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Design for How People Think by John Whalen

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Part I Rethinking “the” Experience

[ Part I ]

Rethinking “the” Experience

It’s pretty common for people to ask, “What do you do?” When I tell someone I’m a psychologist, they think they know what I do, but when I tell them I’m a cognitive scientist they know they don’t know what I do.

Generally, cognitive science is the study of cognition–thinking–and all the mental processes that go into recognizing objects, using a language, reasoning, and problem solving. I believe you will discover a new and valuable reframing of what an experience is (and how to design one).

While we all experience consciousness, there are a myriad of cognitive processes that are highly automated and subconscious. For example, how is it that you just know a chair is a chair? Your visual system identifies figure from ground, composes three dimensions from a two-dimensional image on the back of your eye, and eventually relates that image to other ones you’ve stored in memory and relates that concept to a linguistic element (“chair”).

If there are that many steps in recognizing a chair–each with their own specialized processing systems–we should consider the processes that compose an experience. In Part I of this book, I propose while an event might be “an experience” to us consciously, it is actually a symphony of many different cognitive processes in the brain.

By looking at each one in turn, we can identify the components of “an experience,” and what we need to build to generate a new one. There are almost ...

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