On social memory

thoughtful emoticon

I’ve been reading up on 9/11 attacks and a quote crossed my search: ”…and FBI didn’t know what it did know." — that was in a treatise on social epistemology. That led to an interesting observation.

Let’s assume that “FBI knows that X is a terrorist.” is true. What does this expression actually mean? Most likely, it means that a record that says that “X is a terrorist”, presumably giving some reasons why X can be classed is such, exists somewhere in FBI files.

But “exists in the files” does not necessarily entail “is used in all practical decisions” right? Databases exist specifically because the amount of data stored is too large to track with any single person’s mind. Therefore we must assume, that the statement “FBI knows that X is a terrorist” must entail that “some people in FBI know that X is a terrorist”, but not all. In practice, it might turn out that none of the people in FBI actually know that, because, for example, the people who entered this fact into records have since left office and are no longer members of FBI, while nobody had the time or reason to look up that particular file since.

This results in one more interesting conclusion — that at any given time, a very large set of data is completely absent from humanity’s “scope”, so to say, and is only present in written records, but not actually considered in making decisions. This is somewhat of a stretch, since we might assume that with 6.5*109 people on Earth, some information from the collected store of human knowledge would definitely end up in someone’s head, but that is most likely not true, since to function as an organized society, humans have to share (and that means duplicate) a large set of knowledge just to ensure compatibility, and the size of readily accessible human memory is limited. And let’s not forget that fairly often, people will ignore a fact that is indeed stored in their own memory in making a specific decision — because no associative track between it and the decision exists.

Which means that a piece of information may be discovered multiple times in many different fashions, and will, each time, be effectively “new”. There’s probably a set of interesting consequences to the mechanism of “news” generation in the media that result from that conclusion.

Gotta be a propagation model out there somewhere already, but finding it would be “new” for me. :)