Sunday, February 7, 2016

Behavior based cognition: the Research Program

The previous three posts suggest that even trees exhibit cognition. In a way what we are doing here is a form of behaviorism. We are looking at behavior and asking what concepts and decision rules this behavior requires?

Classical behaviorism, which is now almost a hundred years old, posited stimulus and response mechanisms to explain behavior. In contrast, we are drawing on much more recent advances in artificial intelligence, especially robotics and expert systems.

These technologies have led scientists and engineers to think deeply about what is required to produce even seemingly simple human behaviors. What I am proposing is a straightforward extension of this research, to include animal behavior. Perhaps even plant behavior as well, but that is really more of an aside.

I am not concerned with thinking or mental processes in general. The point is simply that a given behavior requires certain concepts and decision making.

For example, a bird cannot build a nest without first finding and choosing a nest site. This behavior requires seeking, recognition and decision. The bird has to know what a good nest site looks like. Moreover it gets this knowledge via instinct. As we have said from the beginning, instinct is a way of knowing such things, an alternative to learning.

If we look closely and think about it, everywhere we look we see animals exhibiting this sort of behavior. The research question is how to unpack it? That is, how do we describe the concepts and decision rules that underlie this behavior?