Information Processing
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Method -- Information Processing Techniques

This page is an on-line supplement to Neigh The Front- Exploring Scarboro Heights.

Now, we must consider "how" to perform your task (the "Method" in your science experiment).  Here are the subjects that are covered in this on-line unit:

  • Learning and "The Three Rs"
  • What is "Information"
  • Tools and Techniques for Processing Information in the Brain
  • Yes / No
  • Patterns -- Behaviour and Descriptive
  • Relationship
  • Cause and Effect
  • Similarity, Classification and Grouping
  • Sorting
  • Approximation
  • Apply Limit Conditions
  • Summarize and Organize -- Make an Outline


Learning and "The Three Rs"

My grade seven teacher told the class once: "From the time you’re about five until about Grade Five, you learn to read. After that, you read to learn." A Guidance teacher in my high school took this one step further: "The best way to learn is to write".

To know how to read is crucial in life. Reading is the first of The Three Rs. You have to understand what you are being told before you can respond. A huge percentage of the information that you are given in life is non-verbal. That is, what you are being told is either on paper or on-line. No one is standing there to tell you verbally what it is that you need to know. What you read is "input information" to your brain.

The second of The Three Rs is "Writing" -- (‘go figure’ or ask your English teacher to explain this quirk in spelling!) Your response to what you are being "told" can either be verbal or non-verbal. If no one is there to listen to your response, then you have to "put it in writing" -- either on paper or on-line. What you write is "output information" from your brain.

We use the alphabet and the rules of grammar and sentence structure to translate information from the paper to the brain and back again.

The third of The Three Rs is "Rithmetic" -- arithmetic of course! What dictionary were those guys using? Arithmetic is a simple set of rules which helps us process and manipulate certain types of information with the help of the number system. In a sense, "grammar means to words" as "arithmetic means to numbers"-- these are the rules of communicating information. Even some things in nature that do not seem to obviously involve numbers can be partly processed or approximated or "modelled" using mathematics, a more general tool than arithmetic. Powerful computers perform complex mathematical calculations to show us what something will look like if we change one particular aspect by a particular amount.

But there are some things in life that simply can’t be fully understood or explained or predicted using even the most advanced mathematical model and the most powerful computer. For these things, we need reason and the human brain.


The Fourth R -- Reason

I honestly can’t believe that no one has ever discussed learning’s Fourth R -- "Reason" (aka "rational thought") .  Of course, I don’t mean "reason" in the sense that ... "Mom, why can’t I stay up and watch the Leafs game?" "Because I said so!" Mom’s reasons for doing or not doing something are always unquestionable -- even though you may still disagree with her!

But, think now... Mom’s "reason" actually lacks a logical argument. What is the basis for her response to your question? She really seems to have no real reason at all! But if the TV guide said that the Leafs game is in Vancouver and the game won’t be over until 11:00 PM Vancouver time and you have an exam tomorrow morning in Scarborough -- hey, now she really does have a good reason to not let you watch the hockey game! Her verbal statement, "Because I said so!", is simply the output that she gave you after her brain analyzed and processed certain input information.


First, let’s define the term information as "anything that removes some doubt". Here is an example of a situation where there seems to be some doubt, together with bits of information that attempt to remove some of that doubt:





1 What is the exact colour of the book? Red
2 What is the exact colour of the book? Similar to the colour of your coat
3 What is the exact colour of the book? The same as the colour of my mood right now
4 What is the exact colour of the book? The colour at the least refracted end of the visible spectrum
5 What is the exact colour of the book? Like a bath drawn by the devil

Notice that only in Case 1 did we seem to get a straight answer. And I say seem because the colour of red itself depends on the observer. What is red to one person may be crimson to another. All of the above bits of information require some interpretation on the part of the listener. Computers handle this type of information very poorly (if at all). The human brain, on the other hand, has a broader range of experience that can be used to help process the information. For example "I see red" is an expression that means "I am very angry". Also, we usually associate the colour red with something hot, as in "red-hot". Depending on experience and other factors, the human brain is capable of interpreting information Cases 2 to 5. We can then output the result as "red".

This type of information processing is called "interpretation" or "analysis". To get to the final answer, "red", we must look at our information in every possible way that we can. Just what does this reference to the visible spectrum have to do with the colour of the book? Of course, you have to know a little about the physics of light to accurately interpret this bit of information.

Now consider the following situations and bits of information.




6 Is your first book red? Yes
7 How many books do you have? Three
8 How many of your books have 100 pages or more? 1
9 How many of your books have less than 100 pages? You figure it out.

In Case 6, the only doubt that remains is whether or not this particular shade of "red" would be "red" to everyone else or perhaps bright brown or crimson or dull orange. But then, who cares? It’s only the colour of a book. Spending a lot of time and energy determing the "true" colour of a book does not seem to be worthwhile unless other information is available that gives the real purpose and impact of this information.

In Cases 7 to 9, the information is much more precise and all doubt is removed. Computers are capable of handling these situations fairly well depending on how they are fed the inputs such as the number of pages in each book. In Case 9, the computer is told to perform a simple arithmetic calculation based on information that it has stored -- 3 minus 1. Computers do this very well indeed.

Just as a computer is a tool for doing arithmetic calculations, a Dictionary is a tool for understanding the information that you read. If your dictionary says something like: "Reason: ... to reorganize, interpret and analyze information for a particular purpose", then you’ve got a pretty good dictionary. Keep it handy because a good dictionary is very important for life-long learning and, hence, for getting what you want out of life.


Tools and Techniques for
Processing Information in the Brain

Here are some "tools" or techniques that will help you interpret and analyze information:

Yes / No

As illustrated in Case 6 above, the simplest way to remove doubt is to answer "yes" or "no" to a clear question that can, in fact, be answered either "yes" or "no".

Patterns -- Behaviour and Descriptive

Here’s an example. We count from zero to nine using ten different digits, 0, 1, 2 and so on to 9, counting only 1 at a time. When we finally count out nine ones, we next put a 1 in the tens column and start again from zero in the ones column. So we then have (1 x 10) plus (0 x 1) = 10. We keep counting by increasing the ones column and then the tens column. When we fnally count out nine tens and nine ones, we next put a 1 in the hundreds column and start from zero in the tens column and from zero in the ones column again. So we then have (1 x 100) plus (0 x 10) plus (0 x 1) = 100. Once we recognize this pattern of behaviour of our number system, arithmetic suddenly becomes both easier to understand and a very powerful tool. Recognizing other patterns around allows us to reduce a large amount of confusing information to a smaller amount of well-organized information.


Consider this relationship between a bicycle and its owner: A particular boy may own many bicycles and a particular bicycle may be owned by at most one boy at any particular time. This seems to be a pretty good way to describe the concept of bicycle ownership. Now suppose that two boys declare that they both own the same bicycle at the same time. Your analysis of this information should show that at least one of them is not telling the truth. To a very large degree, our legal system (and society in general) revolve around and reflect many evolving relationships. It is your job as a member of society to understand these relationships and how they are evolving. The Marketing industry analyzes huge amounts of information that is based on relationships -- and your Mom and Dad have the junk mail to prove it!

Cause and Effect

This is a special kind of relationship. A car’s brakes are applied by the driver to stop the car when necessary. If the driver does not apply the brakes, the car simply won’t stop until something stops the car (for example, a bridge abutment). Application of the brakes (the cause) has the effect of stopping the car relatively quickly. Suppose you receive this information -- "that old car only has 5% of its original brake disc material". Since you know about the cause and effect relationship between brakes and stopping, your analysis should quickly show there is a chance that this car’s brakes may fail which may result in an accident. Therefore you recommend that the brakes be fixed immediately. Engineers are constantly analyzing data associated with cause and effect relationships -- many of which are extremely complex.

Similarity, Classification and Grouping

You should also recognize that certain things are similar to certain other things. These things may share some properties or qualities and behaviour. The animal kingdom, for instance, has been classified on the basis of certain similarities between species. For example, reptiles are animals that are cold-blooded while mammals secrete milk to nourish their young. While two different species may share certain properties, they will typically also have unique properties that set them apart.


You can sort bits of information from smallest to biggest, biggest to smallest, youngest to oldest, oldest to youngest etc. Sorted information can help you see patterns that would not be obvious in the unsorted information.


You don’t always need to be exact. You may receive information that appears to be incomplete or approximate. You may have to measure a distance by counting your steps because you did not have a measuring tape at the time. Depending on the nature of the problem, you may still come up with a reasonably acceptable conclusion. In these cases, you should declare that your analysis may not be precise because of the inaccurate data or the approximate methods of analysis (or perhaps both).

Apply Limit Conditions

Sometimes, when you’re uncertain how something will "turn out" it helps to say "what if the block was really really big" and "what if the block was really really small".

Summarize and Organize -- Make an Outline

The final step in processing information is to summarize everything that you know about the problem. Remember that your purpose was to change the information into an output format that is more useful to a larger number of people. To prepare yourself for the output stage, you should end the information processing stage by organizing just how you would like to present your new information. Do this by making an outline -- use major, minor and sub headings such as in the Table of Contents of Neigh The Front. You don’t need to spend long on this -- once you start writing, you can modify your outline.


In summary, to reason something out is to take the information that you’re given (something you hear, see, touch, smell, taste or (of course) read) and process that information for some purpose. Your response to the input information is your output. This output is very often in writing. Your output is often intended to help get you what you want or to achieve something positive for society. Regardless, your output should present key information in a form that is more organized and "useful" than the "raw" disorganized input information that you had received.


Analysis -- Individual Exercises

1) Draw a diagram showing the relationship between reading, reason and writing.

2) Fill in the blank: A computer means to mathematics just as __________ means to reason.

3) Define the word "tool".

4) Is a computer a tool? Explain.

5) For the Counting pattern example above, make a diagram of what you think the author is saying. In otherwords, make the "pattern" actually "look" like a pattern.


Analysis -- Exercises in Class

1) Identify and discuss some general sources of input information to your brain.

2) Identify and discuss the specific information that Mother processed prior to telling you to not watch the hockey game.

3) How many of  The Four Rs did mother use? Explain.

4) Discuss the tools that you can use to process information.

5) Discuss the term "to process".

6) Discuss the Class "Vehicles". Identify four sub-classes under the Class "Vehicles". List the properties that the four sub-classes have in common. List the sub-class properties that set the sub-classes apart from one another.

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