The Software That Is You

Part Of: Cognitive Architecture sequence
Content Summary: 500 words, 5 min read

When I first started teaching myself psychology, a metaphor that resonated with me was that of “cognitive furniture”. At the time, it captured much of my unhappiness with the tabula rasa described by Hobbes, the introspective privileges provided by Descartes, and the folk psychology embedded within my culture. To state the insight of this metaphor in my language: the mind has a shape.

Explanatory Scope

The scope of cognitive science is, simply, the entirety of the human experience. Consider the breadth of our task. Our theory must generate – from scratch – the list of human universals generated by anthropologists. The entire breadth of differences between generations, cultures, individuals must be afforded by micro-modifications to this one architecture. Whence our evidence? From every conversation, every relationship, every page of every book, and practically everything else.

This is not to say that other disciplines will be left with nothing to contribute. For example, sociology conceives of human experience at a different level of analysis. While human social networks will ultimately reduce to human social modules, sociology will remain fertile (just as chemistry persists after its reduction to physics via quantum chemistry).

Target Perspectives

I will wear many hats during our survey. These hats include:

  • Ecological pressures on the genesis of the homo sapiens central nervous system (evolutionary psychology, ecology, etc)
  • Methods by which mental modules interact within their ecosystem (cognitive psychology, social psychology, etc)
  • Computational principles and neurobiological substrates of mental modules (cognitive neuroscience, anatomy, etc)

I plan to index this research with two lists:

  1. The Module Master List will collect furniture of the human mind. A common style of theorizing here will be upward theorizing, moving from module-talk to behavior-talk. For example, I intend to treat your attachment module with this strategy.
  2. The Explananda Master List will collect behaviors of the human species. A common style of theorizing here will be downward theorizing, moving from behavior-talk to module-talk. For example, I intend to treat romantic love with this strategy.

Motivations

This series of posts is not the regurgitation of a solitary researcher. I am motivated by a particular vision of integrative research: I will jump from discipline to discipline compressing results, evaluating controversies, and conducting metasurveys. I intend to explicitly link my work to the existing literatures as much as I can; I view original research as an activity best positioned “on the shoulders of giants”. In my estimation, integrative research purchases its ability to organize and cross-fertilize at the price of ambiguity, and I am not immune to this tradeoff.

To conclude on an organizational note, everything about this project will become more sophisticated as my research perspective evolves (put another way, much of my writing will embarrass me within six months). Given my driving purpose – to deliver clear and correct results – outdated content may be summarily removed or overwritten. Refactors to the above organization (e.g., moving from two Master Lists to three) is more difficult to anticipate but should flow along a similar vein. Outdated content will only be saved & versioned if deemed to serve some secondary purpose.

Time to discover how an algorithm feels from the inside.

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