Memory Structures

Our memories contain a number of different types of organizational structures which categorize and interrelate other memory structures. So, for example, we have structures that group together "times we have been in a doctor's waiting room." We also have structures that group together "people we find annoying because they talk too much and listen too little." And we have structures that group together memories under abstract categories such as "times that we labored hard against the odds and managed to win out in the end." These organizational structures segment the full complement of our memories so that we can locate the right ones when we need them.

Our lab has studied a variety of these organizational structures. It is not important for the current purpose to go into the details of these structures and how they operate. But it is important to understand the roles these structures serve. Organizational structures help us classify and locate lower level structures like facts and cases. Organizational structures also capture the generalizations we make about those bottom level knowledge structures. They capture knowledge such as the order events happen in a restaurant or the way bosses react when their employees are tardy. These structures then allow us to make predictions about the world. We know when we walk into a restaurant that a waitress will bring us a menu after we sit down. And we know that if we don't want to irritate our boss, we should not be caught coming in late to work very often.

It is organizational structures like these that tell us how to go about answering the questions we develop. What do you do when, for example, you want to figure out someone's age? Most people have had enough experience trying to figure out other peoples' ages that they have built up a library of generally useful techniques for doing it. They can use the generalizations they have constructed as rules to guide their behavior. In this case, these rules contain knowledge that looks like: "If I want to figure out someone's age, then I can try strategy X."

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