Source Memory, Top-Down, and Down-Up Learning

Posted on April 10, 2009 by


The source, source, source, source is the word. Source as in source memory that is.

It was Daniel Schacter’s book Searching for Memory that said this:

… [The] Ability to recollect source information lies at the heart of our ability to distinguish memories from fantasies and other products of our imagination.

Remembering a source is remembering where something originates from.  It’s locating a memory in terms of cause and effect, and perhaps time and place.

When you remember a source, you are more likely to be conscious of an episode, an episodic memory. When you are conscious of an episode, you are likely to think of the surrounding context, in sequence, and in terms of cause and effect.  You can only describe the surrounding context and cause and effect through your semantic “system.”  You can only describe your surrounding context through what you’ve learned to point out, i.e. time of the day, place and what you’ve learned to give meaning to.  You don’t normally point out personal pH readings of the air or how many  miles away you are from something because you’re not perceiving that through the five senses, at least not without the help of some kind of instrument.

When you have an episodic memory, you have a very top-down view of things.  You see things in the third person, as an observer.  You can see objects acting upon each other.

Ain’t much room for the making of rich episodic, third-person memories at Census training.  You look at things from the bottom-up and are not sure where to begin lest they tell you.

Instead of observing the objects, you are the object, meant to absorb/learn procedure, procedure, semantics, procedure.  Did I mention procedure?  Were learning operations in a different way than what the higher-ups have experienced.

I’m sure that they didn’t just derive the semantics and procedure out of thin air on a whim;  there had to have been some kind of disagreement, some kind of deliberation, some kind of logic and some kind of story behind the steps and the rules in census training.

I’d at least like to know the logic behind some things we do.  Logic reveals some of the thought behind the source.  I think that would make the procedures more fluid for me.

The procedures we come across are dry.  Stripped of its logic, its stories, save for a distending page and a half monologue about the history of the census and its purpose.  The  information of experience and episode is only known by those operating on the top-down behind the development of the procedures.  They definitely didn’t draw on any experience we’ve had.