Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Vannevar's Trails of Association

"The human mind ... operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory."
"As We May Think", Vannevar Bush 1945.

Physiologically he's right on. Our brain records by burning memory engrams or trails between associated neurons. Each time a memory trail is traversed the synaptic gaps fire between neurons and the engram is reinforced. The more times this trail of neurons fires the stronger the memory becomes. If it fires less frequently the memory fades.

Imagine if your trails didn't fade?

Despite the rudimentary computer technology of the day, Vannevar dreamt of a device he called a Memex that recorded trails permanently, clearly - "an enlarged intimate supplement to memory."

Every day we all make personal discoveries and traverse trails from what we're looking for to what we find - but sometimes we forget. What did I search on again? What was I looking for? How did I find that? Where did I see that? We're all in an endless loop of searching, finding, sometimes forgetting - and the procedure repeats.

Wouldn't it be good if you could remember your personal search trails?

MyTrails is the first part of Trexy's design inspired by the Memex.

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