Are memories discrete?

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Postby Mac » Wed Sep 06, 2017 8:09 pm

Archie the Archivist just got a coffee maker. He reads the manual cover-to-cover, dumping the whole thing into his coppermind (a proper coffee coppermind). Then he reads it a second time so that he actually knows how to use it.

He uses it swell. Works fine, for months and months. One day, something seems to go wrong. Hrm. How to fix? He has read the manual, he knows how to operate it, but that was almost a year ago, and he can't recall how to deal with something that's never come up.

He draws the entire manual into his fresh memory, and of course, you just have to reseat the air gap. So he does that, and then tucks the manual neatly back into his coppermind.

... Does he still know how to make coffee?

Is his second reading of the manual a discrete memory from the first? I realize that the case could be made that his knowledge has mutated into simply practical knowledge from handling the coffeemaker, but for the sake of the question I'm really asking, hopefully people can see their way past this point.

If I read a chapter of Well of Ascension, and immediately stored it in a coppermind, and then waited a day and read the chapter again, then waited a week, drew out the stored chapter, and stored it again, would I still remember it from the second reading? Are the two "knowledges" discrete in my mind, or do I just remember the happenings of that chapter once?
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Postby Kurkistan » Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:29 pm

WoA Ch 12 wrote:In order to fill a coppermind with memories, Sazed had listened to another Keeper recite his entire collection of histories, facts, and stories. Sazed had memorized each sentence, then shoved those memories into the coppermind for later retrieval. Sazed remembered very little of the actual experience—but he could draw forth any of the books or essays he wished, placing them back into his mind, gaining the ability to recollect them as crisply as when he’d first memorized them. He just had to have the bracers on.


I read this as Sazed unintentionally storing the context of him learning all the facts, rather than simply the facts themselves. This would suggest that you can have two sets of the "same" thing memorized.
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Postby Sir Jerric » Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:40 pm

Feels funny to encounter a forum post here that is so closely related to the topic that got me to make my first post on 17th Shard. I also killed the thread with my post, so I still wonder if it was a good idea to participate. :P

Anyhow, most of the posts in that thread had some interesting thoughts on how Copper Feruchemy functions. I posted because they brought to mind a potential correlation between the feruchemical power and the techniques of modern world memory champions, a relationship that---at least for me---still makes a good argument for how Copper does not behave so differently to the other metals (though nowadays I make an exception for the Spiritual metals).

. . . . I'm rambling, aren't I?

My method of answering your situational question:
Given how much one's intent manipulates cosmere magics, I'd assume that storing just the first reading (in either situation) would not be a problem. I would further justify that with various arguments about how memory operates on relationships and connections between concepts and use the very same "practical knowledge" argument you already referred to among them. One could give me a hard time by suggesting that a back-to-back reading would not have many distinct elements to set them apart from one another, but I'd counter by placing a lot of emphasis on the landmark of knowing that you read the book a second time which would be a significant aide to separating them. I'd also note that the time gap between the freshly-restored first reading and the long-settled second reading (a week or a year before) would aid the Archivist in storing (re-storing?) them distinctly.

Now, if you pulled the memory of the first reading and did not (re)store it within a short period, I would argue that the two would stand a very high chance of collapsing together in short order. After which the Archivist would have issues recalling the content of the "second" reading. Basically the difference between storing one's short-term memories of something versus storing the long-term memory of it. But he could still make coffee. ;)
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Postby Mac » Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:18 am

Sir Jerric wrote:I also killed the thread with my post, so I still wonder if it was a good idea to participate. :P


Please do! A lack of participation is far more likely to kill any thread.

Given how much one's intent manipulates cosmere magics, I'd assume that storing just the first reading (in either situation) would not be a problem.


I might be mistaken, but I believe I know what you are saying here, and I agree. If memories do remain discrete in the mind, I concur that an Archivist could choose which "copy" to store.

...use the very same "practical knowledge" argument you already referred to...


Yeah I'm already regretting this example. I'm totally detracting from the actual question I was hoping to ask.

...knowing that you read the book a second time which would be a significant aide to separating them.


Interesting. Does it, though? Does my mind have discrete memories of the story based on each read? Or does every read flavor my knowledge of it?

One thing which has always struck me... the differences between semantic and episodic memories. I'm currently reading the scene where Sazed is being an engineer. He's withdrawing specific chapters of a book from his mind, and when he replaces them he no longer knows how to engineer.

But... that's not really how memories work. When one drives, one does not see a red light and recall the specific moment in their past when they first learned that red meant stop. They don't think back to the laminated sheet of street signs when they Yield. These things are stored in semantic memory, whereas things like "the specific wording of the chapters of a book" are an episodic memory.

Of course, something like a fantasy novel is different. I mean, I treat these books like realmatic textbooks, so possibly not so very different, but if I stored the chapter where we find out Vin has been a mistwraith all this time, I would presumably forget that fact.

Basically the difference between storing one's short-term memories of something versus storing the long-term memory of it. But he could still make coffee. ;)


Hrm. Tentatively I think i would agree with you. So basically, you see memories as... sort of fluid things in the mind. If I read Chapter 48 of Hero of Ages, immediately stored it, re-read it, then recalled the storage, they would in that instant be two distinct memories, and I'd be able to store either or both of them. However over time, they would merge.

I'm not sold, but on balance I think this seems like a reasonable assumption. And certainly makes an Archivist's abilities far more useful.

Hrm. So, if I were an archivist, reading Hero of Ages, and I found citations for things I already know, you believe I'd be able to store that proper citation so that next time someone asks me, "But wait, can zinc be used to control a koloss?" I'd be able to whip out the quote and chapter... but I'd be able to store it without, myself, losing the fundamental knowledge I already had that zinc can control koloss, even if I didn't re-read the passage when i was done?
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Postby Sir Jerric » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:16 am

Mac wrote:So basically, you see memories as... sort of fluid things in the mind.

To be more precise, I currently abstract long-term memory as looking somewhat like this.
Out of Character. Click to reveal.
Image

Except probably more dense and more interconnected.

Rough explanation: A concept is a node. Memory is built up by linking nodes together. A node about apples would have links to red and green, sweet and tart, smooth and granular and damp, stems and trees and fruit and seeds, knives and slices and platters and crackers, etc. In the normal course of life, the brain adds connections based on new inputs from the senses, and prunes out little-used links and outlier nodes. When you experience a sensory input, the brain sends a query into the network to those nodes and gets back a wave of signals from the "friends of friends" and uses the best match(es) to identify the source.

My conceit of the operation of an Archivist's power is that they are magically pruning their own memory links, stashing those connections in their copperminds. If my conceit is correct, then were I an Archivist, I would be equipped to focus my intent to select more discrete sets of links, possibly as little as a single connection. I might even manage to "half-store" a connection, making the brain more likely to prune it, but not magically severing it.

But that is all about long-term memory. I don't have a abstract of operations for short-term memory, though my understanding is that it gets processed and mapped into long-term connections fairly rapidly. Established connections are strengthened (rather than double linking), new links are drawn where needed, and short-term memory is dumped.

My best example of short-term memory: Many experts point to the situation of a regular commute. You take the same route (to the store / to school / to work), traveling by the same method. when you arrive, you try to think back and realize that you have no memory of the journey you just took. This isn't you sleep-walking(/-driving) through life, just that you already have such solid memory links about the route that nothing changed in your long-term memory.

I suspect that if an Archivist stored the memory of their commute, they would lose all their memory(-ies) of it (unless they have the ability to "half-store"), because the brain only keeps one connection between each pair of nodes. If an Archivist stored their observations of the commute in progress (like Sazed was doing in the Conventical of Seran), that process probably captures the brain's attempt to map the short-term memories into the long-term storage (the sensation of the memories being sucked away without the usual feedback). Tapping that would replay the signals, experiencing the event again (and for a commute, that would leave on significant impression, as usual).

Mac wrote:So, if I were an archivist, reading Hero of Ages, and I found citations for things I already know, you believe I'd be able to store that proper citation so that next time someone asks me, "But wait, can zinc be used to control a koloss?" I'd be able to whip out the quote and chapter... but I'd be able to store it without, myself, losing the fundamental knowledge I already had that zinc can control koloss, even if I didn't re-read the passage when i was done?

In this case, you'd be storing the quote (a chain of words is a lot of discrete weak links for most people) and chapter (a number is a node, usually with a single connection to the quote: a single point of failure). If you already knew about the content of the quote, and had thought about other applications and situations in which it could be used, you would be unlikely to lose the knowledge of zinc controlling koloss, though you'd likely experience the feeling that you had made up the idea without canonical support while also recalling that you had stored the quotes in your coppermind.

I say unlikely because if you were an unpracticed Archivist, you might store more connections than strictly necessary and could make yourself forget much more. That is to say that you might store all the connections to "zinc can control koloss" instead of the quote and chapter reference. Which is why I say that intent makes a significant difference.

. . . So, did that make any sense? I had some fun writing it, at least.
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Postby Mac » Thu Sep 07, 2017 12:28 pm

Sir Jerric wrote:. . . So, did that make any sense? I had some fun writing it, at least.


It did, and it was a fascinating read. Certainly it's one plausible model, though I don't know if I'm convinced that it's right.

It does seem like you're still talking about episodic memory exclusively. I do wonder how semantic memory is impacted, or procedural.
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Postby Sir Jerric » Thu Sep 07, 2017 1:58 pm

Thanks for taking the time to read it, agreement or not. Simply getting feedback is one of my most favorite things.

Not being familiar with the terms episodic and semantic (or procedural) in this context, I've gone and looked them up. It seems to me that my first example, that of the apple, was primarily semantic, while my final examples about the commute were more episodic. Really---like most people who aren't using a particular definition---I didn't sort anything into those boxes and wavered all over the dividing line.

I also notice a few quotes in the above linked article about the process of episodic memories becoming more semantic over longer periods of time, which I think fits into my pruning metaphor (or is it a metaphor? Hardly matters).

I personally do a lot of abstract thinking, and I'm not sure that my brain cares to hang on to episodic-style memories, so my system is probably biased by my personal introspection having biased examples to work on.

As for procedural memory, I don't believe there are any canon examples of storing that, but you've done a more recent re-read of the series than I have. Has Sazed ever used a coppermind in such a way as to mess with his muscle-memory? I know he taps medical texts, but I don't believe he taps surgical finesse, for example. I currently don't think it is possible to store one's ability to ride a bicycle. I am quite willing to stand corrected though, if you have run across anything. I can help look up specific quotes, since I have the e-books for Era 1. (I don't recall any specific instances of copper feruchemy in Era 2 outside the coin scene.)
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Postby Mac » Thu Sep 07, 2017 2:16 pm

There are comparatively few examples of Sazed using his copperminds, though I can recall a few closer to the end of Hero of Ages I haven't quite gotten to yet I'm looking forward to.

I very much doubt procedural memory can be stored/tapped, making Jason Bourne more plausible on Scadrial than Earth.

When the process of storing/tapping memories is expressly described, as it is a few times, it seems to make the distinction that these things are purely episodic. Sazed's record of the Conventical. His research with Tindwyl. His use of his copperminds to revert the canals of Urteau. And yet, the effect it describes, specifically in the case of Urteau, seems strongly semantic. He hasn't merely memorized words on a page; he understands the lessons, he has the semantic knowledge of at least a novice engineer, more than a person would get from simply reading words on a page. Not sure how much of that is Sazed's native intelligence, if he's able to apply the raw information and get more significant result than you'd typically expect? Added to the fact that dumping the knowledge of many chapters at once into your head is... very different from simply sitting there and taking the time to read them all. I could envision a case being made both for the idea that it would be harder, and easier, to learn from information when you do it like that.

I've always wondered how Tindwyl read her biographies in prison. Did she simply let them stay in her memory, trusting that her stores could be "topped up" when Sazed gave her the new information upon her release? Did she write notes here and there to herself? Copy out the entire book by hand and then re-read it?

Did she draw them out long enough to think about them, come to conclusions, then replace the books in her coppermind, but retain what she got out of them? Read what John Adams had done and think to herself, wow, he was a great man, but a real dick, store the words of the book, but still know he was a dick?
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