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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

This paper examines the issue of people transforming information and in turn information transforming people, starting from a human adaptation event occurring 35,000-50,000 years ago, called Enhanced Working Memory (EWM). This hypothesized adaptation separated human cognitive and social development from the Neanderthals' allowing humans to adapt and survive through drastically changing social and physical environments while the Neanderthals did not. EWM and the advantages to humans it provided are examined in terms of giving humans improved and more flexible decoding and encoding cognitive and social architectures. As a result of these architectures, what constitutes information for humans has also evolved. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information Use illustrates how adaptive decoding and encoding structures work together to facilitate human adaptation to social and environmental changes.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

Recently, information research has acknowledged the utility of deriving information models and theories from the fundamental concepts underlying human information behavior (Fisher, Erdelez & McKechnie, 2005; Spink & Cole, 2004a, b), by broadening the research perspective (Case, 2002; Wilson, 1999). In addition, there has been a research switch to focusing on the user's use of found information (Spink & Cole, 2006). Examples of these tendencies in information research are Bates' (2005) evolutionary framework for information science, Pirolli and Card's (1999) foraging approach where humans are portrayed as seeking out information by scent, and the evolutionary methodology-based sense-making approach of Dervin (1992; 1999), which conceptualizes humans as hard-wired theorizers (a) constantly seeking information from the environment to bridge over gaps in their understanding about a world that is characterized by continuous discontinuity, (b) searching, receiving and processing this information as complex organisms anchored in a context, but (c) who are also sentient beings sharing together a past (in our “memories, fantasies and stories”) and moving toward a shared future (Dervin, 1999, p. 730).

The broadest possible use humans put information to is concerning species survival, and by comparing the evolution of the human species to a failed species, the Neanderthals, we can (1) conjecture how information transformed humans in the evolutionary cycle and, in turn, (2) how the evolution of the human species to an ever more complicated organism transformed the nature of what constitutes information for our species. The implication that information is not a thing in itself but evolves as we evolve is particularly noteworthy.

Sociology and Cognition

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

The interconnection of the evolution of sociology, how people organize and interact in and between groups, and the evolution of human cognition is vital to a discussion of how information has changed people and how human evolution, through a change in our cognitive apparatus—i.e., how we are able to think–has changed the nature of what constitutes information. In Figure 1, we give a summary theoretical overview of this socio-cognitive notion of human evolution caused by information transforming people and people transforming information.

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Figure 1. The socio-cognitive theoretical framework for the discussion of information transforming people and people transforming information.

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In this paper, we will begin our examination of sociology and human cognition changing what constitutes information by referring to the divergence in the evolution of humans compared to the Neanderthals, focusing on how information played a role in this divergence; in effect, changing or modifying the human cognitive system so that adaptive change could occur via the pickup of adaptive data in the human social and physical environment. We will operationalize our use of the words Sociology and Cognition within this discussion of the divergence between the two species, beginning with Cognition.

Cognition

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

The cognitive-evolutionary approach to the study of species behavior postulates that for all organisms the primary goal of activity is survival in a hostile and competitive environment; this survival in turn is enabled by efficient adaptation to changes in the social and physical environment. In the case of humans, adaptation can be studied by comparing human evolution to the evolution of the Neanderthals. Modern humans and Neanderthals competed in what is now Europe for a period of 2,000-10,000 years (Delson & Harvati, 2006; Harvati & Harrison, 2006; for an alternative view on the overlap, see Donald, 1991). Though the Neanderthals were physically stronger, there are various hypotheses about the type of modern human adaptation that enabled humans to survive where the Neanderthals did not.

The encephalization hypothesis (Donald, 1991) states that rather than a great leap forward modern human cognition followed a normal evolutionary development tied to the gradual increase in human brain size. Consistent with this hypothesis, Wynn and Coolidge (2004) attribute the adaptation in human behavior to a moderate increase in the size of human working memory, leading to what they call Enhanced Working Memory (EWM) (Martin-Loeches, 2006; for a review see, Baddeley, 2001).

Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

Based on artefact evidence, it has been hypothesized that pre-EWM humans, like their Neanderthal competitors, could only focus their limited attention capacity in working memory on the most probable path to successful task solution performance, based on past experience with the same task (Wynn & Coolidge, 2004, p. 15). As a result of EWM, humans could:

  • juggle multiple retrieval structures in working memory, including the habitual retrieval/solution structure as well as other less probable retrieval structures, allowing the potential for innovative, inhabitual solution responses to the problem at hand.
  • better focus, which led to the reduction of failures of goal maintenance when performing a task or solving a problem (Wynn & Coolidge, 2004) due to such things as interference from previous goal processing (retroactive interference) or interference from competing concurrent goals (proactive interference) (Kane & Engle, 2002).

As a result, post-EWM humans could:

  • 1.
    focus in on novel and inhabitual retrieval solution/responses to the problem or cue at hand rather going with the tried and true method from past experience (Wynn & Coolidge, 2004, p. 11; see also, Conway, Cowan, & Bunting, 2001; Duncan, Emslie, Williams, Johnson & Freer, 1996; Kane, Bleckley, Conway & Engle, 2001).
  • 2.
    retrieve and to hold in EWM multiple response solution/structures to the problem at hand. They were now able to keep in mind an association of elements from the different solution structures, producing the potential for a “profound interweaving of multiple tendencies that give human nature the plasticity and persistence it demonstrates” (Eigen, 2007, p. A22).

Without EWM, Neanderthals on the other hand “may have had trouble adjusting to novel conditions, particularly those that might have required new ways of behaving outside the range of their individual expert abilities” (Wynn & Coolidge, 2004, p. 11).

We will call the post-EWM human ability to hold multiple response set in working memory Parallel Thinking Response, which is illustrated in Figure 2. Figure 2 shows the multiple response set of the post-EWM human when reacting to problematic or unfamiliar stimuli from the physical or social environment. The Parallel Thinking Response to a problem or an unfamiliar environmental stimulus provided an effective, generative-type decoding mechanism for dealing with unfamiliar environmental (problem) stimuli because it allowed for the intermixing or association of elements from the various human knowledge structures making up the response (solution) set.

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Figure 2. Decoding: Multiple Knowledge Structure (KS) response to problematic or unfamiliar environmental input, which we label the Parallel Thinking Response. Intermixing of elements among KSs creates new, novel generative KS output.

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Sociology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

Donald (1991) terms the evolution of human encoding structures as “cognitive cultures.” In the Donald model, unfamiliar environmental stimuli input can be recombinated into invented “whole objects” via generativity. This generativity created new, adapted and novel knowledge structures for processing incoming data/information from the human social and physical environments. Donald's cognitive cultures hypothesis conceptualizes the evolution of human information organizing mechanisms as group-focused rather than individual-focused, highlighting the importance of sociology in the development of human cognition.

Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

Donald divides the evolution of the knowledge structure mechanisms into four “cognitive cultures”:

  • 1.
    Episodic Culture: unreflective, concrete, immediate, short-term, situation-bound representations of episodes in the human's life stored in human memory as episodes.
  • 2.
    Mimetic Culture: social role acting; the intentional acting out of an event or situation but without language (it is pre-linguistic). This is the first “active modeling of experience” (Donald, 1991, p. 369), but the models are “inherently a concrete, episode-bound medium of representation” (Donald, 1991, p. 173).
  • 3.
    Mythic Culture: the creation of society myth is the beginning of “generative modeling” (Donald, 1991, p. 213)–i.e., the conceptual modeling of the human universe or existence inside the objective or physical environment. The need to create and transmit myths in the social group led to the development of language, according to Donald (1991, p. 215).
  • 4.
    Theoretic Culture: the development of language, analytic thought, grammatical invention, memory-management skills, attentional algorithms and the development of theories linking concepts together in abstract thought (Donald, 1991, p. 378).

According to Donald, the Mythic cognitive culture was the key evolutionary stage separating modern humans from the Neanderthals because for the first time it enabled humans to engage in “generative modeling” of their existence, creating via these models cohesive narratives of human existence that could go backward and forward in time, thus “finally tam[ing] the parallel pandemonium of the present-centered archaic sapiens brain” (Bownds, 1999, p. 304; see also, Sugiyama, 2001). The greater organizing ability–i.e., the efficiency of the knowledge structures in the mythic culture for deciphering and organizing incoming environmental data/information–was a huge encoding advantage over the knowledge structures humans had had until that time in the episodic and mimetic cultures, illustrated in Figure 3.

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Figure 3. Encoding: The increasing efficiency of the Episodic to Mimetic to Mythic cognitive cultures knowledge structures for satisfying the encoding imperative (modified from Bownds, 1999, p. 102).

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Donald's four cognitive cultures evolution of human encoding is driven by humans in groups and competition with other groups. A more explicit statement of this view is given in Alexander (1990). Alexander (1990) believes brain adaptation in evolution–i.e., the development of more efficient knowledge structures–was driven by competition between human groups, leading to the need for, and the type of knowledge structure, that facilitated intra-group cohesion (see also, Balter, 2007; Palla, Barabasi & Vicsek, 2007; Spink & Cole, 2007; White, 1982).

Transformed People = Transformed Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

As a result of the aforementioned evolution in the decoding and encoding mechanisms and structures, post-EWM humans were able to generate new and adapted knowledge structures from entirely different and unfamiliar environmental stimuli and to give these stimuli sense or coherence. Our evolving encoding knowledge structures changed both the efficiency and the nature of what we perceived in our social and physical environments, transforming what constitutes information for the human species.

An epistemological view of constantly transforming information is provided by Esposito (2002; see also, Shera, 1973; Svenonius, 2004). Esposito (2002) believes that epistemological change is controlled by human social evolution, which creates different eras of social memory organization, informational processing and what constitutes information:

  • Oracular: In early times, the society was organized between the center of revealed authority and the periphery of society.
  • Vertical: For most of the last 2000 years, society was organized hierarchically by division of the whole into parts.
  • Horizontal: For the last 100 years, social organization was based on a system of subsystems organized according to function (Boyden, 2003).
  • Associational: In the Internet era, social organization “operates on the basis of associations” (Esposito, 2002; see also, Bush, 1945; Nelson, 1972/1991).

The current information paradigm of the Internet age is based on association, whose theoretical basis was expressed in the pre-cursor to the Internet, Vannevar Bush's Memex machine (Bush, 1945; see also, Nyce & Kahn, 1989). Information in the Association Era, instead of God-given, factual, hierarchical, has become something different than it was before. Let us hypothesize that information is now now bottom-up rather than top-down as it was in the Vertical era. Information has become more like data as humans, with the advent of computers and the Internet, are capable of digesting more and more amounts of raw data; we are now able to define information out of patterns in the data (e.g., Swanson, Smalheiser & Bookstein, 2001).

A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

In this section we briefly provide a Socio-cognitive Framework Model of Transformational Information “Use.” Briefly, cognition is operationalized as decoding information and sociology is operationalized as encoding information in knowledge structures. We operationally define “information use” as the human organism decoding and encoding familiar and unfamiliar human and environmental stimuli, creating new and adapted knowledge structures to process familiar and unfamiliar social and environmental data; the new and adapted knowledge structures, in turn, lead to perceiving the environment differently, so that different data in that social and physical environment become informational.

In Figure 4, this transformative operational definition of “information use” requires a “nested” structure for our Model, as follows:

  • Input mechanism
    • Decoding component
    • Encoding component
  • Output mechanism

The Decoding component of the Model is a representation of the Parallel Thinking Response set to unfamiliar environmental stimuli. In a paradigm of indeterminism, there is never a true/false binary response condition but rather probabilities are accorded to each member of a response set. Both the composition of the response set and the decision to select one alternative over another in the set are based on probabilities, which from an evolutionary perspective will shift based on new evidence (i.e., allowing humans to adapt, for example, to global warming).

The Encoding component of the Model is a representation of Donald's (1991) four cognitive cultures. Although the four cognitive cultures express a view of stages of evolution, according to Donald, all four cognitive cultures are present today working to encode social and environmental data into both old and new knowledge structures. For example, when we “see” and “represent” what is out there, there is the pull of our perceptual and cognitive system “towards simple patterns of coherence,” but the simplest patterns of coherence–i.e., at Donald's episodic cognitive culture level–give the user the power, or the starting point, to also intuit “forms and functions at the very highest level of complexity” (Kemp, 2006, pp. 322, 324). One can see this is true if one thinks of complex theoretical theories like Marxism, for example, which started out from personal, episodic experiences of Marx, that were then mimicked-out in stories from the founders' own experiences, widened out to mass appeal as myths, and finally given a theoretical framework by interweaving the episodic, mimetic and mythic layers using history, sociology and economic theories.

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Figure 4. Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”. Data or information in the social and physical environment transforms after each input and output cycle, indicated by three of Esposito's eras: Vertical “information”, Horizontal “information,” and Associationist “information.”

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Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References

Compared to the Neanderthals, the post-EWM human ability to generate new and adapted knowledge structures to encode unfamiliar environmental stimuli, thus giving these stimuli sense or coherence, and the strength of our desire to create new and adapted knowledge structures because post-EWM humans are able to “see” and treat environmental data as informational, has allowed humans to create constantly evolving data categories for dealing with our human and physical environments.

The Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information Use provides an overall framework for the evolutionary cycle of the decoding and encoding knowledge structures humans use to transform environmental and social input into new generative knowledge structures, which in turn allows us to see the environment differently. Dervin's point that humans are simultaneously anchored in the past, present and future, we hypothesize, can be operationalized in a very practical way–i.e., to create an information search environment for “sense-making” information retrieval (IR) systems–via Donald's (1991) human cognitive cultures conceptualization of the evolution of human cognition from when human cognition was similar to the Neanderthals to when it diverged. We have begun testing this hypothesis in the design of a sense-making IR system in Cole (in press).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Sociology and Cognition
  5. Cognition
  6. Human Cognitive Evolution: Decoding
  7. Sociology
  8. Human Sociological Evolution: Encoding
  9. Transformed People = Transformed Information
  10. A Socio-cognitive Framework Model for Transformational Information “Use”
  11. Conclusion
  12. References
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