Friday, July 20, 2007

Schank: Chapter 1, Pgs 1-27 Knowledge is Stories

In chapter one Schank provides his theoretical perspective on how knowledge is related to stories stored in the mind, and the ability to recall stories when encountered with a new experience or question. He uses several 'Man on the Street' interview responses to show the connectivity. Schank's perspective is that "People remember what happens to them, and they tell other people what they remember." Schank contends that "... intelligence is really about understanding what has happened well enough to be able to predict when it might happen again." and, "We need to know how people do the ordinary things, not the extraordinary."

The following section-by-section excerpts are what I felt were the key points to consider as the chapters move forward.

Does Thinking Really Involve Thinking? Pgs. 1 - 7
Using several 'Man on the Street' interviews, Schank concludes that: "The process of thinking up answers to unexpected questions is at once extremely creative and very simple."

Schank claims that answers are already available in memory and that the respondents task is to determine which of the many answers they already knew were relative to the question asked.
He concludes that "...some very unintelligent people manage to understand the world they live in fairly well. Can it be all that difficult? In the section below he states that the answer is no and explains why.

The reason is scripts. "A script is a set of expectations about what will happen next in a well understood situation." He goes on to explain that scripts are stored in the mind and people find them to reason out new situations. Bottom line: "All people reason from experience."

Schank explains that the mind depends upon data in order to give it something to reflect upon. He then answers the obvious question of where does the data come from? "Of course, movies, books, newspapers, and television provide much of the data. But in many ways the most important data we have comes from within." Some key points relative to our interests are:
  • "...we can more easily remember a good story. Stories give life to past experience."
  • "Stories make the events in memory memorable to others and ourselves."
  • "We are more persuasive when we tell stories. We can simply state our beliefs , or we can tell stories that illustrate them."
  • "...thinking involves indexing. The more information we are provided with about a situation, the more places we can attach it to in memory, and the more ways it can be compared with other cases in memory."
  • "...a story is useful when it comes with many indices. These indices may be locations, attitudes, quandaries, decisions, conclusions or whatever.
  • "...if the story is good enough, you usually don't have to state your point at all; the hearer thinks about what you have said and figures out the point independently.

Intelligence and Stories

Schank begins this section with the statement that his book is about stories, and that: "Human memory is story-based." Some key points to reflect upon are:

  • Not every experience makes a good story, but if it does the experience will be easier to remember."
  • "Communication consists of selecting the stories that we know and telling them to others at the right time."
  • "...wisdom is often ascribed to those who can tell just the right story at the right moment and who often have a large number of stories to tell."
  • "The reason people like to her stories, however, is not transparent to them. People need a context to help them relate what they have heard to what they already know."
  • "People who fail to couch what they have to say in memorable stories will have their rules fall on deaf ears despite their best intentions and despite the best intentions of their listeners."
  • Knowledge then is experiences and stories, and intelligence is the apt use of and the creation and telling of stories.
  • "We know what we tell, and we tell what we know."

Conversation is Reminding: "We understand by getting reminded. Whether we chose to tell that reminding to others is a matter of assessing correctly the social situation in which we find ourselves."

Intelligence and Storytelling

  • "...intelligence is bound up with our ability to tell the right story at the right time, understanding a story means being able to correlate the story we are hearing with one that we already know."

Mr. Schank then goes through a series of stories followed by 'reminding stories' extracted from a book and a movie that were in the hearer's mind. His synopsis of his commentary is : "Human memory is a cluster of experiences, each labeled in complex ways."

Storytelling as Understanding: This is a very short section. My bottom line on it is that if the story is too unique and highly personal and the audience can not be connected to the story, it will not be heard or enjoyed.

Generation by Storytelling (last section)

  • "The story-based conception of generation presupposes that everything you might ever want to say has already been thought up....adults have views of the world that are expressed by ideas they already have thought up and have probably expressed many times."
  • "New ideas depend upon old ones."
  • :So the main issue in generation is really the assessing of whatever you already think about something and the expression of those thoughts."
  • When we tell a story we are doing the same thing. We are assessing the gist of that story and then re expressing that gist in language. Our own personal stories are not identically each time we tell them with respect to the words we say, but the ideas behind them are more or less the same."
  • "In other words, we take the gist of a story as it exists in memory and then transform that gist into a verbal expression of the story that perhaps leaves out one point or embellishes another. The words we choose may depend upon the audience. "

Personal Assessment of Chapter One: The main point of this chapter from a story teller perspective may be that personal stories must be connected to the audience's memory.

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