Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays

By Robert Epstein | Go to book overview

12
SIMULATION RESEARCH IN THE ANALYSIS OF BEHAVIOR

Summary. The simulation is a useful tool in science and engineering when the subject matter cannot easily be manipulated directly--often the case in astronomy or evolutionary biology, for example. A simulation is plausible to the extent that it accurately represents the object or process it is meant to simulate. The Columban Simulations of complex human behavior are plausible to varying degrees. Computer simulations of cognitive processes are highly implausible, particularly those that depend on the assumption that humans are information processors.

The more interesting some instance of human behavior, the more difficult it is to analyze (perhaps that's why we call it interesting). And where objective analysis is difficult, fictions turn up. Consider the following cases:

At age one most children react to their mirror images as if they are seeing other children; by age two, most children react as if they are seeing themselves. How can we account for the change? Does it help to say that the child has developed a "self-concept"?

Virtually all human beings acquire language and, by age five, have fairly rich vocabularies. They also seem capable of emitting an infinite number of different sentences. How can we explain this? Does it help to say that we are born with "language organs" or that a set of "cognitive rules" is guiding us?

A two-year-old girl is faced with the proverbial "marble-under-the-couch" problem: She stretches toward the marble but cannot reach it. After repeated attempts, she looks around the room and reaches suddenly for a nearby magazine. She casts about with it until she knocks the marble out from under the couch. Do we shed light on this behavior by attributing it to "insight" or "reasoning"? If not, what contribution, if any, can we make?

An audience of cognitive psychologists has listened with adoration to a prominent colleague. A member of the audience, known for his wit, raises his hand, stands, and deadpans, "But how is this relevant to pigeons?" There is a swell of laughter and some applause. Could we predict who would laugh? Does it help to say that someone has a "sense of humor"? (Did you laugh?)

These and many other instances of complex behavior in people are difficult to analyze for several reasons. First, they are all multiply determined at the time

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