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7.5.1. Association: Neural Networks


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 7. How The Brain Works > 7.5. Association: Just Like That > 7.5.1. Association: Neural Networks

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Think of elephants. Then watch where your mind goes, through other associations you have with the word. Do you recall trips as a child to the zoo? Or Walt Disney’s ‘Dumbo’ or various jokes? Memories can be related in many ways often from experiences, or through secondary links, such as when elephants remind me of tigers, because a tiger scared me soon after I saw my first elephant at a zoo.

Fig. 7.7, where the thicker arrows represent more likely thought associations in the mental landscape, illustrates some of the effects of such networks. Likely thoughts may come from repetition, but these deep valleys can also be cut in a single slice by traumatic experience, such as the ‘elephant–zoo–tiger’ link. Thoughts may be deep hollows in which we can arrive from many directions, such as ‘Africa’. They may also be mountains, from which we can easily roll downhill in many directions, such as ‘grey’ (they can even be both at once!). Associations can be one-way or two-way, with a different thickness of arrow in each direction. The associations we have recently made may affect our choice of the next association, so ‘elephant–musty smell–horses’ may be likely but ‘zoo–musty smell–horses’ may be unlikely.

Fig. 7.7 Linked memories

One of the traps of creativity is that we start digging for gold, looking for an idea, and then get stuck in the hole as each new idea is constrained to be closely associated with the problem. Association keeps us in the hole and it can also lift us out, if only we loosened the bonds a little. This naturally jumbled linkage of thoughts is a gold-mine of stimulation that we can deliberately use to leap and link to more distantly connected thoughts and hence to new ideas.

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