2001 Conference (May 27-29)

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Carol English and Bert McGinnis

Models as Cognitive Amplifiers




The human nervous system operates from birth in a genetically determined environmentally coupled, dynamic, process, to model/construct a world that enables adaptive navigation and functioning. In this process error is not only expected but fundamental. For example, a child produces seemly random movements/actions (i.e. error), trying sequences of movements that become increasingly refined as the child experiences the results. Some sequences produce desirable results, others less desirable results, emotionally and physically. Thus, gradually, the child develops an active world image that enables both the conscious initiating of action, and the ongoing development of the image.

We want to say, firstly, that in this process the nervous system acts not as a filter, as has often been argued, but as an amplifier, amplifying through experience, certain system perturbations while dampening/ignoring others. The plasticity of the nervous system is sufficiently developed to allow this process to take place in an ongoing interactive fashion, at once top-down and bottom-up.

Secondly, we wish to present an innovative type of computer modeling approach designed to match and extend this fundamental perceptual coupling of individual and environment, in a natural extension of the senses. Traditional modeling approaches are severely limited because they are uncoupled from our powerful natural perceptual capacities. We have developed our approach over more than twenty years of experimentation and study in the fields of systems theory, human cognition and perceptual psychology, computer modeling theory and practice.

These models are designed to work as cognitive amplifiers, in the same way that the microscope and the telescope do, but with a profound difference: By interacting with models of this type, one can build the guiding perceptions necessary to large-scale decision making processes.

With this approach, we can hold out the hope of developing the necessary coherences in our actions directly through experience and the making of error, in precisely the same manner as a baby gains the capacity to act and make choices in the world. Our planet faces many critical choices in the near-future. Making use of the intelligence already embodied in our nervous systems affords the best possibility that the outcomes of these choices will be adaptive.


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