Summary of The Emotion Machine (draft available at minsky's mit site)

Ch 1 Falling in Love ("We are born with many mental resources.")
Ch 2 Attachments and Goals ("We learn from interacting with others.")
Ch 3 From Pain to Suffering ("Emotions are different Ways to Think.")
Ch 4 Consciousness ("We learn to think about our recent thoughts.")
Ch 5 Levels of Mental Activities ("We learn to think on multiple levels.")
Ch 6 Common Sense ("We accumulate huge stores of commonsense knowledge.")
Ch 7 Thinking ("We switch among different Ways to Think.")
Ch 8 Resourcefulness ("We find multiple ways to represent things.")
Ch 9 The Self ("We build multiple models of ourselves.")

Chaper 1: Falling in Love

1-1 Infatuation

Infatuation means suppressing critical facilities
Minsky lampoons the superlatives of romantic love with humour and flair:

Wonderful. Indescribable. (I can't figure out what attracts me to her.)
I scarcely can think of anything else. (Most of my mind has stopped working.)
Unbelievably perfect. Incredible. (No sensible person believes such things.)
She has a flawless character. (I've abandoned my critical faculties.)
There is nothing I would not do for her. (I've forsaken most of my usual goals.)

Can also apply to infatuation with ideas (Feynman 1966 Nobel Prize lecture quote, p. 11)
Like a switch is thrown and goals and priorities change - how to explain this?

Love and other emotional words like anger and fear are suitcase words (many different meanings packed in), eg. a mathematician's devotion to proofs

1-2 The Sea of Mental Mysteries

Things that obscure thinking about things that might seem obvious but are not:
  • "psychology words", eg. You look at an object and see what it is
  • the "Single Self" concept (convenient fiction)

Seemingly simple but in reality complex questions:
  • How do you recognise things that you see? (perception)
  • How do you comprehend what a word means? (meanings)
  • What makes you like pleasure more than pain? (feelings)

There is no single self, rather each person is a complex network of models

1-3 Moods and Emotions

Emotions and emotion words (there are many) are suitcase words, not clearly defined and mean different things to different people

"... this book will take a different approach, by thinking of each mental condition as based on the use of many small processes"

1-4 Infant Emotions

A lot of infant behaviour can be explained by IF-then-DO reaction rules
(reference to Nikolaas Tinbergen, animal psychologist)


1-5 Seeing a mind as a cloud of resources

... behaviour of a complex machine depends only on how the parts interact and not on the "stuff" of which they are made (substrate neutrality)

emotional states arise from turning certain resources on and different resources off
ditto for our different Ways to Think ...


Minsky is deliberately hazy about what exactly resources are - brain research is advancing too rapidly to be specific

1-6 Adult emotions

We can observe children developing more sophisticated ways to think

Introduces Critics (recognise a problem type) --> Selectors (activate a way to think)


Introduces six levels of mental procedures (see Ch. 5)


None of us can recall the early steps of our mental growth ... as we develop new Ways to Think the old forms become scrambled? Mind building destroys the evidence of earlier mind?

1-7 Emotion cascades

love and other emotions ... it's as though a switch has been thrown and a different program has started to run

a selector activates resources which in turn activate other resources -> cascade

1-8 Theories of Feelings, Meanings and Machines

Minsky critiques some myths:
myth: that our mind consists of emotions (plural) and intellect (singular)
critique: we have multiple Ways to Think and emotional states are examples of these

myth: we have a single Way to Think called "logic" or "rational"
critique: logic says nothing about which assumptions we begin with, there are dozens of Ways to Think (see 7-4)

Chapter 2: Attachments and Goals

2-1 Playing with Mud

Carol, a young girl, playing with mud, will respond differently to a stranger scolding compared with her mother scolding. In the face of a parent's blame or reproach, she learns that her goal was not a good one to pursue.

Feelings involved with success: satisfaction, affection, pride (generally classified as 'positive')
Feelings involved with failure: shame, fear, disgust, anxiety (generally classified as 'negative')

But frequently failure helps more than successes do, when we try to acquire deeper ideas. The idea of learning by positive reinforcement is quite limited when applied to human learning

2-2 Attachments and Goals

Strong emotions such as Pride or Shame (as distinct from not so strong emotions such as Pleasure or Dissatisfaction) play a unique role in determining our values, goals or ends (as distinct from learning methods of how to achieve a goal once we have it)

eg. if Carol's mum reproaches her for playing with mud then she learns not to play with mud

In evolutionary terms: Children evolved increasing concern about how parent reacted to them and parents focused more on the growth of their children's values and goals

Shame is a potent emotion - painful and wanting to hide, disappear or die - we shrink from the disgrace of how people who are close to us will think of us (great quotes from Michael Lewis and Aristotle, pp.39-40)

Difference engine introduced (41)

2-3 Imprimers

A new word introduced by Minsky, derived from imprinting
"An imprimer is one of those persons to whom a child has become attached"

"Caregiver" is not sufficient since attachments can form without physical care

The idea of learning by being "reinforced" by success or by "trial and error" does not explain how we develop completely new goals or "values" or "ideals". It would be potentially dangerous if strangers could easily alter our higher level goals.

2-4 Attachment-Learning "Elevates" Goals

More great quotes from Michael Lewis (45):
"... Living up to one's own internalised set of standards - or failing to live up to them - forms the basis of some very complex emotions ..."

" self conscious emotions, such as guilt, pride, shame and hubris, require sophistication ... sense of self ... set of standards ... notions of success or failure ... capacity to evaluate own behaviour"

Several different ways in which a child might change:
  • Positive experience
  • Negative experience:
  • Aversion learning: when a stranger scolds ...
  • Attachment praise: imprimer praises
  • Attachment censure: imprimer scolds
  • Internal impriming:

How could we elevate a goal? By moving it up the 6 level model, eg. from Deliberative thinking to Self-Conscious emotions

Attachment learning can lead to bad things happening, eg. with bad parenting

2-5 Learning, Pleasure and Credit Assignment

'the problem we faced' and 'the action we took' are not simple objects that we can connect
also have to make the structures that then are connected
ie. represent both external events and relevant internal mental events
we need reflective resources to choose which things to remember out of all the things we were doing when solving a particular problem - minsky call these 'credit assignments'

2-6 Conscience, Values and Self-Ideals

the self-conscious emotions
Pride tends to make you more confident, more optimistic and more adventurous
Shame makes you want to change yourself so that you will never get into that state again

presumably, each child makes "internal models" that helps them predict their Imprimers reactions, which serves as an internalised system of values

possible for child to praise himself, or a child to censure himself (but it doesn't seem possible for a child to completely change the value system of an Imprimer)

Societies, cultures develop values that can be so influential that members are prepared to die for them

Logic can only help us deduce what's implied by the assumptions we make - it does not help us choose the assumptions (?) (52)

Incorrect to contrast curiosity and playfulness with goals and aims - play is a demanding teacher / drive which pushes children very hard to learn

2-7 Attachments of Infants and Animals

This section explores the function and nature of attachments in children and animals

2-8 Who Are Our Imprimers?

2-9 Self-Models and Self-Discipline

To solve hard problems requires a plan, "self-discipline" and self consistency. To achieve such management we learn to represent things in extremely compact yet useful ways, eg. we compress an entire personality into a short phrase such as "Joan is tidy"

High value of a reliable friend or to trust yourself to do what you've asked yourself to do

... if you behave consistently then other people will come to feel they can depend on you

Nevertheless, people construct multiple models of themselves

Organisations or systems can have goals and use their members to further them

2-10 Public Imprimers

Charisma - ability to engage a broad range of minds

rhetoric can seem interactive by raising questions in listeners minds and then answering them at just the right time

Children and people can become attached to entities that don't exist or to an abstract doctrine, dogma or creed

This theory of how impriming works is new - although Freud must have imagined something similar

This chapter - how people choose which goals to pursue, through the self conscious feelings of Pride and Shame

Chapter 3: From Pain to Suffering

When I reread this chapter it seemed to have two separate parts
3-1 to 3-4: extended discussion of whether pain and suffering is a mystery
3-5 to 3-8: building on Freud's idea that our minds are battlegrounds b/w basic instincts and higher ideals

What is the connection between these two parts? I think Minsky is using pain and suffering as one example of basic instincts. This sets the scene for the Freudian conflict later in the chapter.

3-1 Being in Pain

Pain creates a cascade in our brain / mind that blots out other goals and replaces them with desire to escape from the pain

Pain and pleasure have many similar qualities:
  • makes you focus on the body parts involved
  • makes it hard to think about anything else
  • makes you draw closer to the cause

They both constrict one's range of attention, both have connections with how we learn, both reduce the priorities of one's other goals

It would be hard to explain pain to an alien (the alleged mystery) - some people conclude that this is because feelings are "elemental" but Minsky disagrees (explained more in Ch. 9)

3-2 How Does Pain Lead to Suffering

Suffering imprisons us, we lose our "freedom of choice", grim list --> (69)

Woody Allen: "Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering - and it's all over much too soon" (LOL)

3-3 The Machinery of Suffering

Dennett: ... pain is inextricably bound up with (which may mean something less strong than essentially connected with) our ethical intuitions, our senses of suffering, obligation and evil

3-4 Overriding Pain

Woody Allen - v funny quote (76), hilarious!! (love, suffering, happiness in a confused mish mash)

Shakespeare - misery loves company, when we feel bad we draw comfort from knowing that others feel bad or worse than us

When we are in pain what meaning do we attribute to it?
Near denial or preoccupation?
Focus of the self and self-identity, or tangential to person-hood?
What meaning do we attach to the symptoms?

Oscar Wilde on is imprisonment in Reading Gaol:
He reframed loathsome things, transformed them into spiritual experience (quote 79)

Pain protects our bodies but destroys our minds - in an evolutionary sense this might be a programming bug that evolved before our higher level intellects

when you suffer the loss of a long time friend ... like losing a part of yourself ... deprived of resources that you have come to rely on ... takes much time to come to terms with it

mourning the loss of a loved one ... just as in love you enjoy thinking about someone when they are not there ... there is an element of pleasure even in mourning and lamentation (passionate grief) for the departed ... grief at the loss but pleasure at remembering (or remembering how things once were)

3-5 Mental Correctors, Suppressors and Censors

Two views on expertise:
An expert is someone who knows what to do
An expert is someone who rarely slips up - because of knowing what not to do

A deficiency of behaviourism -> only observed the actions of what people do while ignoring questions about what people do not do
negative expertise is a very large part of every person's precious collection of commonsense knowledge

Negative expertise might work through Critics - each of which learns to recognise some particular kind of potential mistake

Types of Critics:
Corrector - declares you are doing something dangerous
Suppressor - interrupts before you begin an action
Censor - prevents "incorrect" ideas occurring to you in certain situations

3-6 The Freudian Sandwich

Freud contribution to how we decide what not to think about. Freud imagined the mind as an obstacle course in which only ideas that get far enough are awarded the status of consciousness
"repression" - impulses blocked without the thinker becoming aware of them
"sublimation" - some ideas adopt elusive disguises so Censors can no longer recognise them
"repudiation" - idea reaches consciousness but can be rejected

Human mind is like a battleground, eg. conflicts b/w animal instincts and our acquired ideals
... human thinking does not proceed in any single, uniform way

3-7 Controlling Our Moods and Dispositions

moods can last for minutes, hour, weeks or years

look at it from the 2 perspectives of how our Critics managed:

if you could switch all your Critics off then nothing would seem to have any faults ... everything now seems glorious

if you turned too many Critics on, you'd see imperfection everywhere ... ugliness ... if you found fault with your goals themselves, you'd feel no urge to straighten things out, or to respond to any encouragement

This means that those Critics must be controlled

Moods can be achieved through mediation techniques --> Mystical experience, rapture, estasy, bliss (some call the wonderful but a better word might be wonderless) ... such experiences can be dangerous

How do we develop our mental critics (see Ch 7)?

3-8 Emotional Exploitation

Sometimes we use one emotional state to combat another emotional state, eg. call up an image of a Challenger to use jealousy, anger or shame to combat sleep

Why do we need such fantasies, why aren't we more rational?
  • concept of "rational" itself is a kind of fantasy because our thinking is never based on just pure logic
  • directness would be too dangerous, if we could turn Hunger off we might starve; if we could turn Anger on we might fight all the time; if we could extinguish Sleep then we might wear out bodies out (these considerations shaped our evolution)

Chapter 4: Consciousness

4-1 What in the World Is Consciousness?

Consciousness is a suitcase word: unifier, self awareness, identity, animator of the mind, provider of meaning, detector of feelings
It refers to many different mental activities that don't have a single cause or origin

4-2 Unpacking the Suitcase of Consciousness

Outlines the variety of what human minds actually do:

Reaction, Identification, Specification etc.
Learning, Recollecting, Embodiment etc.
Reflection, Self-Reflection, Empathy etc.

We need a way to divide the mind into parts that is more meaningful than crude folk psychology "dumbbell" (two part distinctions) such as conscious v. unconscious, premeditated v. impulsive, etc.

eg. unconscious - information may be inaccessible for different reasons (simple failure to retrieve, actively censored, "sublimated" into a form which can't be recognised, etc.)

4-3 A-Brains and B-Brains

Plato / Socrates shadows on the cave allegory

Imagine we have an A-Brain and a B-Brain

A-Brain receives signals from external world via organs such as eyes, ears, nose and skin - and can react to those signals by making our muscles move. A-Brain has no sense of what the events mean.

B-Brain receives and reacts to signals from A-Brain. However, B-Brain has no direct connection to the outer world, so it is like the prisoners in Plato's cave, who see only shadows on the wall, the B-Brain mistakes A's descriptions for real things

eg. If B sees that A has got stuck at repeating itself, it might suffice for B to instruct A to change its strategy

To acquire its skills the B brain may need a C brain to help (eg. it's not always appropriate to stop repeating oneself, especially when crossing a road)

Student: Would not this raise increasingly difficult questions, because each higher level would need to be smarter and wiser?
Minsky: No, C-Brain could act as a "manager" who has no special expertise about particular jobs but could still give "general" guidance, like:

If B's descriptions seem too vague, C tells it to use more specific details, etc.
Levels, Layers and Organisms

discussing the 6 levels of processes:

Student: Does your theory really need so many different levels? Are you sure that you can't make do with fewer of them? Indeed, why should we need any "levels" at all - instead of a single, big, cross connected network of resources?

The Evolution of Psychology

The Organism Principle: When a system evolves to become more complex, this always involves a compromise: if its parts become too separate, then the system's abilities will be limited - but if there are too many interconnections, then each change in one part will disrupt many others

Hence, our bodies are composed of distinctive separate parts we call "organs"

This also applies to the brain organ - new design is built on top of old design - "large parts of our brains work mainly to correct mistakes that other parts make ..."

Psychology is hard because each "law of thought" has exceptions ... it will never be like physics which has "unified theories" which work flawlessly

(for the same reason there is no unified learning theory!!! BK)

Why Can't We See How Our Own Minds Work?

Dualists and Holists are dealt with

Aaron Sloman quote: Consciousness is not like magnetism or electricity or temperature or pressure but is a very large collection of different things - hence defining consciousness is not important at all

Minsky's solution to consciousness being a suitcase word:
We must try to design - as opposed to define - machines that can do what human minds do

4-4 Overrating Consciousness

... consciousness seems mysterious because we exaggerate our perceptiveness

most processes are hidden from us

we see things less as they are and more with a view to how they are used (eg. hammer, ball)

our minds did not evolve to serve as instruments for observing themselves

Suitcase Words in Psychology

Some suitcase words - attention, emotion, perception, consciousness, thinking, feeling, self, intelligence - or pleasure, pain, happiness

Each word refers to different processes and meanings but we switch fluently between them, we don't find it difficult to understand this statement:
"Despite his conscious efforts to please her, Charles became conscious that Joan was annoyed. He was conscious of his own distress but was not conscious that he was unconsciously revealing this."

Replace conscious in the above successively with deliberate, aware, reflected, realised, unwittingly

Just having a name for an answer can make us feel as though we actually have the answer

Consciousness has legal significance, we should only censure "intentional" acts

Consciousness refers to multiples processes
Aaron Sloman quote (p. 111)

Why do people, including scientists, look for a single concept, process or thing to explain multiple aspects of mind? They prefer one large problem rather than dozens or hundreds of smaller problems

Aaron Sloman:
"People are too impatient. They want a three-line definition of consciousness and a five-line proof that a computational system can or cannot have consciousness. And they want it today. They don't want to do the hard work of unraveling complex and muddled concepts that we already have, and exploring new variants that could emerge from precisely specified architectures for behaving systems"

4-5 How Do We Initiate Consciousness?

Most mental processes don't cause us to think or reflect about why or how - but when those processes don't function well or when they encounter obstacles the high-level activities start up with these properties:
  1. They use the models we make of ourselves (self-models)
  2. They tend to be more serial and less parallel (serial-processes)
  3. They tend to use symbolic descriptions (symbolic descriptions)
  4. They make use of our most recent memories (recent memories)

Trouble detecting Critic

Immanence (definition):
1. remaining within; indwelling; inherent.
2.Philosophy. (of a mental act) taking place within the mind of the subject and having no effect outside of it

Immanence, derived from the Latin in manere "to remain within", refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of the divine as existing and acting within the mind or the world

The Immanence Illusion: For most of the questions you would otherwise ask, some answers will have already arrived before the higher levels of your mind have had enough time to ask for them

Consciousness detection - the opposite of a Trouble detecting critic --> conscious, attentive, aware, alert, me, myself, deliberate, intentional, free will (language generation)

Critics may recognise a problem and start retrieving knowledge you need before your other processes have had time to ask questions about it. See Ch. 8.

Higher level descriptions are mainly stable, formed previously - hence it's an illusion to think we live in the present moment

4-6 The Mystery of "Experience"

some philosphers regard explaining "subjective experience" as the hardest problem in psychology: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C

(since zombies lacking qualia and sentience are logically possible then qualia and sentience are not fully explained by physical properties alone: from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chalmers)

Minsky argues that terms like experience or inner life refer to big suitcases of different phenomena

our "insights" from inside our mind are frequently wrong - it is a naive "Single-Self" idea that one knows how one thinks about things

if consciousness means "awareness of our internal processes" then it doesn't live up to its reputation

4-7 Self-Models and Self-Consciousness

How the word model is used in this book - a mental representation that can be used to answer some questions about some other, more complex thing or idea

We have multiple models: professional, political, beliefs about abilities, ideas about social roles, moral and ethical views

Our thinking depends on (a) quality of models; (b) how good our ways of choosing which model to use in different situations

"Free will" might mean "I have no model that explains how I made the choice I made"

Drew McDermott 1992: "The key idea is not just that the system has a model of itself, but that it has a model of itself as conscious ..."

4-8 The Cartesian Theater

Cartesian Theater - the idea that our minds contain a central stage on which various actors perform while we (the self) watches and then makes decisions

This popular idea is analysed and debunked - the spatial metaphor is deeply held and hard to abandon
serial stream / parallel stream
absurd to have many selves performing (?)
does each actor need their own stage?
Immanence Illusion, 4-5
Spacial metaphors permeate our language and thought
Mental theater conceals the processes
Can our different resources speak the same language?
The theater would become too noisy
What happens off stage?

4-9 The Serial Stream of Consciousness

The idea that we live in the here and now, moving steadily into the future - is an illusion! "Real time" is a process of zigzagging through memories as we assess our progress on goals, hopes, plans and regrets!

Dennett and Kinsbourne (1992): "... there is no single, definitive 'stream of consciousness', only a parallel stream of conflicting and continuously revised contents"

There are problems with thinking too much about how we think, to be too self aware would be very tedious! (HAL dialogue is amusing, enlightening)

Chapter 5: Levels of Mental Activities

Proposes a 6 level model of mind:

Values, Censors, Ideals and Taboos
  • Self-Conscious Reflection
  • Self-Reflective Thinking
  • Reflective Thinking
  • Deliberative Thinking
  • Learned Reactions
  • Instinctive Reactions
Innate, Instinctive Urges and Drives

5-1 Instinctive Reactions

Stimulus-Response model of animal behaviour
IF Situation then DO Action
eg. IF a thing touches your skin, DO brush it away

Such rules have many exceptions to them

Also each situation is likely to match the IFs of several different rules, so you need some way to choose between them

Also our behaviour depends on the context
IF you see food then DO eat it
IF you are hungry and see food then DO eat it

Need to specify context specific goals
IF Situation AND Goal then DO Action

For more complex problems we need to imagine the futures that each action might bring, see 5-3

5-2 Learned Reactions

The language of "learning by reinforcement" (random, reward, reinforce) discouraged other research:

What is the animal reacting to? We can't describe, say, a human hand, unless we have a "higher level" description such as "a palm shaped object with fingers attached"
Which features should be remembered?
What produced the successful reactions? To solve a hard problem requires multiple steps.

5-3 Deliberation

How do we successfully cross the road?

Before we take an action in a given situation we can predict results
IF describes the situation
DO describes a possible action
THEN depicts the possible results from an action

IF crossing the street and see a car and DO retreat, THEN arrive a bit later
IF crossing the street and see a car and DO cross, THEN arrive a bit earlier
IF crossing the street and see a car and DO cross, THEN suffer a serious injury

We can mentally "look before we leap"
(cf Dennet's Popperian Creatures
Dennett calls them Popperian because Popper said this design enhancement "permits our hypotheses to die in our stead". This is Dennett's enhancement of behaviourism. Popperian creatures have an inner environment that can preview and select amongst possible actions. For this to work the inner environment must contain lots of information about the outer environment and its regularities. Not only humans can do this. Mammals, birds, reptiles and fish can all presort behavioural options before acting.

Popperian creatures ask themselves, "What do I think about next?")

Searching and Planning:
Maths of tree searching explained - brute tree searches are inefficient

Human approach - do some analysis and find some islands or stepping stones along the way, divide and conquer a problem, find subgoals or analogies with similar problems from the past

Logical vs. Commonsensical:
Since all rules have exceptions strict logic is limited. Logic is like walking a plank. Long chains of logic are frail. Commonsense demands more support; one must add evidence after every few steps. When people present their arguments they frequently interrupt themselves to add more evidence or analogies, they sense the need for further support.

5-4 Reflective Thinking

Refer 4-3 A-Brains and B-Brains discussion
diagram from page 102, see 4-3 for where this is discussed in more detail

5-5 Self Reflection

Unlike other animals humans think about thoughts and the entity that had those thoughts (we have models of ourselves)

We must have some sort of record of our thoughts (more detail in Chapter 8)

Importance of self reflection: it's very smart to know you're confused - you can then elevate to a larger scale view of your motives and goals and make modifications

Reflective thinking most often begins when our usual systems begin to fail

Self reflection has limits and risks - attempts to inspect your thoughts is likely to change what you are thinking about

5-6 Self Conscious Reflection

Self Reflective - when problems require us to involve the models we make of ourselves, or our views of our possible futures

Self Conscious Reflection - we think about our "higher" values and ideals, eg. "What would my friends have thought of me?"

Psychologist: I find it hard to see the difference b/w your top most three levels
Student: No theory should have more parts than it needs

Minsky: The boundaries are indistinct but psychology is not like maths or science. When you know that your theory is incomplete then leave some room for other ideas you might need later!!

Individualist: Where is the Self that makes our decisions? What decides which goals we'll pursue?
Minsky: It would be dangerous to locate all control in one single place because then all could be lost from a single mistake. Our minds use multiple ways to control themselves. Freud anticipated this with his ideas of superego, ego and id (also refer 3-6)

5-7 Imagination

"We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are" - Anais Nin

... most of what we think we see comes from our knowledge and our imagination
Abraham Lincoln (vague patches of darkness and light)
We don't know how our brains achieve this. "Seeing" seems simple because the rest of our minds are blind to the processes that do it for us. (perception is complex and invisible)

The rest of this section describes how hard it was to build a machine that could build blocks

visual perception is not bottom up but a two way process, mini-jolts not one final Aha

... we "re-cognize" things by being "re-minded" of familiar objects that could match incomplete fragments of evidence

5-8 Envisioning Imagined Scenes

"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination" - John Lennon

Imagine an arch composed of rectangular blocks. Then imagine replacing the top with a triangular block.

Making changes at very low levels:
Make a whole new image - inefficient

Making changes at intermediate stages:

Making changes at the higher semantic levels:
More abstract, higher level descriptions are more powerful and efficient. Abstract, in this sense, does not mean very hard to understand but means simpler because irrelevant details are suppressed

A word is worth a thousand pictures!

New Minsky word - simulus: combining stimulus and simulate, to describe the various levels at which people construct synthetic perceptions

Minsky is arguing for the importance of hight level semantics here as compared with inefficient processing of visual images

5-9 Prediction Machines

We internalise prediction machines
cf. Dennett's Creatures
Popperian creatures ask themselves, "What do I think about next?"
Gregorian creatures ask themselves, "How can I learn to think better about what to think about next?"

But such a system will never be very resourceful until it knows a great deal about the world it is in.

Chapter 6: Common Sense

Comparing what computers can do (play chess) with what humans can do which computers can't yet do (make a bed, read a book or babysit) provides us with insights about humans

computer programs don't have commonsense knowledge, eg. when someone says: a package is tied up with string, this includes "obvious" facts about the nature of string and packages (eg. with string you can pull but not push a thing)

computer programs are not self aware of their goals - whether they are achieved or at what quality or cost

computer programs are not as resourceful as humans, when "stuck", eg. they don't reason by analogies

6-1 What Do We Mean by Common Sense?

Extensive account of the common sense knowledge involved in answering a phone call - we aren't normally aware of how much we know

Panalogy (parallel analogy)
"Charles gave Joan the book"
Physical Realm - book moves from Charles to Joan
Social Realm - is Charles generous or hoping to ingratiate himself?
Dominion Realm - Joan now controls the book

Three meanings of give
Our brains may structurally connect analogous items of knowledge from different realms (points of view). This might explain how we can easily switch without even being conscious of it b/w these different meanings

Multiple meanings sometimes seen as a defect - ambiguities - the panalogy concept reframes them as a strength

There are many different knowledge realms involved in making a phone call:
Physical -
Dominion -
Procedural -
Social -
Economic -
Conversational -
Sensory / Motor -
Kinesthetic, Tactile and Haptic -
Cognitive -
Self Knowledge -

6-2 Commonsense Knowledge and Reasoning

It is hard to categorise commonsense knowledge

One popular form of categorisation:
Knowing What
Knowing How

But it might be better to classify according to the kinds of thinking we can apply to it:
Positive expertise
Negative expertise
Debugging skills - knowing alternatives when usual methods fail
Adaptive skills - how to adapt old knowledge to new situations

Douglas Lenet started CYC (from "encyclopedia", pronounced like psych) in 1984: the first large scale attempt to catalog commonsense knowledge

Lenet analyses this sentence: Fred told the waiter he wanted some chips (it contains an enormous amount of knowledge)

How much does a typical person know?

We have the language realm, the physical realm, the social realm, etc. Although we might know millions of things in each realm it is hard to think of more than a hundred.

Thomas Landauer research: no one could learn at more than 2 bits per second no matter what realm (visual, verbal, musical etc.)

Could we build a "baby-machine"?
ie. a machine that will gradually learn more by itself

Those programs failed to develop good new ways to represent knowledge

At any rate, good new ways to represent knowledge are usually not quickly and widely adopted:
- you need new skills to work with them efficiently
- such skills take time and performance will probably worsen during the changeover period

Section 8-5 argues that learning requires selectivity, appropriate "credit assignments" - a machine will fail to learn the right things from most of its experiences

You cannot learn things that you can't represent

Building intelligent machines becomes stuck due to not having ways to overcome problems like:
The Optimisation Paradox: difficult to improve once you work well
The Investment Principle: reliance on existing processes makes it hard to develop alternatives
The Complexity Barrier: changing complex systems has unexpected side effects

Evolution is more about rejecting bad changes than selecting beneficial changes. Most species evolve to occupy narrow, specialised niches. Evolution can learn to avoid common mistakes but usually not uncommon mistakes - except by evolving language systems.

First need to evolve ways to protect against changes that cause bad side effects. Excellent method here is to split system into parts that can evolve more independently. eg. organs


Amnesia of Infancy means we develop simplistic views of what memories are and how they work

Minsky argues for goal based organisation (accomplishment) rather than descriptive organisation (data base and matches):

What kinds of goals might this item serve?
In which situations might it be relevant?
How has it been applied in the past?

What are its most likely side effects?
How much will it cost to use it?
What are its common exceptions and bugs?

Was it learned from a reliable source?
Is it likely to be outdated soon?
Which other people are likely to know it?

6-3 Intentions and Goals

What is "self control", responsibility, intention? Moralists, Psychiatrists and Jurists argue about this.

Sometimes a goal can seem like a physical force, hard to resist, even though part of us does not want to do it - the goal may conflict with our high level values. There is no reason to expect that all our goals should be consistent.

Difference Engines

Psychology words don't meaningfully describe goals, they just pass the meaning onto another word that needs to be explained (want, motive, desire, purpose, aim, hope, aspire, yearn, crave)

Need to talk about the underlying machinery:
"A system will seem to have a goal when it persists at applying different techniques until the present situation changes into a certain other condition"

Motives and goals could be explained by:
Aim - description of a possible future situation
Resourcefulness - methods to reduce difference b/w present situation and future situation
Persistence - keep applying those methods

Allen Newell, Clifford Shaw and Herbert Simon were the first to build a difference engine, which they called the "General Problem Solver"

Having a goal could mean that a difference engine is operating

Goals and Subgoals

6-4 A World of Differences

When you hear a story you react most to how it differs from what you expected. Names for this: accommodation, adaptation, acclimatization, habituation, becoming accustomed
(our eyes normally make small motions which helps maintain an image)

our systems mainly react to change ...

footnote 18: Roger Schank, Tell Me a Story (1990) has conjectured that representing events as stories may be one of our principal ways to learn and remember

Rhythmic and Musical Differences

Difference Networks

How do we recognise chairs, stools, tables, benches, couches, desks as all things we can sit on?

6-5 Making Decisions

Benjamin Franklin quote (1772) about how he made difficult decisions ... write down pros and cons and strike out equivalents

... when people say, "I used my free will to make that decision," this is roughly the same as saying, "some process stopped my deliberations and made me adopt what seemed best at the moment"

"free will" is not a process we use to make a decision, but one that we use to stop other processes!

"My decison was free" is similar to "I don't want to know what decided me"

6-6 Reasoning by Analogy

Minsky identifies reasoning by analogy as one of the main methods by which we solve new problems. For problems which are similar to problems solved in the past, with differences that can be described.

Why does analogy work so well? Because there is a lot of common causality in the world ... (Douglas Lenet)

A Geometric Analogy Problem

Describes how a computer program can be written to solve geometric problems that most people regard as intuitive not logical, ie. some analogous reasoning can be converted to logical processes:
  1. description of original objects
  2. description of their relationships
  3. descriptions of the differences between those relationships

6-7 Positive vs. Negative Expertise

We see things as positive because we censor or suppress other processes that would see them as unpleasant. See Ch. 1, Love

Other examples:
Raising children
Decisiveness - stopping the comparing of alternatives
Pleasure -eg. addiction

Dialogue with teacher who believes in positive reinforcement and small steps. Such an approach is limited (not bad in itself but limited):
- difficult tasks almost always involve episodes of distress and discomfort
- reinforcement can lead to rigidity, lack of adaption
- other processes may fail when normal way is abandoned
- development of higher level managerial resources is put on hold

How and why does failure occur? What might have caused our thoughts to go wrong?
You learn more when you investigate failure as well as success

Improvement by small steps leads to local peaks, not the largest mountain - that requires downward steps and discomfort, discouragment. We must learn to "enjoy" some suffering when learning new things that need large scale changes in how we think. It's a mistake to make education too pleasant.

Chapter 7: Thinking

Our ability to think in different ways (new Ways to Think) distinguishes us from other animals

How to explain the "amnesia of infancy"? Not simply because we forget. New and better ways of representation replace older ones; the old records still exist but we can no longer make sense of them. (Is it surprising that we have no memories of our pre-speech infancy apart from a few decontextualised images? tf)

We rarely ask good questions about what thinking is or what chooses which subjects we think about (thinking often just happens smoothly)

How to explain so many different Ways to Think?
  • Evolutionary requirement as we encountered different environments
  • avoid danger of monomania (which can be a real problem for some)

7-1 What Selects the Subjects We Think About?

How do we explain long term plans, reminding ourselves of things to do, choosing among conflicting goals, whether to quit or persist?

7-2 The Critic-Selector Model of Mind


Simplest Critic-Selector system could consist of If ->Do rules:

If it seems unfamiliar, Change the way you're describing it
If it seems too difficult, Divide it into several parts

Our ancestors may have evolved ways to make new Selectors by combining smaller sets of parts (like the Wright brothers made their first aeroplane work by using motorcycle parts)

How about situations where when one is conflicted, when it is hard to decide what to do next? When two or more Critics - Selectors are activated (and fighting over resources) then what designs could deal with this?

Reflective policies:
If too many Critics are aroused then describe the problem in more detail
If important resources conflict then try to discover a cause for this
If there has been a series of failures then switch to a different set of Critics

7-3 Emotional Thinking

The case of Elliot who lost part of his frontal lobes when having a tumour removed (from Damasio's book Descarte's Error). His ability to reach decisions was impaired. He displayed no emotions, there was no inner turmoil to hush.

Damasio's interpretation: lack of emotion plays a role in Elliot's decision making ability
Minsky's interpretation: his inability to make decisions reduced his range of emotions and feelings

7-4 What are Some Useful Ways to Think?

Knowing How
Searching Extensively

Reasoning by Analogy
Dividing and Conquering

First solve a different problem ->
Changing the subject

Reflective ->
Wishful thinking
Self reflection

Others ->
Logical contradiction
Logical reasoning
External representation

Social ->
Cry for help
Ask for help

Last resort ->

7-5 What Are Some Useful Types of Critics?

These mirror the Levels of Mental Activities from Ch. 5

Innate Reactions and Built-in Alarms - some alarms are hard to ignore, eg. a babies cry
Learned Reactive Critics - eg. moving to a quieter environment
Deliberative Critics - thinking about what went wrong
Reflective Critics - critics as diagnosticians which verify progress or suggest alternatives
Self-Reflective Critics - various forms of self criticism
Self-Conscious Critics - these affect one's image of oneself, eg. I'm losing track of what I am doing (Confusion)

Encourager added to the end of each list, so Critics can sometimes be viewed in a positive light - and because sometimes you need to endure some discomfort in the course of achieving a goal

How Do We Learn New Selectors and Critics?

LOL quote --> "Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger" Franklin P Jones

We can improve our Ways to Think ... by creating higher level Selectors and Critics that help to reduce the size of the searches we make ... most "theories of learning" do not address this

How do we organise and change our collection of Critics and Ways to Think? We don't know. These issues should be recognised as central to the development of psychology.

7-6 Emotional Embodiment

In the dialectic b/w emotional state and body state which is primary?

William James (1890) argues body state, Minsky argues that it must start in the brain

Why should the body be involved at all? For the "primary" emotions it is useful communication in evolutionary terms - Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, Surprise, Curiosity, Joy. Our body states also tell ourselves that action is necessary.

"Valence" - the extent to which one's attitude toward some thing or situation is generally positive or negative. Or an object's colour and shape can change independently; we can think of objects or ideas as having "matter of fact" or neutral aspects that are "coloured" by additional emotional characteristics --> attractive, exciting, desirable - versus disgusting, dull or repulsive (minsky seems to be reporting this not endorsing it)

Minsky argues for the primacy of the brain wrt emotional states ("it's the brain that sits in the drivers seat")

7-7 Poincare's Unconscious Processes

Several great quotes from mathematician Henri Poincare (1913) about his unconscious learning process

Preparation -
Incubation -
Revelation -
Evaluation -

Incubation and Revelation occur without our being aware of them, we don't really understand

Other authors have proposed a similar sort of model to creative thinking - listed (Hofstadter is missing)

"creativity" is not completely new - it combines with the knowledge and skill we already possess

Collaboration - Some successful examples - thinking and learning is social - best collaboration is preventing each other from getting stuck

Do We Normally Think "Bipolarly"?
Common sense thinking may consist of a brief "micro-manic" phase producing a few ideas, followed by a brief "micro-depressive" phase looking for flaws - all taking place so quickly the reflective systems don't notice it

7-8 Cognitive Contexts

There are different forms of memory, sometimes classified as sensory, episodic, autobiographical, semantic, declarative and procedural

... postulates a "context box" which stores a variety of task related memories when we are interrupted

as we evolved more Ways to Think we also evolved machinery for more quickly returning to previous contexts

folk psychology explains this away with "short term memory" - however, a better theory would need to explain -

How long do recent records persist and how do we make room for new ones?
How do some memories become permanent?
How do we retrieve old memories?

7-9 Central Problems for Human Psychology

Small group in depth studies (eg. Piaget) are more valuable than large group statistical studies to the development of psychology. Small but vital details are overlooked.

The research that Minsky thinks needs to be done:
  • What are the principal Problem Types that our mental Critics recognise?
  • What are the major Ways to Think that or mental Selectors engage?
  • How are our brains organised to manage all those processes?

Ch. 8 Resourcefulness

8-1 Resourcefulness

Before Alan Turing we did not know about a single machine that could emulate other machines. This opens the door to developing a machine which can have multiple Ways to Think

8-2 Estimating Distances

We have multiple ways of estimating distances - remembering typical sizes, overlaps, context, binocular vision, perceived speed

Each method is imperfect but taken together we can usually avoid serious mistakes. We effortlessly switch b/w methods chosing the more appropriate one for each different situation

(this might also apply to how we think)

8-3 Panalogy

Panalogy - corresponding features of different meanings are connected to the same parts of one larger structure

Whenever you think about your Self, you are reflecting about a panalogy of mental models of yourself

Sight is intertwined with memory, we fill in huge chunks from memory when "seeing" (without realising)

We rarely make entirely new ideas, instead we modify existing ideas

Minsky suggests that our brain architecture has evolved structures which make it easy to link knowledge fragments into panalogies

This creates both speed (swapping b/w multiple meanings) and also the potential for confusion and ambiguity - the importance of metaphor and analogy in our thinking

"If our memories mainly consist of panalogies, then most of our thoughts will involve ambiguities. However, this is a virtue and not a fault - because much of our human resourcefulness comes from using analogies that result from this." (267)

8-4 How do people learn so rapidly?

Hume (1748) pointed out that inference requires a uniform universe

Sometimes we learn new tricks from a single exposure (whereas a dog may require hundreds of lessons)

A difference engine could be converted into a copying machine, so the structure in long term memory becomes the same as the one in short term memory

Minsky thinks our minds are like computers in this respect. Short term memory is expensive and limited.

... a blow to the head can cause a person to lose all memory of what happened before and including that accident ... transfer to long term memory may take a day or more and require sleep

Other reasons why long term memories may require much time and processing:
Retrieval - it may have to be linked to an existing panalogy, otherwise how could it be retrieved?
Credit Assignment - to be useful it would need to be linked to other relevant panalogies
Real Estate problem - finding a place for new memories would not be simple (might involve destruction)
Copying complex descriptions - hard to think of plausible schemes for making complex, linked memories

Learning involved many varied skills, such as:
  • Adding new If --> Do --> Then rules
  • Changing low level connections
  • Making new subgoals for goals
  • Choosing better search techniques
  • Changing high level descriptions
  • Making new Suppressors and Censors
  • Making new Selectors and Critics
  • Linking older fragments of knowledge
  • Making new kinds of analogies
  • Making new models and virtual worlds

8-5 Credit Assignment

Learning complex things cannot be explained by reinforcement or if-do rules

... here we'll take a view in which higher level processes will decide what to learn from each incident (higher level thinking speculation)

  • choosing how to represent a situation will affect which future ones will seem similar
  • learn only the parts of your thinking that helped, and forgot those which were irrelevant
  • connect each new fragment of knowledge so that you can access it when it is relevant

the quality of our credit assignments might account for our "intelligence" (suitcase) - the section about Poincare's unconscious (7-7) pointed out that this might take days

need more research about what kind of credit assignments infants can make, how children develop better techniques, how long such processes persist and the extent to which we can control them

(me: importance of slow deep thinking and effortful study)

... to gain more from each experience, it would not be wise for us to remember too many details - but only those aspects that were relevant to our goals
get more if we assign credit to the earlier choices we made that selected our winning strategy

8-6 Creativity and Genius

Genius consists of unusual combinations of otherwise common ingredients

- genetics
- fortunate mental accidents
- learnt how to praise self internally
- intense positive attention from parents
- isolation from other children
- mental management
- endure discomfort when replacing a Way to Think
- selecting which new idea to develop

8-7 Memories and Representations

Representation - any structure inside one's brain that one can use to answer some questions

Multiple Ways to represent knowledge

What distinguishes us from other animals? being able to treat ideas as though they were things (ability to conceptualise)

there must be representation structures (networks) inside our brains - knowledge fragments don't have meanings unless linked

it does not matter much how those links are embodied - what matters is how each part changes state in response to changes in other parts (280)

Describing events as stories or scripts
Describing structures with semantic networks
Using trans-frames to represent actions
Using frames to embody commonsense knowledge
Learning by building "knowledge Lines"
Connectionist and Statistical Representations -

Two different ways to represent an apple - a semantic network and a connectionist network

Connectionist networks (based on numbers showing strength of associations) can learn to recognise many important types of patterns - without any need for a person to program them

But number based networks have limitations. Every relationship is reduced to a number or strength so there remains almost no trace of the evidence that led to it, eg. the number 12 could represent all sorts of things

I see the popularity (of Connectionist Networks). in recent years, as having retarded the search for higher level ideas about human psychological machinery... research on commonsense thinking kept advancing until about 1980, but then it was clearly recognised that further progress would need ways to acquire and organise millions of fragments of commonsense knowledge. That prospect seemed so daunting that most researchers decided to try, instead, to invent machines that could learn, by themselves, all the knowledge that they would need - in short, to invent new kinds of "baby machines" ...

Quite a few of these learning machines did indeed learn to do some useful things, but none of them went on to develop higher-level reflective Ways to Think - and I suspect that this was mainly because they tried to represent knowledge in numerical terms....

... I do not mean to suggest that such networks are not important ... it seems safe to assume that many of the low level processes in our brains must use some form of Connectionist Networks (pp. 289-91)

Micronemes for Contextual knowledge

8-8 A hierarchy of representations

How do we learn new representations?

Kant 1787: experience and sensory knowledge is only part of knowledge - cognition adds new knowledge

Minsky thinks we are born with primitive forms of structures like K-lines, Frames and Semantic Networks which are then built on to create representations

Which representations to use for which purposes?

Discussion about the best way to represent knowledge

Mathematician: It is always best to express things with logic
Connectionist: No, logic is far too inflexible to represent commonsense knowledge. Instead, you ought to use Connectionist Networks
Linguist: No, because Connectionist Nets are even more rigid. They represent things in numerical ways that are hard to convert to useful abstractions. Instead, why not simply use everyday language - with its unrivaled expressiveness
Conceptualist: No, language is much too ambiguous. You should use Semantic Networks instead - in which ideas get connected by definite concepts!
Statistician: Those linkages are too definite and don't express the uncertainties we face, so you need to use probabilities
Mathematician: All such informal schemes are so unconstrained that they can be self contradictory. Only logic can ensure us against those circular inconsistencies


Richard Feynman 1965:
theoretical physicists know six or seven representations for the same physics ... they give him different ideas for guessing

Resourcefulness (good guessing) arises from multiple representation

Ch 9 The Self

Single Self idea keeps us from wasting time about difficult questions about our mind

How does vision work? "Your Self simply peers out through your eyes"
How does memory work? "Your Self knows how to recollect what might be relevant"

Which of your goals and beliefs are "genuine"? They all are! The "authentic" and "sincere" versions are just versions

9-1 How do we represent ourselves?

Sometimes physicists strive to construct a single model or a grand unified theory. Nevertheless, physics contains many different subjects and each has its own (useful) way of describing the world

Whenever a subject becomes important to us we tend to build multiple models - this diversity is a principle source of our resourcefulness

We each make multiple models of ourselves

Greg Egan (1998) quote - cleverly worded to make the concept of "I" unusual

Multiple subpersonalites

our subpersonalities will frequently need to compete for control of higher level processes

The sense of personal indentity

William James (1890) on recalling childhood: ... that child is a foreign creature with which our present self is no more identified in feeling than it is with some stranger's living child today ...

Daniel Dennett (1991) on Self: "... like spider webs, our tales are spun by us; our human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is their product, not their source ... their effect on any audience ... is to encourage them to posit a unified agent whose words they are, about whom they are ... a 'centre of narrative gravity'"

instead of asking about our Identity it is better to ask, "Which of my models of myself best serves my present purposes?"

9-2 Personality traits

We describe people as having character traits - disciplined, honest, attentive, friendly

Possible causes for personal traits -
Inborn, genetic -
Learned -
Investment principle - hard to displace tried and trusted methods that work
Archetypes and self-ideals - our cultural heroes and villians
Self control - to keep ourselves from constantly changing our goals and priorities

The concept of traits can be treacherous, eg. the generalities of astrology influence many

Self Control

To achieve long range goals you need self control ... but self control is hard
We use tricks to achieve self control, threaten or bribe ourselves, "I'll be ashamed if I give in to this", "I'll be proud if I can accomplish this" or assume various postures or facial expressions

Why must we use devious tricks to control or Ways to Think - instead of just choosing to do what you want to do?
Directness would be too dangerous (see Chapter 3) We would probably die if one part of our mind could take over the rest - in emergencies our instincts need to take over

many of us spend much of our lives seeking ways to make our minds behave

Dumbell ideas and dispositions

People like two part distinctions: many examples provided as both traits (eg. solitary v. sociable) and as alleged characteristics of right and left brain (eg. rational v. intuitive)

Many things seem to come in opposing pairs -

Structural v. Functional descriptions -

"...it usually makes little sense to commit ourselves, for all future times, about which objects to like and dislike - or about which persons, places, goals or beliefs we should seek to avoid, or accept or reject - because all such decisions should also depend on contexts ....most dumbell distinctions ... appear to be so simple and clear that they seem to be all that you need - and that tempts you to stop. Yet most of the novel ideas in this book came from finding that two parts are rarely enough - and eventually my rule became: when thinking about psychology, one should never start with less than three different parts or hypotheses!"

(me: Is this a new philosophy or just a different way to express dialectics, some resolution of opposites being the third part? would need to examine his new ideas in this book in more detail to evaluate this)

9-3 Why do we like the idea of a self?

What leads us to the strange idea that our thoughts cannot just proceed by themselves, but need yet something else to control themselves? ... we use words like "Me" and "I" to keep us from thinking about what we are!

Various ways in which the Single-Self concept is useful to us:
Localised body is consistent with Single-Self
Private mind - the idea (illusion?) that only you hold the keys to the strong closed box of your private mind
Explaining our minds - if we can think "I perceive the things that I see" then it keeps us from wasting time on questions about perception that we don't know the answer to
Moral responsibility - to justify our laws and moral codes we assume that Selves are responsible for intentional deeds
Centralised economy / Decisiveness - "Thats enough thinking, I've made my decision!"
Causal attribution - we like to attribute causes
Attention and focus - we often think we have a single stream of consciousness to which we attend
Social relations - others think of themselves as Single Selves

Our minds are messy. We spend large parts of our lives tidying them up - selecting, suppressing, refining

9-4 What is pleasure and why do we like it?

Emotions are hard to describe because they seem hard to split into parts - hence there seems to be nothing to use as pieces of explanation

Minsky argues that pleasure is a suitcase word for quite a few different processes:
Satisfaction - achieving an ambition
Exploration - a quest, the pleasure is not only at the end
Goal suppression - critics and other goals suppressed
Relief - if the goal was the elimination of an irritation

Pleasure and satisfaction refer to extensive networks of processes we don't yet understand. We tend to treat complex, hard to grasp things as single and indivisible.

The pleasure of exploration

St Augustine: "Curiosity ... a passion for experimenting and knowledge ..."

Adventurousness is an antidote for exploring unfamiliar terrain, which can lead to pain and distress

Learning by small incremental positively rewarded steps is limited (Thorndike Law of Effect)

when we are learning a new technique, we need to work harder with fewer rewards, while enduring the additional stress of being confused and disoriented ... may have to abandon older techniques which have served us well ... may arouse sense of loss or grief and temptation to quit ... these learners have trained themselves to enjoy discomfort

exploring the contradiction of enjoying discomfort: Pleasure is not a basic all or nothing thing just as the Self is not a single thing. Some parts of the mind may be uncomfortable but other parts enjoy forcing those first parts to work for them: "Good, this is a chance to experience awkwardness and to discover new kinds of mistakes"

We can envisage pleasure as negative - in the way it can suppress competing goals

9-5 What makes feelings so hard to describe?

The alleged mysteries of "subjective experience" or "directness of experience" arises from the inability of our higher level processes to detect all the intermediate steps involved in these experiences, eg. touching, redness. Some philosophers (dualists) conclude that materialist explanations of such things is impossible. Minsky argues that they have not worked hard enough to imagine adequate models of those processes.

footnote 9: Dennett, "Quining Qualia"

How do you know when you're feeling pain?

eg. hypochondriacs (Gilbert Ryle quote)

How important is "privileged access" to our own mind? Sometimes our self assessments are inept, our friends may have better ideas of our real state.

9-6 The sense of having an experience

Perception or Sensations are not "basic" (see section 5-7), more signals flow down to the sensory cortex than in the opposite direction, presumably to help us see what we expect to see ...

We frequently "see" things that do not exist, eg. this square:

9-7 How is a human mind organised?

each normal child eventually learns to:
  • recognise, represent and reflect upon some of his own internal states
  • self reflect on some of his intentions and feeling
  • identify with aspects of how others behave

What kinds of structures would support this:

1) Deal with various situations by activating certain sets of resources --> different Ways to Think


2) To determine which resources to select
(a) Simple use If--> Do rules
(b) More versatile use Critic --> Selector schemes


3) Adult mind develops multiple levels, each level contains Critics and Selectors (Chapter 5,6,7)

4) Various Ways to Think might also have levels of different symbolic expressiveness (Chapter 8)

draft diagram
See 8-7 for final book diagram (symbolic apple cf connectionist apple)

5) Our model needs to have room for answers to questions we haven't thought of asking yet

the mind as a decentralised cloud of yet unimagined processes, interacting in still unspecified ways ...

A hierarchical model is not a good one for the human brain:
a) brain parts are specialised (more so than individual human specialists)
b) we can't yet expand our brain parts (whereas a company can employ more workers)

Parallel paradox: If you break a large job into several parts and try to work on them all at once, then each process may lose some competence from lacking access to the resources it needs

sensory and motor systems work in parallel ... but we need to divide difficult problems into parts and work on them sequentially ... higher order thinking is more sequential ... also accounts for our impression of "stream of consciousness"

Pinnacle Paradox: As an organisation grows more complex, its chief executive will understand it less, and increasingly will need to place more trust in decisions made by subordinates

Central and Peripheral Controls

We have various "alarmers" which interrupt higher level processes

Sometimes our thinking processes "break down" (cf a machine breaking down) but we are capable of rapid recovery -
  • trouble recalling past events
  • trouble solving an urgent problem
  • cannot decide which action to take
  • lost track of what you were trying to do
  • a surprise happens

Mental Bugs and Parasites

mental parasites, self reproducing sets of ideas (memes) which can displace competing ideas - doctrines, philosophies, faiths, beliefs

9-8 The dignity of complexity

Our brains have evolved in a process that has taken 30 million centuries

9-9 Some sources of human resourcefulness

From three vastly different time scales:
Genetic endowment -
Cultural heritage -
Individual experience -

Lakoff (1980): Metaphors we Live By

Most of our commonsense knowledge may be embodied as metaphors in the form of panalogies (Ch. 6)

We have multiple descriptions of things - and can quickly switch among them
We make memory records of what we've done - so that later we can reflect on them
Whenever one of our Ways to Think fails, we can switch to another
We split hard problems into smaller parts, and keep track of them with our context stacks
We manage to control our minds with all sorts of bribes, incentives and threats

Our minds have bugs! eg. powerful imagination can lead us to set out on extensive but futile quests!