Definitions within Jenny Stout’s Intro Video

A couple weeks ago I watched Jenny Stout’s video about “Thought Vectors in Concept Space” which is found on the syllabus page. I was pleased and intrigued with the differences in her definition and descriptions, as compared with my initial concepts. In particular, it was very interesting to me that her description suggested that the “Concept Space” is always a shared space. In my concepts, my own mind is itself a concept space. But the idea that it needs to be shared to be a concept space is intriguing.

To enable my own deeper thoughts on Jenny’s statements, I’ve transcribed her words for easier reference:

0:00 Hi everyone, my name is Jenny Stout and I’m one of the teaching and learning librarians here at VCU. In University 200, “Living the Dreams”, you all are learning about Thought Vectors and Concept Space, and I just wanted to add my two cents to the conversation about what Thought Vectors are, and what Concept Space is. So for me, a Thought is something that you hold in your head, so a Thought Vector is a thought that’s going somewhere, that it has a greater purpose.
0:30 Now when we go through life, we have lots of thoughts, we collect lots of wisdom, and that benefits us personally, we don’t need to share it in order for it to benefit us. However, there’s a special kind of magic that happens when you launch your Thought Vectors into Concept Space. And what is Concept Space? Well, for me, Concept Space is anything that is outside of your own head. So, Twitter is a concept space, a library is a concept space, a classroom (either in person or online) is a concept space, and even just a conversation between two people can be a concept space. Anywhere where you share your ideas and your thoughts, and you can inspire someone to share their ideas, and together kind of create new ideas, and have this sort of mutual riffing going on.
1:20 So think about this example: so let’s say you’re home alone, and you decide to watch a really cheesy 1950’s science fiction movie, like Godzilla vs Mothman, or something crazy, and it’s a really terrible movie. You’re watching it by yourself. You might be a little amused, but generally speaking it’s going to be pretty boring. Now imagine you’re watching the same movie with your group of your funniest friends. Now you probably can guess what would happen: you would be making fun of the movie, you would be joking about it, you would be riffing on it, and before long this terrible movie is actually really fun, and you’re having a great time with your friends.
1:50 So take that example and apply it to this class. If you have ideas, questions, thoughts, jokes, and you keep it to yourself, you’re not going to have half as much fun as if you actually share it with other people in the class, right? So we really encourage everybody to share their ideas, as crazy or as half-baked as they may be in this class, because we don’t really know what could happen, like amazing things could happen. We could have projects, we could have great conversations, we could learn new things, ask big questions that don’t even have answers to them, but we’re not going to know that unless people actually share their ideas.
2:27 I’ve been at VCU for a couple of years now, and I know that a lot of students are very hesitant to share ideas, or even ask questions in a classroom. And I think it’s this fear that people might laugh at us, or people might think our ideas are dumb, or the professor might think our ideas are dumb, right? So I really try to encourage students to break through that fear, and be willing to raise your hand and share ideas. In this classroom you won’t be sitting in a classroom raising your hand, but you will be asked to participate, and I really hope that you do it without fear. Because this is going to be a class where creativity, and crazy ideas, and crazy questions are encouraged.
3:07 So, as you’re going through this class, I hope that you will share your Thought Vectors, that you will launch them into Concept Space, right? And I think that if you do, you’re going to have a lot more fun, you might inspire some people, and other people might inspire you, than if you kind of just sit back and don’t really participate. So, please share your Thought Vectors, and once again, I’m Jenny Stout, I work at the library, and if you want to come by and ask me any questions at any time, feel free my door is always open. So have a really great time this semester taking University 200, Living the Dreams.

Jenny’s definition of a Thought Vector is at about 27 seconds: it’s a Thought which is going somewhere, which may have a greater purpose. Her description of a Concept Space is summarized by “Anything that’s outside of your own head.” And her REALLY KEY statement is that a Concept Space exists “anywhere where you share your ideas and your thoughts, and you can inspire someone to share their ideas, and together kind of create new ideas, and have this sort of mutual riffing going on.” That’s a fantastic idea!!

I’m still pondering this idea, and I’m currently still of the opinion that my own mind (and obviously everyone else’s mind also) is a concept space (which can hold thoughts and thought vectors), even though it isn’t as fun a concept space as Twitter or a blog or shared conversation. The thought vectors in my head ARE going somewhere: they directly and indirectly affect my actions. The thought vectors in my head are what prompt me to voice or write the same or similar ones, launching them into a shared concept space.

Another oddball thought is whether my mind potentially contains SEVERAL concept spaces. I partition my thoughts among various domains including work, family, the books I’m reading, etc. While there is some cross-flow of ideas among those areas, I find that the thoughts are strongly grouped. While in a sense they all exist within a single concept space, in another sense there are several concept spaces, within each of which the thoughts interact robustly, while between which fewer thoughts cross. I find I consciously note when a thought from one group is related to or applies to thoughts in another group.

Thank you Jenny Stout, for providing such rich food for thought! I’m still chewing, trying to think this through and fully digest the ideas. There’s a lot more yet to grasp!

Another useful angle to explore is exactly what Dr Douglas Engelbart meant when he voiced the “thought vectors in concept space” phrase. I haven’t yet tried to search for that phrase or those words in any of his writings. If anyone already knows where to find it, or can point me to where he defines his use of those terms, please let me know!

2 thoughts on “Definitions within Jenny Stout’s Intro Video”

  1. Here’s the most extended treatment of “thought vectors in concept space” that I’ve found: http://worrydream.com/refs/Vannevar%20Bush%20Symposium%20-%20Closing%20Panel.html. I collect one other bit from the same conference and think about both here: http://www.gardnercampbell.net/blog1/?p=2285. I hope one or both of these pieces prove helpful. I’m eager to see where your inquiry project goes, as I think you’ve hit the very heart of the meta-systemic view Engelbart advocates.

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