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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Filtering, forgetfulness, and the semantic web

I've been catching up on some of my reading and tv watching over the holidays, especially with blogs and various tidbits of news (i.e., not headlines) and nonfiction. A few days ago I watched Botany of Desire based upon Michael Pollan's book of the same name. The book had been on my reading list for a while, but I just haven't made it to it yet (thank goodness for the cliff notes version aka tv...)

One of the most interesting thoughts from this program was about memory and the part that forgetfulness plays. Without forgetfulness (filtering) we would not be able to deal with all of sensory information we receive each day - forgetfulness gives us a filter to select (focus) on those parts which are most important or relevant (of course, that is if memory is working the way it should....)

Anyhow, in spite of the fact that I watched a show about the production and genetics of potatoes (among other topics!), there are some fascinating insights into culture, science, and more.

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of forgetfulness as a filter when I read the Mystery of Expertise:
Riding a bike, tying your shoes, typing on a keyboard, and steering your car into a parking space while speaking on your cellphone are examples.... You execute these actions easily but without knowing the details of how you do it. You would be totally unable to describe the perfectly timed choreography with which your muscles contract and relax as you navigate around other people in a cafeteria while holding a tray, yet you have no trouble doing it. This is the gap between what your brain can do and what you can tap into consciously.
To the extent that consciousness is useful, it is useful in small quantities, and for very particular kinds of tasks. It's easy to understand why you would not want to be consciously aware of the intricacies of your muscle movement, but this can be less intuitive when applied to your perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs, which are also final products of the activity of billions of nerve cells.
So in some ways, the semantic web will just do what we already do as humans - it will make the path to get to our results less obvious and it will provide better filters without us having to do the work  (hmmm....  computers thinking like people, kind of AI, isn't it? ;-)

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