PreRamble: Three scientists were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering brain circuits that help us navigate our physical environment. The research identifies special nerve cells that create an “inner GPS” system that guides and determines a “sense of place.”
These findings make me wonder whether a similar kind of “mapping circuitry” would regulate the coding and organization of information/”informational space” in the brain.
National Geographic explores developments in related research around the complex neural coding functions in the brain,
” … Advanced technologies for capturing a snapshot of the brain in action have confirmed that discrete functions occur in specific locations. The neural “address” where you remember a phone number, for instance, is different from the one where you remember a face … Yet it is increasingly clear that cognitive functions cannot be pinned to spots on the brain like towns on a map. A given mental task may involve a complicated web of circuits, which interact in varying degrees with others throughout the brain—not like the parts in a machine, but like the instruments in a symphony orchestra combining their tenor, volume, and resonance to create a particular musical effect.”
Then, consider the concept of “mind-mapping.” Defined by Wikipedia as a diagram used to visually organize information, the term “mind-mapping” was introduced by British pop-psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan. Modern mind-mapping is based on methods of visual modeling that have been used for centuries to record and transfer knowledge, and is now used by millions of people around the world.
“A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.”
As with any mapping tool, a hierarchy of information collapses knowledge into essential, representative bits — the main arteries in the Buzan model shown above, for example — with smaller, less potentially relevant details moved to another, less prominent level. Perhaps this simple, strategic presentation of key bits of information can support and promote meaningful contextual coding of “spatial circuits” in the brain, thereby affording more effective navigation and transfer of information — ?
The Take-Away: The human brain is designed to map out contextual circuitry for physical/spatial/concrete information, and it’s likely that a similar dynamic governs networks of psychological/abstract information as well. These are important findings for writers and designers — and anyone who wants to learn or communicate effectively.