which encode the reader, author and purpose of the communication into their forms; we are accustomed to the outline as our model of intelligible structure in printed texts. That sense of outline enables us to linearly traverse complex structures (we go from I.b.2. directly to II.A.1). To that model, hypertext adds the topical link-node diagram which is offered as an intelligible data structure. Current media add the situated speech of conversation, image, sequence, motion and structures of interaction. These are different and new: there are few genres that provide us with the expectations we need to navigate and orient ourselves.. The Art of Memory, a mnemonic tradition that began in ancient Greece and persisted through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and into the seventeenth century gives us an account of how people could hold and organize thoughts, making of themselves walking books without using the written word. It may also point toward ways for developing visual and narrative models of intelligibility to apply to new media. The Art of Memory provides us with way to open up questions of intelligibility through structure, visible form, metaphor, and narrative.
Hypertext is as much a term for understanding as it is an objective phenomenon. It is perhaps the best ready-made method for considering the problems of interactive media. The history of hypertext has been shaped by theories and attitudes that are already realized in the work produced. Many characteristics of hypertext are socially constructed; the common understandings make communications intelligible. It is important to work toward constructing those common understandings. When we consider "common understandings," we know that they may not be universally held and are often distinctly not those of leading thinkers. Common understandings are often not explicitly documented; they are vague, inferred and debatable. For example, this article asserts that computer information is commonly understood to be disembodied, scientific and objective. To the contrary, Richard Coyne, in Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age asserts that "the operative philosophy of the computer world is not logical positivism, or even analytical philosophy, but liberal pragmatism.Neither is the computer world inhuman, driven by a kind of 'techno-rationalism.The computer world may no longer be considered scientific and authoritarian by its developers, but it once was and it has been popularly thought of that way until very recently. These issues open up a number of questions. Whose beliefs shape media like hypertext? Are outmoded opinions still important? Does the malleability of beliefs make artifacts like hypermedia malleable, or will hypermedia remain fixed in some respects by the body of products produced? While it is quite beyond this paper to discuss these possibilities, they are relevant questions. Will change be revolutionary, continuous or will the forms remain fixed? We have some historical precedents: cars, bicycles and radio electronics all show the tendency to change in ways that resemble plate tectonics, i.e., to coalesce from a period of fluidity into a fixed form which remains until stresses force a change, which results in another period of general or special quake and confusion, coalescing into another period of fixity. The modern bicycle took shape near 1880, and has changed little since. Broadcast has three major periods: am, fm and television. Cable and digital appear to be the fourth and fifth. We are certainly in a quake zone within communication, and the ability to form the next stage will be a matter of social power, and a matter of establishing a set of concepts adequate to analyze current pressures.
Within this context, it is not possible to be definitive about the proper interpretation of hypertext and its nature, but, again in the words of Richard Coyne, to "open up a space" in which questions and possibilities can be organized and discussed.

Guessing as a cognitive strategy.Guessing is a very efficient way to strategize an action on the basis of existing information; guessing is connected to meaning in information already possessed. Bateson suggests that meaning may be regarded as an approximate synonym of pattern, redundancy, information and restraint. He suggests that any aggregate of events or objects contains redundancy or pattern. If we divide the aggregate into two parts, the observer that sees only one part "can guess, with better than random success" what is in the other part. Bateson suggests that what is in one part contains information, or has meaning, or redundancy about what is in the other part. In cybernetic terms "the information available on one side will restrain (i.e., reduce the probability of) wrong guessing" (Bateson, 1985, 131). Guessing is then based on information possessed, on redundancy and on the resulting predictability, and it is as much a proof of human economy of action in the realm of cognitive strategies as the reading of instructions.


xtina said...

is it a question of who
or of what

xtina said...