Models of Environment

The thirteenth in a series of excerpts from Minds, Models and Milieux: Commemorating the Centennial of the Birth of Herbert Simon.

Marcin Miłkowski

Herbert A. Simon is well known for his account of bounded rationality. Whereas classical economics idealized economic agency and framed rational choice in terms of the decision theory, Simon insisted that agents need not be optimal in their choices. They might be mere satisficers, i.e., attain good enough goals rather than optimal ones. At the same time, behaviorally as well as computationally, bounded rationality is much more realistic.

One of the most important factors in his theorizing on bounded rationality was the structure of the environment of the agent (Simon, 1956). This might sound surprising today because Simon is all too often classified as one of the proponents of classical, symbolic cognitive science. After all, he favored symbolic models over situated action frameworks (Vera and Simon, 1993). However, already in his 1956 paper, he acknowledged that his account of bounded rationality is similar to robotic models built by Grey Walter. Moreover, Simon’s (1996) story about the ant that uses the environment to make the navigational task easier has become one of the classical examples for later proponents of the extended mind (Clark and Chalmers, 1998). So why did Simon stress the situatedness of cognition and denied that symbolic modeling is to be rejected? Was he deluded or self-contradictory?

The purpose of this chapter is to understand the role of the structure of the environment in Simon’s work on models of cognition. It will be shown that his modeling methodology includes both internals of the information-processing architectures and environmental constraints. The inner architecture is important insofar as it is a constraint on adaptation to the environment, and remains invariant over multiple different environments; hence, it is relevant to explaining behavior in any environment. For this reason, physical symbol systems are to be understood as both situated and adaptive; otherwise, they cannot be flexible and support cognition. Even if Simon’s treatment of symbols remains vague and underspecified, the idea that naturalistic models need to interleave internal and external states remains surprisingly timely.


The Literary Foolishness of Ignatius Reilly

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Chapter 2 — Jessica Hooten Wilson

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Simon on Social Identification: Two Connections with Bounded Rationality

The twelfth in a series of excerpts from Minds, Models and Milieux: Commemorating the Centennial of the Birth of Herbert Simon.

Rouslan Koumakhov

Social identifications are one of Herbert Simon’s most recurrent themes. Starting with Administrative Behavior (hereafter, AB) (Simon, 1947/1997), he investigates that theme throughout his scientific work on an impressive number of occasions. Perhaps it is section 3, entitled Perception and identifications, of chapter 6 (“Cognitive Limits on Rationality”), in March and Simon (1958/1993), that symbolizes Simon’s main concern in this issue – its connection with human rationality and emphasis on every individual’s multiple “belongings” to social groups (in the broad sense, i.e. from primary groups to formal organizations to the whole of society). From this general standpoint, “identification with groups is the major selective mechanism controlling human attention in organizations (and elsewhere) (…)” (Simon, 1993, p. 137). Accordingly, social identification is a process allowing people to stabilize their anticipations, to coordinate perceptions and interpretations of reality. While this tendency to identify with groups appears necessary to build and maintain social systems, it also leads to mimetic opinions and behavioral conformity.

Compared with the notion of bounded rationality, however, Simon’s analysis of identification was only taken up to a limited extent by the social and human sciences that he so strongly influenced. Because his analysis is complex and appeals to major concepts developed in related disciplines, this begs the question of the exact place of social identification in Simon’s account of decision process and social interaction. My argument is that, in this account, not only is there a strong connection between bounded rationality and social identification, but also that such connection implies value systems and cognitive representations. Considered in this manner, the problem of identification is central in Simon’s decision-making and social theory, with its focus on mental states and understanding reality.


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A Theory of Humor (Abridged) and the Comic Mechanisms of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

Available via  & Noble — Indigo.caIndi BoundKobo — and last but not least, if you want to take advantage of a 30% discount (code available here), go directly to Rowman & Littlefield.

Extract from Chapter 1– H. Vernon Leighton

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Spiders think with their webs

With the help of their webs, spiders are capable of foresight, planning, learning and other smarts that indicate they may possess consciousness.

New Scientist