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CogSci 131

Levels of analysis

Tom Griffiths

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Levels of analysis
At what level should we try to model
human cognition?

Outline
Levels of analysis
Break
The computational level and cognition

David Marr

David Marr
1945-1980

1982

Marrs three levels


Computation
What is the goal of the computation, why is it
appropriate, and what is the logic of the strategy
by which it can be carried out?

Representation and algorithm


What is the representation for the input and
output, and the algorithm for the transformation?

Implementation
How can the representation and algorithm be
realized physically?

Analyzing information
processing systems
What is being computed?
Why is it being computed?

What is being computed?


Identification of the formal
system in operation
e.g. cash register: addition
zero element
3+0 = 3
commutative
3+4 = 4+3
associative (3+4)+5 = 3+(4+5)
inverses
4+(-4) = 0

Why is it being computed?


Justification of that formal
system in terms of function
e.g. cash register: addition
buying nothing costs nothing
order of purchase is irrelevant
grouping does not affect total
purchase+refund is zero
addition is the formal system that
satisfies these functional constraints

Computational theory
1. What is being computed?
2. Why is it being computed?
where 1. is a solution to the computational
problem specified by 2.

Analyzing information
processing systems
What representation?
What algorithm?

What representation?
Many formal systems solve the same
computational problems
e.g. 2+2=4 and 010+010=100

What is the mapping between representations


and the inputs and outputs to the system?
Different representations make certain
operations easier or more difficult
e.g. finding powers of 10 or powers of 2

Algorists vs. Abacists

Analyzing information
processing systems
What is the physical
implementation of the
system?

Marrs three levels


constrains

Computation
What is the goal of the computation, why is it
appropriate, and what is the logic of the strategy
by which it can be carried out?

constrains

Representation and algorithm


What is the representation for the input and
output, and the algorithm for the transformation?

Implementation
How can the representation and algorithm be
realized physically?

Marrs three levels


Computation
What is the goal of the computation, why is it
? Computational
appropriate,
and whatcognitive
is the logicscience
of the strategy
by which it can be carried out?

Representation and algorithm


What is the representation for the input and
Cognitive
psychology
output, and the algorithm for the transformation?

Implementation
How can the representation and algorithm be
Neuroscience
realized physically?

Computational models can be


defined at all three levels
Computation
What
is based
the goalon
of optimal
the computation,
why
Models
solutions
tois it
appropriate, and what is the logic of the strategy
abstract
computational
problems
by which it can be carried out?

Representation and algorithm


What is the representation for the input and
Models
based
on
cognitive
processes
output, and the algorithm for the transformation?

Implementation
How can
the representation
and algorithm
be
Models
based
on how neurons
compute
realized physically?

An example: Memory

An example: Memory
Implementation
How can the
representation
algorithm
be
Explaining
human
memoryand
based
on the
realizedformed
physically?
circuits
by hippocampal neurons
What computations are
supported by different
kinds of neurons?
What is the capacity of
memory systems made
from these neurons?
(Treves & Rolls, 1994)

An example: Memory
Representation and algorithm
How can the
representation
algorithm
be
Explaining
human
memoryand
based
on the
realized physically?
representation
of items with binary features,
and a rule for determining familiarity
Item 1: 00101011

Old probe: 00101011

Item 2: 01010010

New probe: 01111011

Item 3: 11011010

Activate items with matching features


Familiarity is sum of all activation
(e.g. Hintzman, 1988)

An example: Memory
Computation
How can the
representation
algorithm
be
Explaining
human
memoryand
as an
optimal
realized physically?
solution
to the statistical problem of
identifying items likely to be needed again

(Anderson, 1990)

Marrs three levels


Are three levels enough?
Are these the right set of three levels for
guiding investigation of cognition?
Is one level more important than the others?

Break

Up next:
The computational level and cognition

Is one level more important?


Marr: the computational level is most
important, imposing the most constraints

Is one level more important?


Marr: the computational level is most
important, imposing the most constraints
...trying to understand perception by studying only
neurons is like trying to understand bird flight by
studying only feathers: It just cannot be done. In order
to understand bird flight, we have to understand
aerodynamics; only then do the structure of feathers
and the different shapes of birds' wings make sense.

Only the computational level gives a


purposive (vs. mechanistic) explanation

Different kinds of explanation


Mechanistic: how?
algorithm
implementation

Purposive: why?
function/problem
optimal solution

Is one level more important?


The computational level is also the one at
which it doesnt matter whether were
studying humans or machines
input

output

input

output

input

output

Provides the potential for insights to cross


from one discipline to another

An example: Memory
Computation
How can the
representation
algorithm
be
Explaining
human
memoryand
as an
optimal
realized physically?
solution
to the statistical problem of
identifying items likely to be needed again

(Anderson, 1990)

Questions
How does one go about conducting a
computational-level analysis?
What is the equivalent of aerodynamics
for cognition?
Are there any dangers of pursuing
explanations at the computational level?

Questions
How does one go about conducting a
computational-level analysis?
What is the equivalent of aerodynamics
for cognition?
Are there any dangers of pursuing
explanations at the computational level?

Five easy steps


Step 1: Find an interesting aspect of cognition
Step 2: Identify the underlying computational problem
Step 3: Work out the optimal solution to that problem
Step 4: See how well that solution corresponds to
human behavior (do some experiments!)
Step 5: Iterate Steps 2-5 until it works

Optimization
The key to producing a purposive explanation
Provides a potential connection between
function and behavior, if theres a reason to
believe that behavior should be optimal
if people solve a problem badly, then thats not
the answer to a why question

Also the source of the connection to other


disciplines convergent evolution!
good solutions apply across different systems

Optima for animals


Explanations based on
optimization appear in
mathematical biology
structure of organisms
behavior

Adaptation is typically
explicitly evolutionary
(people can learn too)

Questions
How does one go about conducting a
computational-level analysis?
What is the equivalent of aerodynamics
for cognition?
Are there any dangers of pursuing
explanations at the computational level?

Cognitive aerodynamics
What is the mathematical theory that
characterizes optimal solutions for the
computational problems that people face?
Depends on the computational problem
deductive reasoning: logic
inductive reasoning: statistics

How are the computational problems that


people face best characterized?

Questions
How does one go about conducting a
computational-level analysis?
What is the equivalent of aerodynamics
for cognition?
Are there any dangers of pursuing
explanations at the computational level?

Five easy steps


Step 1: Find an interesting aspect of cognition
Step 2: Identify the underlying computational problem
Step 3: Work out the optimal solution to that problem
Step 4: See how well that solution corresponds to
human behavior (do some experiments!)
Step 5: Iterate Steps 2-5 until it works
This can be dangerous what if people just arent solving a
the problem in an optimal way?

Bad purposive explanations


Some properties of the structure of organisms
are explained by their history, not their function
e.g. male nipples

Some aspects of human cognition are going to


be explained by the structure of our brains and
our cognitive capacities
looking for purposive explanations everywhere will
cause trouble its a strategy rather than a rule

Levels of analysis
At what level should we try to model
human cognition?
computational
problem
algorithm
implementation

Thursday
The start of rules and symbols
read Haugeland on formal systems
read AIMA for background on logic

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