• Pieces of The Action memoirs from Vannevar Bush (of radars, Manhattan Project, Memex, etc.) on the importance of individuals and organizations in R&D

The idea that Man and his environment are mechanical systems which can be studied, improved, mimicked and controlled (...) gave way to disciplines such as cognitive science and artificial intelligence.


Bush not only proposed that the machine might learn from the human via what was effectively a cybernetic feedback loop - he proposed that the human might learn from the machine. As the human mind moulds the machine, so too the machine "remolds" the human mind, it "remolds the trails of the user's brain, as one lives and works in close interconnection with a machine"

-- The Technical Evolution of Vannevar Bush’s Memex The cybernetics phase of cognitive science produced an amazing array of concrete results, in addition to its long-term (often underground) influence:

  • The use of mathematical logic to understand the operation of the nervous system
  • The invention of information-processing machines (such as digital computers), thereby laying the basis for artificial intelligence
  • The establishment of the metadiscipline of systems theory, which has had an imprint in many branches of science, such as engineering (systems analysis, control theory), biology (regulatory physiology, ecology), social sciences (family therapy, structural anthropology, management, urban studies), and economics (game theory)
  • Information theory as a statistical theory of signal and communication channels
  • The first examples of self-organizing systems

The Embodied Mind

  • using a personal Memex possibly replaces memory with Google-effect (knowing where to look for information vs knowing the information)
    • using spaced repetition might be a solution to this, but I'm curious if the better solution would be just dropping Memex and spaced repetition altogether, to force myself to remember things
    • this might be much more nuanced, Memex as copying encyclopedia entries into local storage is definitely in the Google-effect neighborhood, and also not that interesting; using Memex as a Tool for Thinking-with, is much more interesting through this lens - what "amputation" can Extended Mind cause?
  • I could as easily ask for last n images, everything linked to idea of memex etc...

The 1945 Memex design also introduced the concept of "trails", a concept derived from work in neuronal storage-retrieval networks at the time, which was a method of connecting information by linking units together in a networked manner, similar to hypertext paths. The process of making trails was called "trailblazing", and was based on a mechanical provision "whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another", just as though these items were being "gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book"

Bush went so far as to suggest that in the future, there would be professional trailblazers who took pleasure in creating useful paths through the common record in such a fashion.

  • early idea for links (trails) in Memex was not so much a link from one thing to another, but a path through a complex idea
  • I keep looking at this through the lens of being somehow limited by my brain, no ideal note-taking system (or possibly helping-thinking-system) will solve this (memex and my limits)

Memex has become a kind of holy grail for information workers, never-built tool which inspired the web and hypertext back in 1945.