In an earlier post, I had touched upon the different categorization theories that are in prevalence. One of these that was discussed in details was the prototype Vs exemplar method that was based on clustering and involved different representational methods of the categories thus derived.
This post is about how a new item is allocated to a pre-existing category. Simplistically, and in the last post this was the position I had taken, it seems apparent that by calculating the distance of a new item in feature space from the central tendencies of the neighboring clusters (the prototypes/ exemplars) one can find a best fit with one of the clusters and allocate the new item to that category.
This is simplistic as it explains fitting of new items to existing categories, but does not include any mechanisms for formation of new categories.
The analogical approach I take here is of how do I decide in which folder to add a new bookmark of an interesting page found on the web. Most probably the names I have chose for my bookmarks folders are reflective of the central tendencies (common prominent features) of all pages bookmarked in that folder. I would normally look at the new page, and also at my existing folders and see if there is a best fit. If so I juts file the new bookmark under the best-fit existing folder. Slightly extending the concept of categorization to resemble that of a schema, this is the classical case of assimilation in a schema.
However, in case the new web-page cannot be filed under any existing bookmark folder, I would usually create a new folder (with an adequate descriptive name based on the location of the web page in the feature space) and file the new bookmark under that new folder. This is akin to trying to fit in a novel item into existing clusters in the feature space, only to discover, it doesnt fit well with any cluster, but is an outlier. The best way to accommodate such an outlier , in my opinion, is to create a new cluster around the outlier. Extending this to schema, it is not hard to see that this is the classical case of accommodation and formation of a new schemata to incorporate a novel item that cannot be assimilated in existing schema.
Piaget, of course , stopped here (and so do I, sometimes, when managing my bookmarks!). but I would like to venture firth and discuss the other process that I engage in , very infrequently, to keep my bookmarks in good shape. This is what I would call reorganization or restructuring. when I restructure my bookmarks, I change the names, I move bookmarks form one folder to another , I merge bookmarks and also at times create more than a few sub folders. Also, interestingly, I delete some of the old bookmarks; while am captivated by some of the bookmarks and even forget to complete the restructuring part.
I believe that we too indulge in restructuring of our Schema/ categories periodically (it may be as frequent as daily during REM sleep) and that a crucial form of learning is not juts Assimilation and Accommodation, but also Restructuring. Also it is my contention, that we consciously remember anything only because we have actively restructured that information and embedded it in a contextual narrative. In the absence of restructuring, there can be information that can be used, but no conscious knowledge.
I plan to tie this up with the 3 factor model of memory that is emerging. One factor of the memory system uses familiarity detection (assimilation), the other novelty detection(accommodation), while the other involves conscious and contextual recollection(restructuring).
I also propose that these three factors are behind the three kinds of memory (content-wise and not duration wise). The first type of memory is semantic (or noetic)- facts like France’s capital is Paris; the second is procedural (or anoetic) – learning how to drive- and is unconscious; while the third is episodic or autonoetic) – personally remembered events and feelings) . Of course memories would also differer along the time dimension- working memory, long-term memory etc. , but that discussion is for another day.
Also a brief not to myself – how this may be linked with Hughling-Jackson’s theory of 3 states of consciousness and how they are differentially affected in dissociation– the autonoetic memory would be affected first- the noetic second and the anoetic or unconscious memory last in dissociation.
Returning back to categorization, this approach of adding new items either by assimilation, accommodation or restructuring is more guided my Mind-Is-A-Container metaphor. Other metaphors of mind- assuming it theory like – may yield to new and interesting views of how we form a theory-like theory of categorization. The other minor variation to above mind is a container metaphor may be using labels for bookmarks (instead of folders)- this is what Google bookmarks and del.icio are using. I haven’t experimented with that approach to bookmarking extensively, so am not sure what new insights can be gained form them. For those readers, who use labels to organize bookmarks, their insights as comments, would be greatly appreciated.