Publication 4214

Riegler A. (2007) Superstition in the machine. In: Butz M. V., Sigaud O., Pezzulo G. & Baldassarre G. (eds.) Anticipatory behavior in adaptive learning systems: From brains to individual and social behavior. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence. Springer, New York: 57–72. Fulltext at
It seems characteristic for humans to detect structural patterns in the world to anticipate future states. Therefore, scientific and common sense cognition could be described as information processing which infers rule-like laws from patterns in data-sets. Since information processing is the domain of computers, artificial cognitive systems are generally designed as pattern discoverers. This paper questions the validity of the information processing paradigm as an explanation for human cognition and a design principle for artificial cognitive systems. Firstly, it is known from the literature that people suffer from conditions such as information overload, superstition, and mental disorders. Secondly, cognitive limitations such as a small short-term memory, the set-effect, the illusion of explanatory depth, etc. raise doubts as to whether human information processing is able to cope with the enormous complexity of an infinitely rich (amorphous) world. It is suggested that, under normal conditions, humans construct information rather than process it. The constructed information contains anticipations which need to be met. This can be hardly called information processing, since patterns from the “outside” are not used to produce action but rather to either justify anticipations or restructure the cognitive apparatus. When it fails, cognition switches to pattern processing, which, given the amorphous nature of the experiential world, is a lost cause if these patterns and inferred rules do not lead to a (partial) reorganisation of internal structures such that constructed anticipations can be met again. In this scenario, superstition and mental disorders are the result of a profound and/or random restructuring of already existing cognitive components (e.g., action sequences). This means that whenever a genuinely cognitive system is exposed to pattern processing it may start to behave superstitiously. The closer we get to autonomous self-motivated artificial cognitive systems, the bigger the danger becomes of superstitious information processing machines that “blow up” rather than behave usefully and effectively. Therefore, to avoid superstition in cognitive systems they should be designed as information constructing entities.

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