The Warehouse Model of Memory

In the warehouse model, memory contains structures but does not operate on them. Instead, thinking is accomplished by some mysterious outside processes which pull these structures off of the shelf when they're needed. In such a simplistic model, being intelligent has a lot to do with these mysterious other processes and not so much to do with the knowledge structures stored in memory.

This model seems odd. In simple computer memories, it may be easy for some outside process to figure out just what knowledge it needs and then go into memory to grab it. But in memories which are as enormously large and varied as human memories, it's not so easy to figure out "from the outside" where to look for useful knowledge. In large memories, it's a tough challenge just to figure out what useful knowledge the memory might contain.

Figuring this out is inherently a memory-based task. A critical component of large memories are the organizational structures they contain which provide their superstructure, offering places to hang all the different pieces of knowledge they contain. It is these memory structures which give access to the more specific information that large memories contain. When you see somebody who looks familiar, but can't place their face, these organizational structures kick in, leading your thoughts to those memories likely to contain the information you seek.

These structures cannot be static, as the warehouse model of memory implies. When you learn new things, as you are all the time, the new knowledge must perturb the system in order to find its place in memory in relation to what is already there. Does it amplify old knowledge, or contradict it? The mind needs to resolve these questions as new knowledge appears, getting reminded of what it already knows or believes each time some new experience occurs. This process of reminding and comparison is a critical part of learning. Thinking depends upon our ability to generalize and merge new knowledge with older memories. Teaching must make use of this natural process or fail miserably in getting anyone to ever remember anything at all that has been taught.

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