Archive for June, 2015

June 18, 2015

Making sense of a strange world

by Neil Rickert

In my prior post, I suggested that the role of perception was to allow an organism to make sense of the strange world where it finds itself.

We actually know something about how to do this.  We have examples from history to guide us.

Explorers

Perhaps the best examples are explorers.  They go into unfamiliar territory, and attempt to make it more familiar, more understandable.  And perhaps their most important way of doing this is by making maps.

Their map may start as little more than a blank sheet of paper.  As they explore, they look for major features such as mountains and rivers.  And then enter those onto the map in the appropriate relation to one another.  As then add features, the map begins to take shape and the structure of the territory begins to emerge.

Later another explorer, or perhaps the original explorer, may reenter the territory.  And, as they spot the major features, then can orient their location to what is shown on the map.  They can now add minor features to help further flesh out what we can know about the territory that they are exploring.

June 11, 2015

An alternative to design thinking

by Neil Rickert

In the previous post, I criticized Searle’s design thinking.  Today I want to suggest an alternative.

The trouble with design thinking

Design thinking seems to be common in philosophy and in AI.  The problem is that we end up attempting to design ourselves.  We look at ourselves as the intended finished product.  And we want what we design to have the same concepts, the same beliefs, the same ideas of truth.

There is a lot of talk about autonomous agents.  But can an agent be truly autonomous if we require it to have our own concepts and our own beliefs?  This, I think, is why we often have the intuition that an AI system won’t really be making decisions — it will, instead, be a mechanization of the designer’s intended decision making.

An alternative

The alternative is to try to understand the problem than an organism or a perceptual system is attempting to solve.  And then, once we understand the problem, we can look into ways of solving that problem.

June 3, 2015

Searle’s design thinking

by Neil Rickert

While reading Searle’s perception book, I came across this passage:

Think of the problem from a designer point of view. Suppose you are God or evolution and you are designing organisms capable of coping with their environment in spectacularly successful ways. First, you create an environment that has objects with shapes, sizes, movements, etc. Furthermore, you create an environment with differential light reflectances. Then you create organisms with spectacularly rich visual capacities. Within certain limits, the whole world is open to their visual awareness. But now you need to create a specific set of perceptual organizations where specific visual experiences are internally tied to specific features of the world, such that being those features involves the capacity to produce those sorts of experiences. Reality is not dependent on experience, but conversely. The concept of the reality in question already involves the causal capacity to produce certain sorts of experiences. So the reason that these experiences present red objects is that the very fact of being a red object involves a capacity to produce this sort of experience. Being a straight line involves the capacity to produce this other sort of experience. The upshot is that organisms cannot have these experiences without it seeming to them that they are seeing a red object or a straight line, and that “”seeming to them”” marks the intrinsic intentionality of the perceptual experience. (page 129)

I’m not surprised by that kind of design thinking.  I have long thought that such design thinking is the background to much of philosophy.  It is, however, a little strange to be calling on evolution as a designer and as having a designer point of view.  Even worse is the idea of evolution wanting to “create organisms with spectacularly rich visual capacities.”