We, as humans, are in general terrible at processing information in an orderly fashion. In fact, we are great at processing it in a DIS-orderly fashion. Our brains are not computers. We use a lot of intuition when we process information, juggle facts and come to wacky conclusions about the world. We tend not to remember precisely what was in a 3-page document, but we retain the gist of it in our subconscious, so that when we come across a related piece of knowledge, we can just pull that memory out and, if necessary, dig up the whole article again and reread it.
In short, we are good at "association" and "disassembly" of information, but not great at the pure memorization of facts. A computer is great at the latter, but then again can't do very much with those facts. When you have a discourse with google, it may lead you through to the kind of info you are after, but correcting your typos, filling in the gaps, and digging up similar searches. But it won't actually tell you anything you don't already know. It is up to you to do that when you read the results, and for you to conclude what to do next.
The human brain of course works in a different way to a computer/the internet. But is there a way to harness and combine the positives from each, to bring forth a much better way of processing information? How can we brutally utilize the boring but lightning fast store-and-retrieve capabilities of the computer, with the interesting but dog-slow associate-and-conclude capabilities of the human brain?
Actually, let's look at these in a slightly different way: the creative act of associate-disassemble-conclude is an iterative thought process. Think about achieving a task: objective is to get from A to B, there are obstacles in the way, so human thinking process throws up a whole host of routes, then, strangely, decides that one route looks the best. Computer runs through the NP-complete process (when you scale it with many obstacles) of combinatorially figuring out every route and measuring against the fitness parameter (say, time taken, or distance travelled) before it concludes with its final route. (Of course, you can run stochastic or genetic algorithms on this too, which takes out some of the computation, but this isn't relevant for my point). the human's thinking process also does not scale well for this type of problem either by the way, but then again, we have cunning ways of reducing an initially complex-looking problem to one that is not so complex (viz: sometimes a lack of clarity can reveal the big picture faster). Again, not relevant for this little point.
So, computer thinks in a sort of "run as fast as you can" way, whilst the human lazily and slowly reduces what he needs to do, and looks at the problem in a more general and less precise way. But what is going on in the human head to produce a set of plausible routes? I don't think we can say that the brain is working out a sequence of nodes, more likely it is designing a nice pattern. Association is all about patterns. The brain is the master of pattern matching and comparing similar shapes, time sequences, sounds etc. That has evolved from the necessity of surviving in a world represented through senses that produce 2 & 3D maps of the world, and a natural environment that demanded we take note of subtle differences in pattern, colour, light and dark, song, taste and so on. The brain is just a ninja at all this.
So how do we harness? How do we combine these different powers to fill in our inadequacies and become great information processors? I have an idea about that, but it is still very fresh. It is about utilizing the processing as much as the representation of information as favoured by the brain. The brain is also a truly agile entity, and loves to iterate, correct, learn while doing. This process will help us to move from the "up in the air set of brainstormed ideas" through to the favoured set of conclusions.
What I have said is no different to what we already know when we take part in brainstorming exercises: we have all seen the power of this, and the power of "thinking outside the box". What I am deliberating here is how to bottle this into a process that we can then use for much better day-to-day processing of information, without turning the human into a computer, and using the machine to boost our intuitive knowledge processing powers.
I have not come out with any big conclusions here, but would be interested to hear other peoples' thoughts.