Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Memory and Retrieval

One particularly aspect of IR which I find particularly interesting, is the effect memory must have on the retrieval process. If we consider the standard ASK model, which assumes several iterations of searches, it is clear that memory drives the whole process, and the users ability to use their short term memory must have a substantial impact on how effect they can be or how long it takes them to search. This has in my view particular implications for dyslexics, who are prone to short term memory problems.

In the light of this the work of Oliver Sacks is particularly interesting. I read his book 'The man who mistook his wife for a hat' as part of the reading for my masters degree, and really got into his work. A particular case study related to this was 'the lost mariner' about a seaman who only had a half minute short term memory (STM) life span. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have your life restricted to half second spans. It would be extremely difficult for somebody to search effectively, even if they could recall what it was they were search for in the first place. However, this is not most extreme case by any means. In his latest book 'Musicophilia', Oliver Sacks discusses the case of Clive Wearing, who suffered a terrible brain injury and now has approximately 7 second memory spans. He has also a severe case of amnesia and has lost a lot of information from his long term memory. Clive is a man who I admire greatly, I have a wonderful CD of him conducting the Europa Singers performing Sir John Taveners "The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom". I found some videos on youtube of a program on his condition:


This is truly heart-breaking. Has someone who workings on creating IR systems which people can use, I cannot see a way of helping people with such poor short term memories - I feel completely useless! One bright spot, his talent as a musician is undiminished - I will return to this issue in a future post on my thoughts of the implications of 'Musicophilla' on music IR and relevance.


Anonymous said...

Hi Andy

I got to your blog via Tamara's.

I have read the man who mistook his wife for a hat - one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. It really brings home that the brain is a very much undiscovered country and that we are so limited in our knowledge of treating these neurological conditions. And IR has some way to go as well!

Katie Collis

andy said...


thanks for the reply - we do indeed have a double problem here, but research is about dealing with these problems, and we must try and remain positive - in the face of significant barriers.