Narrative 4: Narrative & The Brain

I am currently doing a PhD entitled Narrative Structures In e-Learning. I’m doing it part-time and am about half-way through: that is, 3 years into a 6 year project.

Whilst doing my literature search I became fascinated with the ubiquity of narrative—this amazing facility all humans have to tell stories in various ways—and I spent more than two years researching this problem, writing it up, and then going back over it all again. Eventually it all came together in a paper that will be published later this year in Interactive Learning Environments. What follows is an extract from that paper.

The Origin of Narrative in the Brain
The ability to narrate is generally considered to be available to all human beings regardless of gender, race, colour, or cultural milieu (Barthes 1967), and Bruner has suggested that we have a “predisposition” for narrative (Bruner 2002, p.33). These observations suggest that there is something built-in, something hardwired, that allows for this ubiquity. Reviewing recent research in the fields of cognitive psychology and neurobiology this section is an attempt to offer some explanation for the universal human facility for what we call ‘narrative’.

Our ability to narrate depends entirely upon our having some way of encoding and retrieving time-sensitive memories. These are usually called our episodic memories, that is, memories that include “the detailed sequence of events that constitute an experience and the spatial and temporal context in which the sequence occurred” (Eichenbaum 2003, p.236). Although little is known about our memory systems with absolute certainty, many researchers implicate that part of our Limbic systems called the hippocampus as being instrumental in the encoding and retrieval of episodic memories (Burgess et al 2002; Eichenbaum 2003, 2004; Xu et al 2005). It would seem that the hippocampus was originally specialized for encoding spatial relationships, but in humans the left side has evolved to encode time-based experiences.


Figure 1: The Hippocampus & The Brain

However, having this ability on its own would not necessarily be responsible for the creation of a narrative facility. For this type of higher-order cognitive skill we need to look to certain parts of cerebral cortex, namely the frontal lobes. These are responsible for what are often called the brain’s ‘executive functions’ and are particularly related to language production, decision-making, problem-solving, and socialization.

Wheeler, Stuss, and Tulving (1997) have identified a particular function of the frontal lobes that they explicitly relate to episodic memory, called autonoetic consciousness. This is defined as “…the capacity that allows adult humans to mentally represent and to become aware of their protracted existence across time” (Wheeler et el 1997, p.335). Autonoetic consciousness allows us not only to look back into our past and monitor our present state, it also allows us to project ourselves into the future: “We consider this the most highly evolved form of consciousness […] which provides a fluid link from the individual’s past, through the present, to the future, and back again” (ibid).

Given that we have this relatively primitive organ (the hippocampus) that is actually doing the work of encoding episodic memories, and given that we have developed a time-aware consciousness in our frontal lobes that is exploiting these episodic memories in complex ways, it seems inevitable that a representational form—that is, a means for expressing these experiences both internally and externally—must evolve as well. On this evidence, then, it would seem that what we call ‘narrative’ is an emergent property of the interaction between the hippocampus and the frontal lobes.

Narrative and Memory
Having established a basic description of brain anatomy that offers a mechanism and evolutionary imperative for narrative, I would now like to look in some depth at the human memory system, with the aim of showing how fundamental narrative is to human comprehension.

Our declarative memory is memory for things, events, and experiences that we are able to consciously access and articulate (e.g. Squire 2004, p.173; Baddeley 1999, p.19). This declarative memory is usually considered to be made up of two closely interrelated sub-systems, episodic and semantic memory. Episodic memory, as we have seen, is “memory for personally experienced events set in a spatio-temporal context” (Burgess et al 2002, p.625), whereas semantic memory is concerned only with the storage of ‘facts’ and other knowledge about the world. How these two relate to each other and how they interact—if in fact they are discrete systems at all—bears directly upon our discussion.

Firstly, although there is a good deal of experimental evidence to suggest that episodic and semantic memories are distinct systems, it has to be pointed out that we have no conscious knowledge of them as being discrete, or ability to control them individually. Secondly, although there is a significant body of research implicating the hippocampus in the encoding of episodic memory—as we have discussed—there is no known mechanism for the separate encoding of semantic memory: all memory encoding is mediated by the hippocampus (Eichenbaum 2004, p.109). This suggests that the episodic and semantic memory systems may be different aspects of one larger and more complex system. Eichenbaum (2003, 2004) has developed a model of hippocampal memory encoding that includes and explains both episodic and semantic memory, whilst also allowing for phenomena such as the inferral of new information from existing memories and contextualization.

As we discussed earlier, our perception of the world is as a linear series of experiences: we move through time, gathering sensory input. These experiences will be encoded in episodic memory by the hippocampus. However, an episodic memory of a particular event can be broken down into a series of associative representations that include the people involved, the environment in which it occurred, and the actions that took place. What’s more, these actions are sequentially organized, that is, they occurred in a particular order at this particular event. And because we may have met some of these people before, or been in this environment before, and performed similar actions before, this particular episodic memory may have many features in common with existing episodic memories: this allows the formation of relational networks (Eichenbaum 2004).


Figure 2: After Eichenbaum 2003, 2004

Figure 2 is a schematic diagram of what Eichenbaum calls a “simple memory space” (Eichenbaum 2003, p.236). It shows two episodic memory sequences and the associative representations that make them up. We can see that the two memory sequences have certain elements in common at positions 3 and 4 that could begin to form the basis of a relational network. It may be that activity in the Episode 1 sequence may trigger recall of the Episode 2 sequence. Also, from this commonality certain inferences could be made about the indirect relationship between elements 1 and 2 in Episode 1, and elements 5’ and 6’ in Episode 2, or between elements 1’ and 2’ in Episode 2, and elements 5 and 6 in Episode 1.

In this model semantic knowledge is not a distinct memory system, it is abstracted from the links in the episodic memory sequences: the commonalities between them become established as ‘general knowledge’. However, because this common knowledge remains embedded within those episodic memories—it remains situated within its original context—it can be used to make inferences about novel experiences, about information that is not explicitly related, or things that have not been experienced directly. Consequently, these simple relational networks can be seen as the basic building blocks of human learning, planning, simulation, and creativity.

Support for this conception of our memory system and the structural networks that underlie it can be found elsewhere in the Cognitive Psychology literature: as long ago as 1932 Bartlett used the general term schemas to describe memories that had been grouped, categorized, and stored as structures and used to rationalize new experiences. More recently researchers have identified schemas that relate to particular types of knowledge:

  • Frames are “knowledge structures relating to some aspect of the world (e.g. a building) containing fixed structural information” (Eysenck & Keane 2005, pp.383-384).
  • A script is a “predetermined causal chain of conceptualizations that describe the normal sequence of things in a familiar situation” (Schank 1975, p.117), the prototypical example of which is his ‘restaurant’ script (ibid).
  • The story schema, which is the “idealized internal representation of the typical parts of a typical story and the relationship between those parts” (Mandler & Johnson 1977, p.111).

These schemas are learnt. They are generalizations about environments, sequences of events, and stories, that over time and through constant exposure have established themselves as stable, yet dynamic, structural elements in declarative memory: in Eichenbaum’s terms, they are relational networks.

Their use offers several distinct advantages. Dijk (1980) suggests that they aid memorization in three ways. Firstly, they allow global organization and the imposition of coherence on the raw data: “Without this kind of global organization in memory, retrieval and hence use of complex information would be unthinkable” (ibid, p.14). Secondly, it allows for a reduction in the amount of data that needs to be remembered: this increases efficiency. Thirdly, the process of actually deriving a schema from the mass of raw data “may involve the construction of new meaning (i.e., meaning that is not a property of the individual constitutive parts)” (ibid, p.15. Italics in the original). These mechanisms are largely unconscious, although we may be able to consciously exploit them, e.g. ‘chunking’ information to aid memorization (Miller 1956).

Whether we call them schemas or relational networks, we should recognize that our memories are largely made up of knowledge structures that create expectation about experience and that aid comprehension. Making meaning can therefore be seen as a negotiation between these existing structures and new experience: this is of course exactly what constructivist theory proposes.

Conclusion
This discussion strongly implicates narrative as one of the most important mechanisms we possess for comprehension and for making meaning. Firstly, because there is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that our entire declarative memory system is time-dependent, and secondly because the three schematization strategies we have discussed here all strongly relate to narrative construction.

References
Baddeley, A.D. (1999) Essentials of Human Memory. Hove, New York: Psychology Press.
Barthes, R. (1977) Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives, in Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana.
Bruner, J. (2002) Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Burgess, N., Maguire, E.A. & O’Keefe, J. (2002) The Human Hippocampus and Spatial and Episodic Memory, in Neuron, 35, 625-641.
Dijk, T. A. van (1980) Macrostructures. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Eichenbaum, H. (2003) The hippocampus, episodic memory, declarative memory…where does it all come together? In Ono, T., Matsumoto, G., Llinas, R.R., Berthoz, A., Norgren, R., Nishijo, H., & Tamura, R. (Eds) Cognition and Emotion in the Brain. Elsevier Health Science.
Eichenbaum, H. (2004) Hippocampus: Cognitive Processes and Neural Representations that Underlie Declarative Memory. In Neuron, 44, 109-120.
Eysenck, M.W. & Keane, M.T. (2005) Cognitive Psychology. Hove, New York: Psychology Press.
Mandler, J.M. & Johnson, N.S (1977) Remembrance of Things Parsed: Story Structures and Recall, in Cognitive Psychology, 9, 111-151. From: http://www.sciencedirect.com/ [Accessed 2.3.07]
Miller, G. A. (1956) The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, in The Psychological Review, 1956 (63), 81-97.
Schank, R. (1975) Using Knowledge to Understand, in Proceedings of the 1975 Workshop on Theoretical Issues in Natural Language Processing. From: http://portal.acm.org/ [Accessed 24.1.06]
Squire, L.R. (2004) Memory Systems of the Brain: A Brief History and Current Perspective, in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 82, 171-177. From: www.sciencedirect.com [Accessed 4.1.06]
Wheeler, M.A., Stuss, D.T. & Tulving, E. (1997) Toward a Theory of Episodic Memory: The Frontal Lobes and Autonoetic Consciousness, in Psychological Bulletin, 121, 3, 331-354.
Xu, J., Kemeny, S., Park, G., Frattali, C., & Braun, A. (2005) Language in context: emergent features of word, sentence, and narrative comprehension, in NeuroImage, 25, 1002-1015. From: www.sciencedirect.com [Accessed 7.9.06]

From Russia

This week I managed to get up to see the From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London. In particular, I was keen to see the collections of French art assembled by Shchukin and Morozov, reappearing for the first time in the West since they were bought in the early years of the 20th century.

To be honest, I found the exhibition bit of a disappointment generally. A lot of the Russian stuff I found very poor and/or highly derivative. However, it was worth the price of admission alone for the relatively small number of paintings by Cezanne, Derain, Matisse, and Picasso. There were also some fine works by Kandinsky and Malevich on display. My highlights:


Paul Cezanne, Bridge Over the Marne at Creteil (1894?)


Pablo Picasso, Farm Woman (bust) (1908)


Henri Matisse, Nude (Black & Gold) (1908)

I had never seen this Matisse before, and it completely blew me away: the boldness of execution, the use of colour. It’s so rough, so far removed from ‘reality’, and yet manages to be a totally convincing representation of the woman. Sculptural!


Henri Matisse, Harmony In Red (1908)

One of my favourite Matisse’s. I would have paid the £11 just to come and see this, and it didn’t disappoint. The image above gives no real indication of the impact it has in real life: it’s huge—over 2 metres wide—and the depth and richness of that red really is something. Interestingly, this painting was originally called Harmony In Blue, but just before it was due to be delivered to Shchukin Matisse repainted it. Although you can’t see it on the image above (which has been cropped slightly), Matisse left a thin strip of the original blue around the edge. This creates the illusion that this huge expanse of red is somehow floating on the canvas: a brilliant touch.


Wassily Kandinsky, Winter (1909)


Kazimir Malevich, Red Square (1915)


Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle (c.1923)

Finally, there was a large model of Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. The model wasn’t all that fantastic, but there was a film looping in the same room that showed what St. Petersburg would have looked like had it been built. In other words, they taken archive footage and inserted a CGI model of the building into the landscape, and ‘aged’ the model so that it blended in with the grainy black & white film stock. Incredibly convincing.

Although this isn’t that film, here’s a similar short from YouTube that at least gives an impression of what I’m talking about:

So, despite my reservations about much of the work on show, I’m really glad I made the effort to go. It really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to directly experience some great works of art. Sweet…

Quote of the Month

What exactly is an interface anyway? In its simplest sense, the word refers to software that shapes the interaction between user and computer. The interface serves as a kind of translator, mediating between the two parties, making one sensible to the other. In other words, the relationship governed by the interface is a semantic one, characterized by meaning and expression rather than physical force. Digital computers are “literary machines,” as hypertext guru Ted Nelson calls them. They work with signs and symbols, although this language, in its most elemental form, is almost impossible to understand. A computer thinks—if thinking is the right word for it—in tiny pulses of electricity, representing either an “on” or an “off” state, a zero or a one. Humans think in words, concepts, images, sounds, associations. A computer that does nothing but manipulate sequences of zeros and ones is nothing but an but an exceptionally inefficient adding machine. For the magic of the digital revolution to take place, a computer must also represent itself to the user, in a language that the user understands.

Representing all that information is going to require a new visual language, as complex and meaningful as the great metropolitan narratives of the nineteenth-century novel.

Put simply, the importance of interface design revolves around this apparent paradox: we live in a society that is increasingly shaped by events in cyberspace, and yet cyberspace remains, for all practical purposes, invisible, outside our perceptual grasp. Our only access to this parallel universe of zeros and ones runs through the conduit of the computer interface, which means that the most dynamic and innovative region of the modern world reveals itself only through the anonymous middlemen of interface design.

[Quote adapted from Johnson, S. (1997) Interface Culture. Harper Collins (pp.14-19).]

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McLuhan 6: The Medium Is The Massage LP

Last June I discussed the print version of Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is The Massage. However, along with the print publication of it in 1967, there was also a “long-playing record” of the same name released by CBS.


L > R: Jerome Agel, Quentin Fiore, McLuhan, and John Simon of CBS.

The whole thing is presented as an audio collage focused around McLuhan’s own voice reading parts of the book. There are other “character” voices—’the old man’, ‘the Hippie chick’, ‘the Irishman’, ‘Mom’, ‘the little girl’, etc.—who utter McLuhanisms, snatches from Pop culture, and excerpts from Finnegans Wake and The Iliad. Weaving amongst these is a very 1960s selection of jazz, classical, and psychedelic pop musics. This is all topped off with incursions from the recording engineer, backwards tape effects, sped-up and slowed-down voices, ambient recordings, and a whole jungle of other Foley and sound FX. Crazy, man!

Perhaps the worst part of it are the character voices: some of them really are quite bad. Why is that when producers want ‘an old man’ they don’t just get a real old man; it’s not like they’re in short supply. But, no: rather than use an old man to read these parts, we’ll get someone to imitate an old man! Sheesh. Why bother? As my old man used to say: “If you’re going to do a job, do it properly.”

So there we have it. I’m not sure what these recordings add to the McLuhan ouvre, other than to highlight this one point: McLuhan works very well as speech. His public speaking was an important facet of his professional life, and his capacity for talk was legendary. Most of his books were dictated. He’s a very oral person.

Anyway, judge for yourself:

The Medium Is The Massage, Side 1 (26.6MB MP3)
The Medium Is The Massage, Side 2 (31.7MB MP3)

Flow

Here’s a short movie I made of me playing the online version of flOw:

I love this game for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s a fabulous piece of programming. The game was created in Flash 8.
  2. It’s simple—not really needing any instructions—and yet deceptively complex. It took me a few tries to realize that the red and blue ‘creatures’ allowed you to switch levels, and the behaviour of some of the other more complex organisms can only be discovered through exploration and interaction. In that sense, it’s quite ‘lifelike’: there are rules, but they’re completely implicit…
  3. The creatures themselves are marvellous. Their movement and growth are just right.
  4. Excellent sound design.

You can play it yourself here. Jenova Chen’s website is here, with the flOw-specific pages here. This contains Chen’s academic background materials along and other release/marketing information (there’s a commercial version available for Playstation 3).

Enjoy.

Narrative 3: The Image-Thinkers

I was intrigued by the idea presented in Preface To Plato that within the Homeric epics the narrative proceeded paratactically, that is by one scene following another without there necessarily being any causative chain:

But it can fairly be generalized that the saga considered from the standpoint of a later and more sophisticated critique is essentially the record of an event-series, of things happening, never of a system of relations or of causes or of categories or topics (Preface, p.173).

 
Havelock goes on:

[The events] are remembered and frozen into the record as separate disjunct episodes each complete and satisfying in itself, in a series which is joined together paratactically. Action succeeds action in a kind of endless chain. The basic grammatical expression which would symbolize the link would be simply the phrase ‘and next…’ (Preface, p.180).

 
This got me thinking about good old cause and effect. Would it be possible to create meaningful and coherent paratactic narratives where scenes were simply butted up against each other without obvious causation? Probably, but I think what would be happening is that the audience would, in effect, supply their own chains of causation: simply by placing these scenes in order would imply some kind of relationship, causal or otherwise. Seymour Chatman has said:

But the interesting thing is that our minds inveterately seek structure, and they will provide it if necessary. Unless otherwise instructed, readers will tend to assume that even “The King died and the Queen died” presents a causal link, that the king’s death has something to do with the queen’s. We do so in the same sense in which we seek coherence in the visual field, that is, we are inherently disposed to turn raw sensation into perception (Story & Discourse, pp.45-46).

 
Perhaps the best conclusion we can come to is provided by Abbott:

[T]here are narratologists who require a clear causal sequence as an essential defining feature of narrative, though [I am] defining narrative as “the representation of events,” whether bound together by a clear sequence of causation or not. A quest story, for example, can include many events that come after one another without causal connection (first the knight sinks into a bog, the he is set upon by wild rodents, then his pants catch on fire…), yet it would be difficult on that score alone to say that it is not a narrative. Here is an instance where the term narrativity may help. For, if the sense of causation is not a defining feature of a narrative, it is so commonly a feature that we can say that its presence increases narrativity (Cambridge Introduction To Narrative, p.38).

 
Of course this hinges on what he admits is the “disputed term” narrativity. If you use this word it ultimately implies that you accept there is no ‘edge’ to narrative, no place where you could say that at this point it stops being a narrative and becomes something else. Which I do accept.

I think.

References
Abbott, H. Porter (2002) The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chatman, S. (1978) Story and Discourse. Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press.

Havelock, E. (1963) Preface To Plato. Cambridge, London: Belknap Press.

Preface To Plato

Eric Havelock’s Preface To Plato is a book I’d come across often: McLuhan frequently cites it, as does Walter Ong in Orality & Literacy. Well just before Xmas I got round to reading it, and I’ve just re-read it this week. I have been deeply impressed by the book because of its wealth of ideas, its deep sense of scholarship, and because it is so well written: for a book on such a relatively obscure and ancient subject it is a surprisingly good read. Despite being an overtly academic text it manages to provoke a deep sense of wonder about ancient Greek culture, and offers a tantalizing glimpse of the unfathomable alien-ness of their ways of thinking.

The book begins by asking why Plato makes such a sustained and vehement attack on poetry in The Republic. Havelock suggests it is because ‘poetry’ for the Greeks at that time—around 360 BC—bears almost no relation to the rather ephemeral art form we now know, but was an “encyclopedic” repository for the culture’s storehouse of knowledge. It was central to the preservation of the culture’s history, traditions, belief systems, social mores, and technology. It was as important didactically as it was for entertainment.

Because this culture was primarily an oral culture, memorization was achieved through repetition. This is because sound is an ephemeral medium where each utterance disappears the moment it has ceased, and it is only through ritualistic and incessant repetition that information can be maintained in the group consciousness. This creates a hypnotic, trance-like, mental state that Havelock likens to indoctrination, where “the task of education could be described as putting the whole community into a formulaic state of mind”. It was this that Plato was railing against.

Havelock’s argument is that Plato represented a new type of man: the literate man. Literacy allowed information to be stored externally. This “preserved knowledge” broke the spell over the hypnotized oral culture and allowed new means of expression, categorization, abstract thought, and the creation of ‘subject’ and ‘object’. That is, rationalism, and the “supreme music” of philosophy. Havelock goes on to say that Plato, and later Aristotle:

… created ‘knowledge’ as an object and as the proper content of an educational system, divided into the areas of ethics, politics, psychology, physics, and metaphysics. Man’s experience of his society, of himself and of his environment was now given separate organised existence in the abstract word.

 
This then is the conceptual core of Preface To Plato. It’s a marvelous book. Along the way there’s lots of good stuff about narrative, performance, the relation of performers to their audience, and plenty of interesting textual analysis of The Iliad.

However, although I do basically agree with Havelock’s position, I think he has overstated the influence and importance of epic poetry as an oral culture’s means of storing knowledge (which in this particular context means overstating the importance of Homer). There are certainly other ways of remembering things without writing—images, song, ritual, plays, sculpture, and story, for example. This criticism is borne out by critics such as Halverson.

Nonetheless, wholeheartedly recommended.

References
Halverson, J. (1992) ‘Havelock on Greek Orality and Literacy’ in the Journal of The History of Ideas.
Havelock, E. (1963) Preface To Plato. Cambridge, London: Belknap Press.
Ong, W. (2002) Orality and Literacy. London: Routledge.

Karlheinz Stockhausen 1928-2007

I cannot let the death of Stockhausen pass by without saying something. But what?

Firstly, I’ll have to admit that much of his music remains completely unknown to me. Despite this, those pieces that I do know exist somewhere inside me in a place that is very close to the centre of my musical world: Gesang Der Jünglinge, Kontakte, Microphonie, Telemusik, and his masterpiece Hymnen. In other words, all his early pure electronic stuff from the period 1956-1967.

I believe that no matter what else Stockhausen has done since, these works alone would assure his place as one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Simply put, he stripped Western music down to its absolutely minimal state—the sine wave—and built it up from there, harmonic by harmonic. Complex sounds were laboriously created by overdubbing simple tones, initially using only the most basic equipment: tape machines; oscillators; a white noise generator; filters; and later, reverberation. Stockhausen describes one such process during the production of Gesang Der Jünglinge, quoted in Kurtz (1992):

I invented completely different processes in which the three of us – myself and two musical and technical collaborators – each used a different piece of equipment. One of us had a pulse generator, the second a feedback filter whose width could be continuously changed and the third a volume control (potentiometer). I drew graphic representations of the processual forms. In one such form, lasting twenty seconds, for example, the first of us would alter the pulse speed, say from three to fourteen pulses per second, following a zigzag curve; the second would change the pitch curve of the feedback filter, in accordance with another graphic pattern; and the third – using yet another graphic – would change the dynamic curve. […] So we sat down to realise one of these processual forms, one of us would count 3, 2, 1, 0, then off we went. The stopwatch was running, and at the end of twenty seconds each of us had to be finished.

Each composition took him months of laborious and painstaking work. And yet despite the mathematical precision and scientific rigour with which these works were created, incredibly, miraculously, they sound vital, thrilling, and organic. They sound like they’re alive, and 50 years down the line still have the power to shock, excite, and stimulate. This is Stockhausen’s genius.

Contemporary musicians, with their computers, their synths, samplers, and plug-ins; their MIDI, their virtual instruments and their digital mixers; their automation, quantization, and their Auto-Tune; their loops, their cutting and pasting; they still have almost everything to learn from Stockhausen because—despite the archaic nature of the technology he used—conceptually he remains light years ahead of them.

I love Stockhausen because:

  1. He was brave. He went where the music took him.
  2. He was independent. No record company puppet.
  3. He was doing ‘surround sound’ from the beginning. To him, a sound always exists in three-dimensional space. (This is a drawback listening to his CDs: they’re only in stereo.)
  4. He was committed to his vision. If you were lucky enough to attend one of his electronic music concerts, you just sat in the dark and listened!
  5. His music is just awesome.

Finally, here’s a short 2006 TV piece—apparently from the BBC’s Culture Show—that shows the honesty, intelligence, integrity, and downright impish charm of the man. Delightful:

Thankyou so much. The End.

Reference
Kurtz, M. (1992) Stockhausen: A Biography. Faber.

Quote of the Month

When reading a book or even a sentence, there is a beginning step. A book and a sentence both have a beginning that is formally denoted. There is a middle, and, hopefully, there is a solution to a problem that is posed. The reader is recognizing symbols and making associations. The reader controls the pacing, the level of participation, and the dwell-time. But, essentially, the part that interests the reader are the symbols and finding the solution to the problem: that is, making meaning.

Launching an application follows the same steps as reading, with the user of the program recognizing symbols for the sake of solving a problem. The user determines the pacing, the level of participation, and the dwell-time, but in the end is only concerned with the symbols and the solution to the problem.

Simply put, running an application is an interactive form of reading.

Mark Meadows
 

[Quote adapted from Meadows, M. (2003) Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative. New Riders (pp.25-26).]