An advanced topics in mind, language and embodied cognition blog

Month: January, 2012

The Frame Problem and What Computers Can’t Do (again)

by daaavve

Hi folks,

This is my much-delayed follow-up post to my little presentation last week. As I said in week 1, I’m hoping that one of the uses for this blog will be for presenters to post any thoughts they have about their presentation topics after the class, perhaps in light of the class discussion, or of material that’s cropped up later on the course. Ideally this post should go up fairly soon after the presentation, although I’m aware I’m setting a bad precedent here!

So, without further ado, here are a few bullet points about what I got out of my presentation, and the ensuing discussion:

  • In future philosophy of cogsci focusing on the frame problem, it would be good to distinguish the various problems which have been tagged with that label. In particular, it would be good to note the formulations of the frame problem that have been solved (or dissolved), and articulate why this doesn’t affect the prospects for a solution to the frame problem that interests philosophers like Haugeland.
  • Having said that, I thought there seemed to be a consensus in the room that the problem with which Haugeland is concerned looks insuperable for AI – insofar as AI is committed to a methodology based around explicit representation of information and piecemeal application of inferential operations to that information.
  • But, of course, AI since the late 80s appears to have no such commitment. So there are still plenty of other ways in which reflecting on the successes and failures of AI since then can inform cogsci theorizing.
  • It also seems worth noting that there are possible, and presumably plenty of actual, AI systems that can solve the problem examples Haugeland discusses – even GOFAI systems. So the general problem isn’t tied to anything about those particular cases, and I think could do with a bit more articulation in Haugeland’s paper. Presumably the issue is that the success of any GOFAI system that can work around the frame problem in some domain or other will be tied to specific contextual factors – and ones that look arbitrary with respect to the project of trying to ‘engineer intelligence’. See Wheeler’s distinction between intra- and inter- context frame problems for a way of spelling this out.
  • Having said that, it’s worth wondering how flexible and context-neutral our rational/adaptive competences really are – don’t we rely on favourable embedding contexts to solve problems set by the environment in ostensibly similar ways to the ‘dumb’ GOFAI systems Haugeland considers? If so, what does this show?
  • One emerging theme to keep an eye on in future weeks – are we going to be sufficiently convinced by Haugeland’s positive account of mindedness to think that it yields materials to adjudicate between ‘extended’ and ’embedded’ views of cognition’s relationship to the environment? That is, will he succeed in showing that the relationships between cognizer and environment to which he appeals are essential for cognition – required for its bare conceptual possibility? Or are they merely important parameters that we must factor in when studying cognition?
  • Haugeland’s positive view will clearly be subjectivist/idealist to some degree – he endorses Dreyfus’s phenomenological claim that the world to which we have cognitive access is essentially our human world. Is this going to be a consequence Haugeland can convince us to swallow?
  • Haugeland’s review of Dreyfus is awesome. And thus very hard to summarise without just transcribing the whole thing verbatim.

Post any thoughts on these bullets, or any important points from the discussion that I missed, to comments, and I’ll see you in class tomorrow – really looking forward to it!


by Robert OS

The only paper (again non-compulsory!) I would add to Dave’s excellent selection of readings is Haugeland’s ‘Semantic Engines’, which I think gives his best account of why people might be/have been attracted to the idea of the mind being a digital computer.

With Dave focussing on the first five sections, I thought I would start by briefly discussing sections 6 to 8 (reasons to be suspicious of cognitivism). As Dave says there will be plenty of time in the weeks ahead for kicking the crap out of cognitivism. I will spend the rest of my talk suggesting that, once we’ve given it this good kicking, we should (rather than running it right out of town with the warning never to show its face again) tell it in no uncertain terms that there are new games in town now and it should get used to the fact that it’s relegated to playing only a part in explaining cognition and intelligent behaviour.

In other words, I will be offering some reasons for why we should still find a role for symbol manipulation. Those who think that the town ain’t big enough for the both of cognitivism and embodied cognition can bring their arguments with them on Tuesday.

Heidegger on mood

by dstatham

Haugeland’s discussion of mood in The Nature and Plausibility of Cognitivism seems very Heideggerian. I think the sections in Being & Time devoted to mood are about as dense and difficult as the rest of it, but the following might be useful for trying to get a sense of what Heidegger (and hence Haugeland) means, and why moods might be hard to explain from a cognitivist perspective…

Ratcliffe – Heidegger on Mood (the first section, mainly)

Dreyfus – Being-in-the-World commentary Chapter 10


by dstatham

So, my plan for Tuesday is to focus more on the first 5 sections of the paper, with a little time at the end to consider Haugeland’s worries about the scope of cognitivism and its inability to cope with certain big hurdles. It’s clear that Haugeland treats cognitivism with more sympathy, and in much greater depth, than a lot of its critics. And I think we should do the same, if only in order to be better equipped to really kick the crap out of it in later weeks. Therefore I think my presentation will focus on Haugeland’s attempt to clarify:

(1) cognitivism’s status as a science, and its method of explanation and reduction

(2) cognitivism’s proposed solution to the problem of naturalising meaningful content.

Then, if there’s time, we can talk about what sort of things might be beyond the scope of this kind of project.

To this end, the best 3 commentaries are probably those by PJ Hayes (p238), Robert J Matthews (p239) and Ernst von Glasersfeld (p252), as these do a good job of clarifying or taking issue with some of the ambiguities in Haugeland’s account, without raising too many further (potentially distracting) issues.

Also, and non-compulsorily, it might be helpful to compare Haugeland’s account with some of the explanations of cognitivism and functionalism provided by Cummins, Fodor and Dennett . In particular, the idea that explanations in cognitive psychology proceed by progressive decomposition of cognitive  components (IBBs/homunculi/etc.), eventually “bottoming out” with the purely causal-mechanistic (“physical instantiation” in Haugeland’s terminology).

And if anyone wants yet more background reading, of a more general nature (again, not meant to be compulsory)…

I don’t know if anyone read Haugeland’s review of Descombes’ The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism . As Dave suggested in the course handbook, it gives a neat overview of some of Haugeland’s big ideas and themes, and is relevant to the question of cognitivism’s plausibility and potential for success.

Anyway, I’ve just come across two more reviews of the same book, one by Tim Crane and the other by Brandom. Obviously coming from very different perspectives, they both give some further background/overview of the philosophical foundations and commitments of cognitivism. And in the accessible format of (fairly) brief book reviews. Interesting stuff, even if (like myself) you haven’t read the actual Descombes book…


Presentation Schedule

by daaavve

Hey Haugbloggers,

Here’s our current schedule for presentations for the course. Let me know if you think I’ve made any mistakes!

Week                               Topic                                          Presenters

3             The Nature & Plausibility of Cognitivism        Dave S, Robert

4                        The Intentionality All-Stars                     Luis, Mog

5                    Mind Embodied and Embedded             Richard, Alfredo

6                        Innovative Learning Week!

7                          Representational Genera                      Ashley, Dave W

8                             Objective Perception                            Jules, Joey

9                                Pattern and Being                          Johannes, Frank

10                                  Haugdegger                                Harry, Mog

11                        Truth and Rule-following                    Josh, Dave W

Remember, as a presenter you can set an auxilliary reading of your choosing for the week – just post it by the Friday before the talk. You might also want to check in via email (or using the comments thread for that week’s article) to get in touch with the other presenter to minimise overlap between your talks. This is up to you, though, and I don’t see it being a big issue!

The nature and plausibility of cognitivism

by daaavve

As promised, here’s the link to the BBS version of next week’s Haugeland reading. You should be able to access it with EASE. To the kind and intrepid presenters for next week, don’t forget that you can recommend an auxiliary reading via this blog in the next couple of days if you wish!

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that I owe this blog a post-mortem of the class this week (the little post-presentation post that everyone should do to summarise the results of the discussion, and follow up any threads that need it) – should be here in the next 48 hours or so!

In the meantime, here is a clip of one of the stars of the week’s class (and perhaps next week) in action:

They don’t make ’em like that any more!

Week 2: Introducing Haugeland, and the Frame Problem

by daaavve

Nice to meet you all today! The readings for the second week (and our first proper meeting) are Haugeland’s discussion of the frame problem in AI, here, and his review of Dreyfus’s What Computers Still Can’t Do, here.

I suggest a few other relevant readings on the course guide, but I leave tracking them down as an exercise for the interested reader (you can get them all online with your EASE/institutional access).

You should use the comments thread for this post to air any questions or thoughts you might have about the required readings, or about the week’s general topic – in this case, the frame problem, and trying to get a grip on the general sort of thing Haugeland’s up to in Having Thought. And don’t forget to post links to any papers or other resources that you find useful or interesting!

(NB: if you have never seen Wall-E, and don’t want to have the ending spoiled, then don’t click on the video below!)


by daaavve

The syllabus for the course is now up on WebCT and clickable-upon via the link below. We’ll go through it in class next week, but you might like to have a browse and a ponder in advance. Haugeland’s introduction (‘Toward a new existentialism’) is also up on WebCT, and provides nice summaries of some of the papers we’ll be reading.

Advanced Topics 2012 Syllabus


by daaavve

Congratulations! You have successfully found the blog for the 2011-12 Advanced Topics in Mind, Language and Embodied Cognition MSc course at the University of Edinburgh! The course (and this blog) will be all about John Haugeland and his work, in particular his 1998 book, Having Thought.

So, if you’re enrolled on the course, get signed up, and get commenting and posting!