Harvey Wheeler, then Martha Boaz Distinguished
Research Professor, University Library,
University of Southern California, laid out the
future of the book and the library in The
Virtual Society, one of the first e-books,
and distributed it as shareware. Read this
especially brilliant excerpt to see what I mean. For the
full text, click here: Download The
Brain's Third Hemisphere
is an intentional misnomer. Obviously a thing
cannot consist of three hemispheres. Nor does
this mean that the computer works like our mind. Rather, it
portrays the computer as an auxiliary mind to our
own; a supplement to the brain's two hemispheres.
Hence the the anomaly: the computer as a
"third" hemisphere to the brain.
scroll, codex and book were all archival
interfaces with the brain. We feel certain they
affected its operations but it is not possible to
say with confidence exactly how. They all
operated as transducers between the brain's
perceptions and its processing of those
know from Marshall McLuhan that each medium
affects the message it conveys. Each previous
technological interface has influenced in some
way the evolution of mind. Today the Boolean
Revolution is installing a new channel between
the outside world and our inside world, and vice
versa. The following discussion explores some of
the cognitive implications of this new way of
is human cognitive evolution affected by
electronics? There are several things to be said.
Some are curious. The computer is a new semiotic
channel. When it processes information it changes
that information. Many of today's scholars are
studying just what these changes are. Consider,
for example, the hunt-and-browse method of
research one does when actually working in
library stacks. Compare this to the Boolean
search procedures one uses when doing computer
assisted research. This change is bound make a
difference in the knowledge produced, but as yet
we do not know in what way. Michael Heim and
several associates are now studying this problem
on an electronic research taskforce on the USC
human memory changes fundamentally so does the
human mind. Every one of the four semiotic
revolutions of chapter two changed the nature of
human memory. The computer, like the
dialogue-poem; the manuscript-text; and the
lecture-book will change how memory works.
the enormous demands made upon human memory in
pre-literate, oral cultures. Recall the tales of
the incredibly long and complex musical scores
committed to memory by those who play the
classical Indian Ragas. The "books" of
the Rigveda are really musical scores, organized
as ritual hymns and chants. They abound
throughout with arcane numerological references.
It is an alien literature to us. However, this
very combination of music, word and number was
characteristic of all the main wisdom literatures
of antiquity. We are accustomed to texts that
employ complex graphs, tables, and charts. We
believe an argument is lacking a factual
foundation if it does not have them. Yet we are
dumbfounded by Plato's musicological calculation
that the tyrant is 729 times more unhappy than
the just ruler.
of the explanation of ancient semiotic
technologies is that they provided a way to
construct effective mnemonic (memorizing)
systems. The high cultures of antiquity had
highly complex structures and conducted
meticulously organized operations. They did it
without correspondence files or double-entry
bookkeeping, and lacking xerography. They did it
by combining rudimentary notation systems - like
markings on clay rods and in scrolls - with
highly effective mnemonic systems.
once more that ancient mnemonics was based on an
imaginary archival temple of the mind in which
everything to be memorized was classified and
then stored, figuratively in specific and
conventionalized places (topoi) of an imaginary
temple whose function was to aid in the archiving
of data. This art-of-memory" technique
permits committing and saving to memory -storing
and retrieving - records and texts of enormous
length. This classification and placement system
later became the basis of systematic thought in
Aristotle's TOPICS, which one interpreter
translated as "pigeon-holes" from which
arguments were drawn. That capability of the mind
of times past was something like the storage and
retrieval capability of the computer. The
mnemonics-assisted mind of the past has a clear
resonance with the computer-assisted mind of the
now speak in awe of people with prodigious
photographic (visual) memories. They can remember
from one look every thing on a series of printed
pages. The ancients celebrated those who had
prodigious audial memories. They were the ones
who carried the society's software around in
their heads. They were the ones who preserved and
handed on the society's religious and
Torah records such a society. The "wisdom
peoples" had minds that worked differently
from those of the "Gutenberg peoples,"
who succeeded them, and also from the
"Boolean peoples" who are now evolving.
word processing does a strange thing to memory.
The mind surreptitiously decides not to remember
certain kinds of things because they are always
available rapidly in the computer's electronic
course in actual fact this is not always true.
Programs crash, they get garbled, they require
debugging. But nonetheless, we behave as if the
computer will always keep its head on straight.
computer, when it is used as a processor or an
outliner, or an organizer, becomes an extension
of our memory in a more organic sense than this
is usually taken to mean. Let me give an
deals with a relatively trivial matter: the use
of a computer desktop appointments calendar like
Sidekick or PolyWindows DeskPlus. When I use an
electronic calendar I literally do use it as a
substitute for the conventional notepad desk
I enter an appointment into memory I know that
appointment is stored in the computer's memory.
The action seems just like "storing" an
entry in a conventional appointments notebook.
is not. The difference is that when I enter dates
on paper they somehow remain in my mind. A
notebook entry goes right into my own memory. I
may not recall the date precisely, still, it is a
part of my awareness and I behave and adjust my
on-going time commitments with the ready
awareness of those future appointments and
obligations written on paper and stored in the
electronic calendar does a curious thing. An
appointment entered into the computer's memory is
not like a handwritten entry in a notepad. The
computer entry somehow does not automatically go
into one's own long-term memory. Instead, we seem
to consider the computer entry AS IF it were in
fact an entry into our own memories, literally
a result, we feel it is not necessary to keep
track of our appointments mentally the same way
we did mentally with notepad entries. It FEELS as
if we are already keeping track of them. That is,
the computer feels to us as if it is an auxiliary
hemisphere of our own minds.
course, this euphoria does not last long. Entries
get wrongly entered. Files get mistakenly erased.
Hard disks crash. Its sectors get mutilated. Some
mornings we let the third hemisphere "sleep
in" and don't fire up the computer and check
its calendar. There's sometimes hell to pay for
that foolish impulse. We've all forgotten several
appointments merely from I assuming that our own
memories would keep track of appointments for us
just like they always had in paper-and-pencil
days. We were wrong.
of those lapses would not have occurred if we had
entered appointments in a regular
paper-and-pencil note book. The mind would have
kept itself alertly on "monitor."
we grow more cautious and less trusting of the
third hemisphere. But this adjustment only
modifies, it does not erase, the computer's
cognitive influence on us.
we cannot explain this new auxiliary brain it is
possible to draw a preliminary conclusion about
it. This is that the computer does become a
"virtual" third hemisphere
"inside" the mind, almost the same way
one of the new 80386 computers may contain a
virtual 8086 PC inside itself. The mind seems to
recognize this new virtual brain; to welcome it
and treat it as part of itself.
leads to the proposition that the computer
produces in us a kind of seventh sense.
what is usually said about the so-called sixth
sense. It is spoken of as a kind of intuitive
awareness that exists subliminally, beneath the
threshold of conscious perception. It is a
height-ened sensitivity to certain kinds of
experiences. It is an informal projection
capacity that gives us an alarm and tells us to
be careful; things are going wrong and we'd
better recheck and plan things better.
is the sense the scientist has when he feels that
one approach to a problem is better than another;
or when his intuition tells him that a conclusion
or a proposition is sound, and that its
alternatives are wrong.
is that diagnostic sense possessed by the gifted
physician; the same symptoms that baffle others
lead him or her to a conclusion others missed.
these examples indicate that the sixth sense is
an informal, or subliminal ordering process in
which information is taken in and subconsciously
processed in such a way that a pattern emerges
and asserts itself to our conscious mind. This is
what we often mean by a "professional"
judgment. It is an A/I faculty that comes from
long experience, practice, and expertise. It
induces in us the subconcsiousness awareness of
the implicit pattern in a situation.
is a Gestalt, in the figure/ground sense. When
some parts of a picture read wrong our minds are
alerted to the wrongness in the picture even
though we are not aware of having figured out
logically what is wrong. Arthur Koestler has a
good description of this process in THE ACT OF
theorists like Michael Arbib are beginning to
explain how this may happen in the brain.
sixth sense deals with metaphors and patterns. It
is essentially a right brain activity.
the sixth sense with the left brain auxiliary
provided us by the computer.
proposition is that the computer activates a new
seventh sense that emerges from its tendency to
function as a third hemisphere of the brain. This
is illustrated by the way the electronic calendar
over-rides and disables long term memory and
substitutes its own memory for the processes of
the left brain.
further development of the idea of the computer
as an auxiliary brain leads to an even more
arresting conclusion. It changes the creative
what happens when it is more than merely an
address or a telephone number that is being
stored. Suppose you have just composed a document
by a computer.
that with composing the same text on a
typewriter. When we compose on a typewriter we
make a typographical picture of ideas in our
head. Those ideas remain in the head. They are
possessions of the mind. They are memory-resident
ideas. The paper in the typewriter does not own
them. We feel about the paper that it is merely a
copy of what we are thinking about that topic.
The paper is the "positive" and the
memory-resident essay in the mind is the
when we have taken the page from the typewriter,
revised it and re-written it to better express
our thoughts, the revised draft does not own our
thoughts, the mind still does. The page is a
rough draft. We keep using liquid paper to white
out passages we don't like. We then re-write them
onto that same draft even though it is avowedly a
we carefully correct an avowed rough draft. We
feel that doing this emphasizes the secondary
"positive" aspects of the typescript.
The moment the mind knows a better way to express
its thoughts it tells us to change the
"positive" to reflect that new state of
the mental "negative," even though we
could just as easily wait for the next draft to
consider the difference when we use an electronic
word processor. As we sit there and type the
words appear on the screen. The screen seems like
the page in my typewriter. The parallel between
the two is a direct one. However, that parallel
begins to break down because of two other
of them is the printer. The computer printer
appears to be the analog of the typewriter. It is
not. On a typewriter, only a metal printing bar
intervenes between my fingers and the printing
action. On a computer there is first the
software, then the screen, next the computer's
internal processor and finally, the printer's own
electronic control system.
second breakdown in the analogy to the typewriter
is seen in the computer's screen. It is like the
page in the typewriter only in that it is where
we first see words appear. In every other sense
it is different.
have considered the typed copy of our thoughts as
the "positive" from a photographic
negative that still resides in the mind which is
the true owner of the written thoughts.
we talk about the copy made by the computer we
call it a "print-out." There is no
doubt that it is a copy of what resides in the
computer's memory. It is the hard copy of the
soft copy that remains in the computer's mind,
which functions as our own mind's auxiliary. This
constitutes a new negative and it resides in a
different hemisphere of the mind from the
hemisphere that originated it.
is the difference. The original version of the
typewriter copy resides in the same hemisphere
that created it in the first place.
original version of the computer printer print
out resides in two hemispheres; one in the
computer and one in the mind. Continuing the
anology to photography, we have: the printer's
positive of the computer's negative of the super-
negative of our mind.
strange thing has happened in moving from the
typewriter to sit down at an electronic word
processor. As we sit there and type, the words
appear on the screen, not on paper. That screen
projects an image of thoughts as if they were
shown there by a back-screen projector. But the
screen is like the typewriter page in the sense
that the words it shows do not belong to it, but
to the thoughts behind it which it reflects. The
parallel between page and screen is direct,
except for the fact that the computer intervenes
between our thoughts and the screen. The computer
is their interface, once removed.
interfaces are transducers -- conduits -- that
affect what they transmit. The typewriter is the
interface between thought and page. Compare it to
writing with pen and ink. How qaint it seems to
look at the old manuscripts of the texts of
Dickens' novels. It is hard to imagine writing
and revising with such inflexible materials. But
authors used pen and ink well into this century,
and many still do. Some lawyers are quite
victorian about composing on their long legal
pads. Students of this matter have analyzed the
difference it has made when writing shifted to
the typewriter. The more recent shift to the tape
recorder for making rough drafts has had another,
mostly noxious, effect on the ultimate text.
and compositionally electronic pages are
infinitely more manipulable than are typewritten
pages. I can suspend my adoption of a thought
while I recombine it with new ones, or re-order
its logical sequence or its narrative position.
Or I can restore it instantly as it was if the
new order does not satisfy. Textually and
compositionally electronic pages are infinitely
fungible. My brain is commanding the manipulation
but it cannot conceive in advance what it will
think of the new order. The computer is
permitting it to accomplish constructional tasks
it could not otherwise accomplish.
result is a new order of constructional thought.
I know this because I am aware that as I keyboard
my thoughts into the computer I am become aware,
right at the beginning of an act of writing, of
the new secret of the fungibility of my ideas. I
know, even as I write them, that they are
destined for revision, transformation and
relocation. So these screened texts are much more
fluid by nature than are the texts of a
typescript. Being fluid in this new way they are
much more like the status of my thoughts in my
own mind than are the thoughts typed onto a
typewriter page. This fact is further modified or
amplified, or implified, by the fact that when
these ideas are committed to memory, they are not
committed to MY memory. They are committed to the
computer's memory. I know they are in that
memory. I know that there is in that memory a
directory, a mode of accessing all its classified
files, and that each file is potentially
relatable to each other as if there were some
David Bohm type of holographic text-oriented
database system inside the computer, able to
instantiate the infinite "implicate
orders" of my thoughts on command, or
"command.com." Because of course, there
are text-oriented databse systems like NOTEBOOK
II and MEMORYMATE that can execute exactly such
global retrieval commands.
also know that my thoughts exist in the
computer's memory in a much more precise way than
their originals ever existed, or could ever exist
in my own memory. This despite the fact that it
was my mind that put them into the condition they
have inside the computer's memory. The reason for
this is that although they are essentially in my
own memory, they are not really memory-resident.
I accidentally lose a typescript. No matter how
hard I try I cannot recapitulate from my mind
word for word the precise texts the way they
reside in the memory of the computer's hard disk.
So there is a difference between the two
memories. So long as I faithfully run my backups,
the computer's memory of my thoughts is better
than my own and more trustworthy and easier to
work with than is my own.
I start out to reconstruct a lost document from
memory I must go back and begin it all over
again. I must work out the essential ideas once
again. I must re-design the organization, much as
I originally had to. As I do this, and as I start
writing again, many of the same words and
phrases, and perhaps most of the same general
ideas, will flood back and flow onto the printed
page exactly as they were in the original. By no
means all of them are recaptured, however.
Moreover, those old thoughts will be re-edited as
I write. A number of new ones will be added. New
ways of expression will come to mind. Newly
developed notions will creep in and impose
themselves on the original text. So, unless I
make an extremely rigorous effort to ignore all
new ideas, I end up with a completely different
manuscript. Even if I try, and succeed fairly
well at keeping to the job of reproducing the
original text as accurately as possible, if I had
hidden the original text instead of having lost
it, and then fished it out and compared it with
the new one, there would be enormous differences.
This merely underscores the difference between my
memory and the computer's because the computer is
going to bring back that memory exactly as I
deposited it. It may "crash" out,
technologically, but if it is recalled at all it
will be recalled perfectly and I will never have
any doubt about its complete fidelity to the
original I deposited.
admire the computer's brain and rely upon it, but
this means that I have a new auxiliary to my own
brain. The screen that shows the computer's
memory to me will help me do anything I want with
that text, at any time I want. So I am given a
considerably enhanced control over my ideas. My
ideas are no longer dependent upon the intrinsic
biological capacities of my memory system. They
have acquired a new facility and a new capacity.
In a sense this is as if the computer had put a
new archival function inside my brain where I can
use it as an auxiliary to operate more of a
letter perfect memory system than the one I was
born with. I possess a new "virtual
archive". This frees my biological brain for
considerably more elaborate archival functions
and hence facilitates me to do much more
sophisticated craft work on my ideas.
third, archival hemisphere operates as if it were
really a part of my brain. The main difference is
that it is completely docile and tractable. It
does not engage in the headstrong willfulness and
trickery that my biological brain sometimes does.
This is not a defect in my biological brain and
is instead the source of much creativity. However
it would be a defect if in my archival brain. Nor
does the archival brain atrophy my biological
brain. For my computer's brain is not, as yet, a
stand-alone brain. As an archival extention of my
own brain it permits me to operate at a higher
level than would otherwise be possible.
allows me to be an "over-rider" as well
as a thought maker. I can over-ride the auxiliary
brain system that has been added to my biological
brain. Becoming an over-rider has curious
consequences. For one thing, I am an over-rider
of a new mind, which is me plus my 3rd
hemisphere. That puts me in a higher position,
promoting my mind to a higher status.
the three semiotic revolutions of chapter one.
Today we are at the fourth. My mind is just
beginning to learn how to use its new fourth
stage archival functions. I sit at my stage four
computer and process the ideational and
constructional activities of my mind in a new
way. This will change the human mind as surely as
did the rod, scroll, codex and book.
it also seems possible that we are now developing
a new thought-consciousness. Our intuitive
awareness of this fact accounts, I believe, for
the characteristic love affair people come to
have with their computers. To the outsider they
are "computer nuts" or
"nerds." The outsider can never
understand one thing the present analysis makes
clear. People who fall in love with their
computers are really falling in love with their
own minds, and the stunning new Boolean
capabilities it makes possible.
proposition is that a new dimension of the mind,
and therefore a new human archival mind, may now
be emerging as a result of the Boolean
Revolution. The effect of creating a 3rd
hemisphere is to create for the mind a virtual
archive to assist the brain's higher reflexional
operations. Potentially it has all the
capabilities on the personal level that the
virtual library has on the institutional level.
of the pundits at Harvard and Berkeley now claim
that America is finished. Certainly there are
many objective signs that this is so. America's
industrial decline is alarming. The nation is
technically bankrupt. Social, educational and
health services have been reduced to the level of
a second class nation. Illiteracy and poverty are
spreading. A college education is beyond the
means of the poor. The proportion of our national
income devoted to pure science is declining.
Fractionated families outnumber intact ones. A
large proportion of infants spend babyhood in
institutional babycare centers.
in the electoral process threatens to decline
below 50% of our adult citizens. In our
literature, picaresque and violent heroes have
supplanted straight-arrow exemplary models. There
is a communication disjunction between the
political elite and the intellectual elite. The
bright human-itarian promise of mid century seems
irreparably shattered. As the 20th century draws
to its close there is a widespread mal de siecle.
All these are signs of trouble. Many have
characterized prior times of trouble. St.
Augustine voiced similar sentiments about his own
times, consolidating as he wrote the Codex
Revolution. Bacon foresaw the outbreak of
revolution from the north, consolidating as he
wrote the Gutenberg Revolution.
there is one domain that remains vital, vibrant
and on the verge of a progressive expansion. The
archival function seems about to generate a new
stage in human cognitive evolution. It should be
clear from the foregoing chapters that I believe
it will have an impact as revolutionary as did
the Baconian revolution.