But what about the whole process of human thinking? What does it ultimately involve? My strong suspicion is that the use of memory is what in fact underlies almost every major aspect of human thinking.

Capabilities like generalization, analogy and intuition immediately seem very closely related to the ability to retrieve data from memory on the basis of similarity. But what about capabilities like logical reasoning? Do these perhaps correspond to a higher-level type of human thinking?

In the past it was often thought that logic might be an appropriate idealization for all of human thinking. And largely as a result of this, practical computer systems have always treated logic as something quite fundamental. But it is my strong suspicion that in fact logic is very far from fundamental, particularly in human thinking.

For among other things, whereas in the process of thinking we routinely manage to retrieve remarkable connections almost instantaneously from memory, we tend to be able to carry out logical reasoning only by laboriously going from one step to the next. And my strong suspicion is that when we do this we are in effect again just using memory, and retrieving patterns of logical argument that we have learned from experience.

In modern times computer languages have often been thought of as providing precise ways to represent processes that might otherwise be carried out by human thinking. But it turns out that almost all of the major languages in use today are based on setting up procedures that are in essence direct analogs of step-by-step logical arguments.

As it happens, however, one notable exception is Mathematica. And indeed, in designing Mathematica, I specifically tried to imitate the way that humans seem to think about many kinds of computations. And the structure that I ended up coming up with for Mathematica can be viewed as being not unlike a precise idealization of the operation of human memory.

For at the core of Mathematica is the notion of storing collections of rules in which each rule specifies how to transform all pieces of data that are similar enough to match a single Mathematica pattern. And the success of Mathematica provides considerable evidence for the power of this kind of approach.

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From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]