Sunday, 29 December 2013


13. Scripts
The notion of scripts is useful to make theories of knowledge, meaning and innovation more concrete, to connect them to practical action, and to clarify different levels of innovation.

A script is a network of connected nodes that represent component activities (in case of a practice) or notions (in case of a concept or theory), or variables (in a mathematical formula). Connections between nodes may indicate temporal order, causation, or logical inference.
The classic example is the script of a restaurant, with a sequence of nodes of entry, seating, selecting food, ordering, eating, paying and leaving. When self-service restaurants emerged, the order of nodes was changed into: entry, selection, paying, seating, eating, and leaving.

This had consequences not only for the order of nodes but also for their content. Selecting food from a menu now becomes selecting items of food from shelves and putting them on a tray.

In the brain, scripts are embodied in networks of neuronal connections and patterns of neuronal firing.

In perception, sense impressions are assimilated in one or more nodes in existing scripts, and thereby trigger the full scripts. Entering a restaurant I interpret what I see in terms of the restaurant script. If no scripts are triggered in which perceptions ‘fit’, they are ignored, or not even registered, and there fails to be perception.

Scripts can also be triggered internally, without perception, in thought. In dreams they yield an experience of seeing without looking, and they fracture in mental anarchy.

The script notion entails that perception is always already an interpretation, modelled here as assimilation into one or more scripts. When a slot is found in a script for the perception to fit in, the whole of the script is tentatively attributed to what is perceived, even when not all is perceived. In philosophy and psychology this is known as Gestalt.

This greatly helps identification and fast and coherent response to perception, which serves survival of the self. It also entails prejudice, invalid attribution. A gesture towards a pocket is falsely interpreted as the reach for a gun, and the innocent passer-by is shot. 

Scripts serve to identify an individual thing as having a place in one or more scripts. We recognize someone from a combination of features according to the script. In a restaurant I will expect a different chair from what I expect in a dentist’s clinic. What scripts are triggered depends on the context.

When a perception triggers several scripts at the same time, this can lead to tentative connections between them, in association, which may be strengthened or weakened in subsequent perception and action.

In the brain, this is embodied in changes of patterns of neuronal firing by changes of synaptic thresholds.

As a result, scripts serve to identify and make sense of perception but are also affected by it, in ‘novel combinations’ and shifts of concepts, yielding a recombination of nodes in novel scripts. How that may happen is discussed later, in an item on invention.

Scripts are nested, in scripts on different levels, with subscripts and superscripts. A restaurant script forms a node in a wider script of location, traffic, people going out, supply to the restaurant, etc. The node for payment, in the restaurant script, entails a number of alternative scripts of payment: cash, cheque, or card.

In innovation, the script notion serves to clarify different levels of innovation: novel ways of conducting actions in a node (a new subscript in the node), novel nodes (repertoires of subscripts), novel architectures (e.g. sequences) of nodes, and insertion in novel superscripts. The latter entails the use of a notion in novel contexts.

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