Posts tagged ‘cognitive agent’

May 15, 2016

Cognition and information

by Neil Rickert

As cognitive agents, we inform ourselves about the world and we use that information to control our behavior.  We also report information to others, as I am doing in this blog post.  This post is part of a series on my own philosophy.  It will mainly be about the meaning of the word “information” as I use it when discussing cognition.

Shannon information

I shall be using “information” to refer to what is often called Shannon Information, after the work of Claude Shannon.  The term “Shannon Information” has come to mean information in the form of a structured sequence of symbols, such as a natural language sentence or a data transmission stream on the Internet.  Shannon’s own research was not limited to the use of transmission in discrete units (such as words or bits), but its main use is with discrete units.

Shannon information is often criticized as being an entirely syntactic view of information.  Shannon was concerned with communication, with getting the stream of discrete symbols from the source to the destination.  His theory is not concerned with issues of meaning or semantics.

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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.

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May 4, 2014

Coffee cups and donuts

by Neil Rickert

There’s a saying among mathematicians, that a topologist is someone who cannot tell the difference between a coffee cup and a donut.  I’ll discuss that in this post, and I’ll suggest implications beyond mathematics.

Usually, when we say this, we are thinking of the donut and the coffee cup as two-dimensional surfaces.  Once we go to the three-dimensional objects, nobody denies that the donut has a soft and spongy texture which makes it clearly different from a coffee cup.

Topology

Let’s start with a brief rundown on what is topology.  It is a branch of mathematics where we discuss ideas such as continuity, convergence, etc.  A classic example of convergence is with the sequence 0.9, 0.99, 0.999, …  We can see that the sequence gets closer and closer to 1, and we say that it converges to 1.  So topology has something to do with the geometric ideas of getting closer.  But it does so without needing a notion of metric (or distance).

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December 9, 2012

Perception – an introduction

by Neil Rickert

I am starting a series of posts on perception.  I will mainly be discussing my own ideas about perception.  If you are looking for the conventional wisdom on perception, then this is the wrong place.

Note that I will also be continuing my discussion of how science works in other posts.

What is perception?

I will be roughly following J.J. Gibson’s view of what is perception.  That is to say, I consider perception to be a process whereby we — or, more generally, cognitive agents — obtain information about the environment.  Gibson distinguished between perception and sensation, where “sensation” refers to the particular experience that we have of the environment, what some consider to be a kind of internal picture.

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June 4, 2012

On natural abiogenesis – give that man a PhD

by Neil Rickert

We all know what BS stands for.  MS means “more of the same”, and PhD means “piled higher and deeper.”  (A joke that used to circulate around college campuses).

A post at Uncommon Descent, titled “On the Impossibility of Abiogenesis” purports to prove that natural abiogenesis is impossible.  I shall detail why I see it as piled higher and deeper with nonsense.  The post is by niwrad, and I shall be quoting parts of that post and then commenting on them.

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March 9, 2012

Semantics and measurement

by Neil Rickert

There are many different conceptions of “information.”  The most important of those is that due to Claude Shannon, and often referred to as “Shannon Information“.  Shannon was particularly concerned with communication and with the problem of avoiding or minimizing loss of information due to transmission over an imperfect channel.

As used today, we typically think of Shannon information being transmitted as a sequence of symbols, often as a stream of binary digits. It is considered to be a theory of syntactic information, since the engineering considerations that motivated Shannon’s work are concerned with delivery of the symbols and questions of what those symbols mean is secondary and outside Shannon’s theory.

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March 4, 2012

The reliability of perception

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post about Plantinga’s argument against naturalism, John Wilkins quotes Plantinga as arguing:

If our cognitive faculties have originated as Dawkins thinks, then their ultimate purpose or function (if they have a purpose or function) will be something like survival (of individual, species, gene, or genotype); but then it seems initially doubtful that among their functions—ultimate, proximate, or otherwise—would be the production of true beliefs.

John Wilkins seems to think that this is an objection that deserves a response, arguing that selection for fitness will provide a perception that generates true beliefs.

I disagree.  Plantinga is quite right.  There is no basis for expecting that perception of an evolved organism will produce true beliefs.  However, that’s a rather  hollow “victory” for Plantinga.  For there is also no basis for expecting that perception will produce false beliefs.  Quite simply, truth or falsity is not a criterion for perception.  As Al Gore might have put it, there is no controlling authority.

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February 22, 2012

The Neil deGrasse Tyson discussions

by Neil Rickert

There have been several recent posts at Jerry Coyne’s site, related to the views of Neil deGrasse Tyson.  They began with “Neil deGrasse Tyson goes all militant“, and there are followup posts here and here.

My personal take on the first of those posts was that I did not see Tyson as going all militant.  In fact, I did not see his comments on religion as much different from what I have seen in other video talks, though he does raise some interesting questions.

In any case, those posts and the featured videos are worth reading and watching.

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February 5, 2012

Cognition is measurement

by Neil Rickert

The conventional view appears to be that perception is passive.  Observations somehow pop into our heads, and we just have to apply logic to determine what it is that we are observing.  However, getting useful information about the world is more difficult than that, as I suggested in an earlier post.

We often hear variations of the slogan “cognition is computation” and sometimes people seem to be taking that as fact rather than as a slogan or a hypothesis.  It is a slogan that comes from the idea of perception as passive.  I am suggesting “cognition is measurement” as an alternative slogan and hypothesis.  I use the term “measurement” broadly, to describe activity undertaken get useful information about the world.  So I will take perception to involve measurement activity.

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January 22, 2012

Getting information

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I wrote:

That leaves, as one of the basic problems for a cognitive agent, the problem of getting information about the world.

In this post, I want to discuss why that is a problem.

Many people seem to hold the view that sensory cells in the body passively receive input from the world, and that how we perceive the world depends on what we do with that passively received data.  That seems to be the view of proponents of sense-data accounts and of proponents of computationalism.

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