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CIA’s Guide to Cognitive Science & Intelligence Analysis ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

May 18, 2014

♦ Thinking & Writing : The CIA’s Guide to Cognitive Science & Intelligence Analysis. This CIA Monograph (re-released in 2010 by Robert Sinclair) presents “the implications of growing knowledge in the cognitive sciences for the way the intelligence business is conducted, in how we perform analysis, how we present our findings, and even its meaning for our hiring and training practices”.

♦ In other words, this paper is about, “thinking and writing, the complex mental patterns out of which writing comes, their strengths and limitations, and the challenges they create, not just for writers but for managers”. Below are some curated excerpts.

♦ “What is it about heuristics that makes them so useful? First, they are quick and they get the job done, assuming the experiential base is sufficient and a certain amount of satisficing is not objectionable. Second, what cognitive scientists call the problem-space remains manageable.

♦ Theoretically that space becomes unmanageably large as soon as you start to generalize and explore: any event may be important now, any action on your part is possible, and you could get paralyzed by possibilities as the centipede did. But humans constantly narrow the problem-space on the basis of their own experience. And most of the time the results are acceptable: what more efficient way is there to narrow an indefinitely large problem-space? ”

♦ “It should be apparent the heuristic approach is critical to the effectiveness of our conscious mental activity, since short-term memory needs procedures like heuristics that narrow its field of view. On the other hand, the drawbacks are equally apparent.

♦ The ability to process large quantities of information is always an advantage and sometimes a necessity. How can we operate effectively if we can consider so little at a time? The answer to this question lies in the speed and flexibility with which we can manipulate the information in short-term memory; to use the terminology, in our chunking prowess.”

♦ A chunk, it should be clear, equates to one of the roughly seven entities that short-term memory can deal with at one time. Hunt’s formulation notwithstanding, it need not be tied to words or discrete symbols. Any conceptual entity, from a single letter to the notion of Kant’s categorical imperative- can be a chunk. And not only do we work with chunks that come to us from the outside world, we create and remember chunks of our own.

♦ Anything in long-term memory probably has been put there by the chunking process. We build hierarchies of chunks, combining a group of them under a single conceptual heading (a new chunk), “filing” the subordinate ideas in long-term memory, and using the overall heading to gain access to them. We can manipulate any chunk or bring wildly differing chunks together, and we can do these things with great speed and flexibility.

♦ “In some ways “chunk” is a misleading term for the phenomenon. The word calls to mind something discrete and hard-edged, whereas the very essence of the phenomenon is the way we can give it new shapes and new characteristics, and the way conceptual fragments interpenetrate each other in long-term memory.

♦ A chunk might better be conceived of, metaphorically, as a pointer to information in long-term memory, and the information it retrieves as a cloud with a dense core and ill-defined edges. The mind can store an enormous number of such clouds, each overlapping many others.This “cloudiness” the way any one concept evokes a series of others is a source of great efficiency in human communication; it is what lets us get the drift of a person’s remarks without having all the implications spelled out. But it can also be a source of confusion.”

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