Thought Vectors

What does “thought vectors in concept space” mean to me?

It’s a phrase Doug Engelbart voiced, which I believe alludes to several aspects of his concepts of how individuals and groups think and can collaborate.  In my mind it’s closely related to a concept and title of one of Dr. Engelbart’s papers, “Augmenting Human Intellect”.  I suspect (and expect to research in the next couple weeks) that figuring out how to capture, store, and cooperatively manipulate “thought vectors in concept space” is a key part of Dr. Engelbart’s effort to “Augment Human Intellect”.

When I focus simply on the words “thought vectors in concept space”, it brings to my mind the concept of a Vector from Physics and Mathematics (as distinct from a scalar).  In physics, a vector has magnitude and direction (while a scalar has only magnitude).  So a “thought vector” is an idea (of some size, big or small), which is going in a particular direction.   “Concept space” is therefore the multidimensional space within which the idea exists and is described and developed, against whose axes (dimensions) the thought vector’s direction is defined.

The above definition breaks down in several areas.  First, in my mind, a particular idea may go in several different directions (at once).  Perhaps an idea can be the “magnitude” of several different thought vectors, which each take it in a different direction.  Second, I’m not sure “concept space” has a fixed number of dimensions, nor whether it makes enough sense to define a thought vector’s direction with respect to “axes” defining a concept space, nor whether a particular thought vector’s direction needs to be defined with respect to ALL the dimensions of the concept space.  Third, is there just one “concept space”, or do we define new ones as needed (to describe particular problems or work areas), and therefore there exist a multiplicity of “concept spaces”?  It will be fun to ponder this more in the next few weeks…

At Our Summer cMOOC: Living the Dreams, Dr. Gardner Campbell said:

Why “thought vectors in concept space”? Because that’s how Doug Engelbart envisioned the mental environment that personal, interactive, networked computing would make possible, an environment in which our “collective IQ” could realize itself and rise to its full and necessary potential. For me, “thought vectors” are the lines of inquiry, wonder, puzzlement, and creative desire emerging from individual minds. We launch our thought vectors into “concept space,” the grand commons of human invention and communication, the space in which we build our symbols and work toward mutual intelligibility, mutual hope, mutual inspiration. If the thought vectors are weak or stunted, the concept space will be too, and vice-versa.

There are several very interesting threads to explore in Dr. Campbell’s definition, and I’m sure there are more in the various definitions and explications from other MOOC participants.  I hope to read and explore (and comment upon) some of those soon.


Questions and notes-to-self for future follow-up:

  • Where and when (in which papers, talks, etc.) did Dr Engelbart use that phrase?
  • Did he describe the phrase in detail? More than once? Did the definitions agree or evolve over time?
  • Who else has used that phrase? How did they define it?
  • I said I believe it alludes to SEVERAL aspects of his concepts. First, I should outline what I think it alludes to. Then, go study Dr. Engelbart’s writings, figure out what he meant, and compare to my list.
  • Can my definition be further developed and refined?  What are additional ways it breaks down, and can those be repaired?
  • Who else (MOOC participants) described “thought vectors in concept space”?  Ponder those and create additional blog entries commenting  on what their definitions evoke in my mind.

2 thoughts on “Thought Vectors”

  1. This is a very useful post. The term ‘thought vectors in concept space’ had an immediate appeal to me. It just sounds cool and implies, to me, and idea of purposeful mental activity.

    The points of breakdown you came up with are greatly appreciated. I look forward to pondering them myself and hopefully seeing where your ponderings lead you.

    Also, love the idea of closing the post with ‘notes-to-self.’

    Thanks for sharing.

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