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Dynamic empathy: A new formulation for the simulation theory of mind reading

The intro to Teed Rockwell’s paper:

There are currently two popular theories for explaining “mind reading” i.e. our ability to become aware of what other people are feeling and thinking, and to predict (and/or respond skillfully to) behavior on the basis of that awareness. The first, known as the theory-theory (TT), claims that we have a theory of mind, which we use to make sense out of both our own and other people’s behavior. The second, known as the simulation theory (ST), has taken on two importantly different meanings.

(1) The first meaning is “equated with… imaginatively ‘putting oneself in the other’s place”’ (Gordon, 2004). Because the words ‘imaginative” and “imagine” are different forms of the word “image”, this definition seems to imply something like “creating an image in the mind”, and could include all five sensory modalities, not just audio-visual. There are arguably problems with thinking of this diverse range of qualities in the pictorial terms implied by the word “image”. However, this is very much in line with the traditional British Empiricist view. The Empiricists usually used visual examples like triangles and patches of red as their prototypes for “ideas”, and then used that word to refer to all sorts of sensations and feelings, including more qualitatively complex feelings such as thirst, hunger, disgust, fear, etc.

(2) Gordon also points out that ST refers to simulations of mental states where the pictorial connotations of “image” are much more problematic. These interpretations rely on the association of the word “simulation” with pretense or hypothetical “acting out”.

One’s own behavior control system is employed as a manipulable model of other such systems… The system is first taken off-line, so that the output is not actual behavior but only predictions or anticipations of behavior (Gordon, 2004).

According to this view, any aspect of our mental life can be turned into a simulation by taking it off-line—not just images and feelings, but abstract thoughts such as beliefs, desires, and decisions. Abstract thoughts of this sort include what are called the propositional attitudes, because they are focused towards a claim expressible in a proposition. (I believe/desire/ have decided that Paris is the capital of France, the war in Iraq must end, etc.) Because theories are ordinarily thought of as being sets of propositions, many people argue that there is no important difference between “simulating” these kinds of verbalizable thoughts and thinking them yourself, and thus the Simulation Theory collapses into the Theory Theory. (This requires the plausible assumption that thinking about something requires having a theory about it.)

It would take at least another whole paper to paraphrase and respond to the detailed and ingenious replies made by ST theorists to this objection (see especially Goldman, 2006, pp. 30–40). Most of them involve accepting what Goldman calls a hybrid theory, which describes mind reading as requiring both theories and simulations. The debate then continues as each side either defends or attacks claims that all alleged simulations in such a hybrid system can actually be reduced to theories, which in turn requires arguing over exactly what a theory is. The problem has become so complex that some have argued that we ought to drop the term “simulation” altogether (Stich & Nichols, 1992).

I personally find the criticisms made by TT theorists to be reasonably convincing, and agree with Stich and Nichols that the current defense of ST has made it hard to tell the difference between a theory and a simulation. I do believe, however, that the Simulation Theory got something importantly right, which would be lost if we retreated to a pure Theory Theory. The goal of this paper is to preserve these essential insights with a redefined Simulation Theory, which returns to an idea inspired by the first of Gordon’s descriptions of simulation, i.e. as a kind of “movie” consisting of perceptual sensations. I think the hybrid TT/ST theory does explain much (perhaps most) of what can be called mind reading. But I also believe that there is a kind of mind reading which is in a certain sense purely “perceptual” and unaided by any verbal theoretical elements. I understand why Gordon, Goldman and the other defenders of the Simulation Theory have not taken this route. There are excellent reasons, with a distinguished lineage, for rejecting pure ST. In the following section, I am going to trace that lineage. I will then argue that something like a pure ST is possible, if we greatly expand our concepts of “simulation” and “perception” by using conceptual resources from connectionist neuroscience. However, once these concepts are taken out of the brain and put into the world, there is no longer a compelling reason to always refer to our awareness of other minds as being a simulation. In certain circumstances, it arguably makes more sense to say that I share the same emotion with another person, rather than make a simulation of their emotion in my own private mind.

1. The Kantian objection to the simulation theory

In many ways, the argument between the Theory-Theory and the Pure Simulation Theory is the same argument that Kant and Hume had about the true nature of ideas. Hume and the other British empiricists thought that an idea was a particular ‘image’ in one of the sensory modalities, such as a red triangle or the taste of chocolate. These images were also capable of being shaped in a variety of ways by the faculty of imagination once they were received by the mind. Hume apparently believed that imagination was all that was needed to give these particular images the powers rationalists attributed to generalized abstractions.

Kant, however, argued that no image could ever do the work of a concept. The concept of triangle applies to triangles of mutually exclusive shapes and sizes, and therefore such an image of a “Universal Triangle” would be self-contradictory. The later Wittgenstein raised a similar objection to his earlier picture theory of language by pointing out that a picture of a man walking down a hill could just as easily be a picture of a man walking up a hill backwards. It is only our interpretation of the picture that makes it one or the other, just as it is our interpretation that decides that an image of a red triangle is an example of a triangle, rather than an example of a red thing. Jerry Fodor labeled this Humean position the resemblance theory and raised this objection to it.

The difficulty with the resemblance theory is that any portrait showing John to be tall must also show him to be many other things: clothed or naked, lying standing or sitting, having a head or not having a head, and so on. A portrait of a tall man who is sitting resembles a man’s being seated, as much as it resembles a man being tall. On the resemblance theory, it is not clear what distinguishes thoughts about John’s height from thoughts about his posture (Fodor, 1981, pp. 127–128).

The resemblance theory is the genus of which the pure simulation theory is a species, and the latter is thus vulnerable to all of these objections. Kant claimed that the only way to deal with this problem was to see an idea not as an image, but as a verbalizable theoretical rule. To have a concept of a triangle or dog is to have some sort of criteria or set of definitions that identifies all the different triangles or dogs. Even though a picture of a particular dog may be similar to all other dogs, It is also similar to countless other things. The only way you can make a distinction between relevant and irrelevant similarities is with a rule that connects the image to other members (and only other members) of the same category. Similarly, being able to simulate someone else’s emotions or beliefs is not going to help you “read her mind” unless you have some sort of theory that enables you to classify the simulated emotions and beliefs into some kind of category, such as fear or pain.

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THE WEB-EXTENDED MIND

Well, this article was inevitable – first mentioned here). Francis Heylighen has been talking about this for a few years now as has myself in discussing Hayek, distributed cognition and co-evolved mind and sociality not to mention my ongoing interest in stigmergy which I argue is a species of EM.

Abstract: This article explores the notion of the Web-extended mind, which is the idea that the technological and informational elements of the Web can sometimes serve as part of the mechanistic substrate that realizes human mental states and processes. It is argued that while current forms of the Web may not be particularly suited to the realization of Web-extended minds, new forms of user interaction technology as well as new approaches to information representation do provide promising new opportunities for Web-based forms of cognitive extension. In addition, it is suggested that extended cognitive systems often rely on the emergence of social practices and conventions that shape how a technology is used. Web-extended minds may thus depend on forms of socio-technical co-evolution in which social forces and factors play just as important a role as do the processes of technology design and development.

Keywords: cognition, cognitive extension, cognitive technology, extended mind, Internet, linked data, Web science, World Wide Web.

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Collective Intelligence 2012

Just under a week until the CI2012 shindig – as it so happens I’m busy co-writing a paper and co-editing a themed issue of Cognitive Systems Research on a species of CI – surprise, surprise “stigmergy.”

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Hayek’s Self-organizing Mental Order and Folk-Psychological Theories of the Mind

Here is the Introduction to Chiara Chelini’s paper, the full version available here.

Humans are social creatures and they deeply rely on mentalizing, which aims at understanding other people behaviours and formulating expectations about their future actions. The existence of inner mental states has been postulated in order to give an explanatory account of the observed behaviors of other individuals. In particular, the activation of theory of mind in social situations has been demonstrated by neuroeconomic and behavioural experiments such as: processes of market exchange and specialisation of labour (Coricelli, Mc Cabe and Smith, 2000), decision-making involving strategic uncertainty, detection of social cheaters and, in general, cooperative games in which subjects need to predict their opponents’ strategies; these are all situations in which theory of mind is activated. Historically, two different models of mental processes have been considered in the literature about folk psychology: theory-theory and simulation-theory. Theory-theory posits that subjects who are attributing to others a particular mental state are applying a tacit piece of knowledge previously acquired “about what people feel, think, want, etc in given circumstances and how they will, therefore, act” (Perner, Gschaider, Kǖhberger and Schrofner, 1999). They basically own “folk theories” about others’ mental states and implicit causal laws about how the mind works. On the contrary, simulation theory posits that, in attributing mental states, subjects are not possessing tacitly codified knowledge, but they are rather running a simulation “putting themselves in others’ shoes”. Simulating means using one’s own mind as a model for other people’s mental states, while being unaware of this activity. Simulation directly bridges perception and action (Decety and Grèzes, 2006). Hayek had already envisioned this relationship between sensory and motor activity (Hayek, 1952, p. 92) but he dwells more on a neuronal level explanation than a mental one. Notwithstanding this historical opposition between theory and simulation, an approach that highlights their intermingling contributions and cross-fertilisations has nowadays been favoured (Goldman, 2006). This is the reason why, after introducing a brief sketch of these two positions, our paper focuses then on theory of mind broadly speaking as the capacity to share psychological states with others: this is the social cognitive capacity making humans collaborative and cooperative, able to be engaged in mutual coordinated actions and plans (Tomasello, 2005). Humans, as social actors, have to possess a cognitive machinery that makes them able to coordinate. This paper investigates whether theory of mind can provide a plausible explanation, at the mind level, of the tacitly triggered process of knowledge coordination elaborated by Hayek. More specifically, does Hayek’s concept of coordinating and self-organizing orders imply a model of the mind that can be framed as the current philosophical concept of theory of mind? In particular, we address the question whether theory of mind can give an account of that “inter-personal” understanding of other people’s mental states that Hayek sketches without developing it in details (Hayek, 1952, p. 23). The paper is then structured as follow: sections 2 frames the concept of mentalizing as it has been historically developed in theory-theory and simulation-theory; section 3 presents Hayek’s philosophical psychology, identifying specific issues in order to integrate the latter with modern theory of mind; it explains the roles of communication between individuals and the process of knowledge formation in Hayek’s view, trying to address the question why Hayek’s philosophical psychology does not properly consider the concept of “theory of mind”. Section 4 concludes with further ideas of comparison, presenting the concept of “social mind” from a neuroscientific perspective, considering the idea of mirror neurons.

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Rob Rupert Papers

Check out two forthcoming papers from Rob Rupert, one of the sharpest minds around:

1. Against Group Cognitive States (forthcoming in S. Chant and G. Preyer (eds.), From Individual to Collective Intentionality. No listing on OUP’s website yet).

English users are not fazed by such sentences as “Microsoft intends to develop a new operating system” and “England wants to retain the pound as its unit of currency.” We produce and consume such claims frequently and with ease. One might nevertheless wonder about their literal truth. Does Microsoft — the corporation itself — literally intend to develop a new operating system? Does England — as a single body — genuinely want to retain the pound as its unit of currency. More generally, it is a substantive philosophical and empirical question whether groups of individuals (who themselves instantiate mental states) instantiate mental states properly so called.

2. Keeping HEC in CHEC: On the Priority of Cognitive Systems

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Hayek in Mind: Hayek’s Philosophical Psychology

The book was published today. Here is the publisher’s webpage and the Amazon page.

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Hayek and the “Use of Knowledge in Society”

Here is a draft of my entry for the SAGE Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences.