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From Hofstadter’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Metacat” to Marshall’s “Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception”: What Is The Mind’s I?

by Benjamin L. Russell on December 10th, 2009

(This content of this post is based on the content of my post [1] entitled “Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception” on the USENET newsgroup comp.lang.scheme.)

Recently, I stumbled across a rather fascinating project entitled “Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception” [2], by James B. Marshall.

According to the Overview (see the hyperlinked site above),

Metacat is a computer model of analogy-making and perception that
builds on the foundations of an earlier model called Copycat. Copycat was
originally developed by Douglas Hofstadter and Melanie Mitchell as part of
a research program aimed at computationally modeling the fundamental
mechanisms underlying human thought processes. Central to the
philosophy of this research is the belief that the mind’s ability to perceive
connections between apparently dissimilar things, and to make analogies
based on these connections, lies at the heart of intelligence. According to
this view, to understand the analogical mechanisms of thinking and
perception is to understand the source of the remarkable fluidity of the
human mind, including its hidden wellsprings of creativity.

For those of you who may have read the book Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought [3], by Douglas Hofstadter, Copycat was a computer model of analogy-making and perception that sought to examine the underlying process of human creativity by focusing on analogies between patterns of sequences of letters within words.

The name “Metacat” reminded me of a chapter in the book entitled “Chapter 7. Prolegomena to Any Future Metacat,” which itself was probably a pun on the book Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics [4], by the Western philosopher Immanuel Kant (German philosopher (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804)). Although the chapter title is not referenced on the above-mentioned site, since the architect, Marshall, worked together with Hoftstadter, it is highly likely that that chapter title is at least partially responsible for the name of the project.

Copycat lacked the ability of “self-watching”; it was unable to examine how it arrived at its answers, and hence was unable to draw conclusions on a meta-analogical level. Metacat addresses this issue, as follows (see the above-mentioned Overview):

Metacat focuses on the issue of self-watching: the ability of a system
to perceive and respond to patterns that arise not only in its
immediate perceptions of the world, but also in its own processing of
those perceptions. Copycat lacked such an “introspective” capacity,
and consequently lacked insight into how it arrived at its answers. It
was unable to notice similarities between analogies, or to explain the
differences between them or why one might be considered to be
better or worse than another. In contrast, Metacat’s self-watching
mechanisms enable it to create much richer representations of
analogies, allowing it to compare and contrast answers in an insightful
way. Furthermore, it is able to recognize, remember, and recall
patterns that occur in its own “train of thought” as it makes analogies.
For instance, by monitoring its own processing, Metacat can often
recognize when it has fallen into a repetitive cycle of behavior,
enabling it to break out of its “rut” and try something else.

I tried out the Metacat simulation (its runs using Petite Chez Scheme + the Scheme Widget Library (SWL) + Tcl/Tk (version 8.3 or later)) on Windows XP Professional, Service Pack 3 (for which there is a self-extracting installer that installs Petite Chez Scheme, SWL, and Tcl/Tk combined), and it worked! Although it took up a lot of memory and ran rather slowly (the execution speed is adjustable), it graphically represented the analogy-making process in real time.

This kind of self-referencing cognitive project seems ideally suited to Scheme. If anybody knows of any similar self-referencing or reflective [5] projects for which the strengths of Scheme stand out, I would appreciate it if you could post related information below.

Now, back to the main question in the title of this post: What really is The Mind’s I?

[1] Russell, Benjamin L. “Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception.” Online posting. 11 Nov. 2009. 10 Dec. 2009. <news://comp.lang.scheme>. Also available at <http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.scheme/msg/20daf57b366fa4a6>.

[2] Marshall, James B. “Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception.” James B. Marshall. 17 Oct. 2009. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://science.slc.edu/~jmarshall/metacat/>.

[3] Hofstadter, Douglas R. Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc., March 21, 1996. <http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465024750>.

[4] Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1783. <http://www.librarything.com/work/9482>.

[5] “Reflection (computer science) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 9 Sept. 2003. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflection_%28computer_science%29>.

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