I’m bumping this to the top of the queue because these matters are much on my mind these days. I recommend, in particular, that you read the section at the end on Simon’s Ant, for it contains a way to approach the common-sense issue that’s plagued AI since the 1970s. Simon’s parable can be taken to mean that the mind is in fact dependent upon the world. Common-sense reasoning exists in that dependency, if you will. A language model that is constructed over texts that are severed from the world – as all such models are – is thus cut off from the source of common-sense reasoning. No amount of text can make up for that loss (see the discussion of Miriam Yevick in Showdown at the AI Corral).
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I published this in The Valve in March of 2010. It's a guide on how to get on board with the computational thinking that's the driver in the so-called "cognitive revolution" — which, BTW, has peaked and is now deep into routinization. Computational thinking is a style of thought, a way of looking at the world. Alas, the most familiar example of computation, arithmetic, is not a very good way to get a feel for the style, not as you need it to investigate literature, the arts, or even the human mind. This post is a brief guide to THAT style.
Note that the first book I recommend is a comic about comics. Forget about MLA-authorized easings into literary cognitivism and similar things and forget about Turner and Lakoff, More than Cool Reason. Move them down on your list. Put McCloud first. Why? Because cognitivism is in fact about building things, about how the mind builds perceptual and conceptual structures. McCloud is about how comics are built. And, in one way or another, the other books give you a sense of construction as well. The Braitenberg constructs a mind, mechanism by mechanism. There's NO sense of mechanism in Turner and Lakoff. See also Cognitivism and the Critic 2: Symbol Processing.
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We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded beach. he moves ahead, angles to the right to ease his climb up a steep dunelet, detours around a pebble, stops for a moment to exchange information with a compatriot. Thus he makes his weaving, halting way back to his home. So as not to anthropomorphize about his purposes, I sketch the path on a piece of paper. It is a sequence of irregular, angular segments--not quite a random walk, for it has an underlying sense of direction, of aiming toward a goal.
Viewed as a geometric figure, the ant’s path is irregular, complex, hard to describe. But its complexity is really a complexity in the surface of the beach, not a complexity in the ant. On that same beach another small creature with a home at the same place as the ant might well follow a very similar path.
Once in a South Atlantic gale, he double-reefed his mainsail and left a whole jib instead of laying-to, then set the vessel on course and went below, because of a severe illness. Looking out, he suddenly saw a tall bearded man, he thought at first a pirate, take over the wheel. this man gently refused Slocum’s request to take down the sails and instead reassured the sick man he would pilot the boat safely through the storm. Next day Slocum found his boat ninety-three miles further along on a true course. That night the same red-capped and bearded man, who said he was the pilot of Columbus’ Pinta, came again in a dream and told Slocum he would reappear whenever needed.
Further reading (more posts)
Style Matters: Intellectual Style – In which I argue, in effect, that there is a prose style of thought and a diagrams style of thought and that such things are deep in individuals, and that "some of the pigheadedness that often crops up in discussions about humanities vs. science is grounded in stylistic preference that gets rationalized as epistemological belief."