Monday, 19 July 2010

Attended Symposium at Kingston University, London, on Problem Solving and Distributed Cognition, July 15-16, 2010.

Although colleagues at UH (Stephen Cowley, Sue Anthony, Nuala Ryder and Evie Fioratou) have tried to explain this approach to me off and on over the last 6 years or so, I had never quite got it.

Would attending this meeting rouse me from my dogmatic slumbers? I had been strongly influenced in my formative years by the basically internalist view of the pioneers of cognitive science (AI and Cognitive Psychology) such as Newell & Simon , and Miller, Galanter & Pribram. In those heady days of the early 60s, they were the revolutionaries taking on the dinosaurs of Behaviourism by re-establishing mental processes as valid topics of study. Were they now to hand over the study of cognition to new insurgents who adopted a somewhat bewildering range of slogans for externalism v internbalism, distributed v localised, embedded (situated) v de-contextualised and embodied v. disembodied abstract symbolism?

A wide range of topics were addressed at the meeting including, how people coped with infuriatingly poor voice recognition based information systems, tool use, hints from other solvers' eye movements, aggregating votes, solving puzzles, applications of power laws to insight shifts, philosophical analyses among other things. Few delegates could probably follow all of these papers and I struggled to find common threads and to understand the more philosophical presentations.

Overall, I felt the most valuable results of the Situated etc Movement was to draw attention to aspects of cognition in the wild that had been set aside by the lab based artificial puzzle oriented classic approach. However, I was still left feeling that the old paradigm could cope with these points and data favouring embodied cognition with a bit of stretching. I didn't sense much support among the delegates for the wilder shores of the "extended mind" hypothesis...this would say that the total informational resources of the internet become literally part of my LTM when I have Google access, or that a notepad becomes part of my working memory if I use it during mental arithmetic.

I don't think my own research into , say, incubation effects, will be affected by the Situated Movement. I did ask, but no one came up with an Externalist/Distributed/Situated approach to incubation.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Talk for Distributed Cognition & Problem Solving meeting, July 15-16, 2010, Kingston U.

Abstract for Kingston meeting on Distributed Cognition and Problem Solving, July 15-16,2010.

Creative problem solving, incubation and the internalist/externalist debate.

Ken Gilhooly, School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield AL10 9AB, England, UK.

Traditional cognitive psychology approaches to problem solving aim to explain how people solve problems in terms of transformations to internal representations of problems. Typically problem states are seen as represented by symbol structures in a working memory system which are subject to goal driven transformations by rules. These transformations yield a search through a problem space from starting state to goal state. This approach, which one might call “good old fashioned cognitive psychology” (GOFCOP?), derives very strongly from “good old fashioned artificial intelligence”, sometimes known as GOFAI. Although Herbert Simon, a founding figure of both GOFAI and GOFCOP, stressed the intrinsic roles of both the internal organisation of problem solving systems and the structure of the environment in which the system found itself, and how these components interact (eg through the ant on the beach case), the traditional focus has been on the internal side of the story. This leads to a caricature of the traditional approach as completely internalist. I suppose it is probably true, in my case, anyway, that I think the interesting goings on are internal, but it cannot be ignored that the internal processes must be very affected by the external situation.

Representational enrichment: the way tasks are presented can strongly affect the nature of the representations that are formed internally. For example, in a study of divergent thinking we found that more novel uses for familiar objects were produced when participants were presented with the actual object as against a photograph or the verbal label of the object. These 3 conditions can be expected to produce more detailed representations of the object for internal manipulation which would highlight different cues and different uses. The actual object condition is likely to be especially useful when the object itself can be manipulated to yield unusual perspectives. Actual manipulation opens up more prospects for serendipity as Fioratou has noted in studies of real v. paper versions of the cheap necklace problem. Ours account draws on a previous “internalist” analysis based on think aloud records of people generating uses from the verbal labels only. It may be noted that imagery representations are often generated as a basis for divergent production of uses.

Working memory support: In a study of age effects in planning and solving in Tower tasks in older and younger participants, we found marked age differences in purely mental planning measures (such as think ahead depth, planning errors) but no age differences in actual solving performance. It seems that the older participants reduced WM capacity severely curtailed mental planning (lookahead depth) but actually moving the discs gave an external support for WM which thus became less important.

Finally, a challenge for non-internalism: can incubation effects (benefits from setting problem aside and returning after a while ) be other than based on internal processes (beneficial forgetting, attentional shift or unconscious work)?