Abstract for AISB 2000: How to Design a Functioning Mind
AUTHOR: Keith Oatley,
University of Toronto
TITLE: Shakespeare's invention of theatre as simulation that runs on
The idea of simulation introduced into psychology the experience
of designing computational procedures as means of understanding
the complexly interacting processes of mind.
In any fully functioning cognitive system, such as the human
mind, emotions would be central since they manage cognition and
action. The management is in relation to an outer world of
objects and events for which mental models will always be
incomplete and sometimes incorrect, and agency will often be
inadequate. In the human case it is in relation to an inner world
in which we humans have many goals (concerns), some of which are
incompatible, and in relation to a social world in which we
cooperate and conflict with other agents constituted much as we
I propose that the central issue of designing a complete
cognitive system relates to this last issue: distributed
cognition and agency. We humans bridge our cognitive deficit of
inadequate knowledge and agency, by cooperating with others to
extend our mental models and capabilities, and we can deal with
multiple goals by having different people represent different
concerns. We are members of that species who accomplish together
what we cannot do alone. This is the solution to which the
evolution of the human brain has devoted most of its computing
power. Problems in the social domain, often just beyond the
horizon of easy understanding, are ones that continue to occupy
each one of us.
My proposal is that a principal means of improving our
understanding of such matters is indeed simulation, but--perhaps
paradoxically in this context--the kind of simulation that runs
on minds rather than on computers. In modern Western culture, it
was Shakespeare who first implemented this idea.
Shakespeare's great innovation was of theatre as a model of the
world. The audience member constructs the simulated model, in the
course of the play, and thereby takes part in the design
activity. One sees Shakespeare's idea not just in his calling his
theatre "The Globe," and in speeches like "All the world's a
stage" but in the deep structure of his plays. So fiction is to
understanding social interaction as computer simulations are to
understanding, perception, reasoning, etc. Shakespeare was
influenced by Erasmus who proposed that what appears on the
surface of human life is not typically what is important for
understanding the social world or individual people.
Shakespeare's innovation was to design plays as simulations of
the interactions of people, who are distinct characters, with
their predicaments, so that the deep structure of selfhood and
social interaction becomes clearer. I explore this idea by
analyses of Henry IV part 1, As you like it, and Hamlet. As we
run such simulations on our minds, we not only construct and
experience the emotions of the vicissitudes that cause them, but
we are enabled to reflect on them to create deeper level mental
models of individuals (including ourselves) and of interaction.
Understanding the properties of such mental models is the
principal step in designing a fully human-like mind.
Chair, Department of Human Development & Applied Psychology
OISE-University of Toronto
Keith Oatley was born in London, England. He was educated at the
Universities of Cambridge and London. He is a professor of cognitive
psychology at the University of Toronto, where he conducts research on
the emotions and their effects, on the influence of adversity on
emotional disorders such as depression, and on mental and emotional
processes that occur when people read fiction. Previously he was
at the Universities of Sussex and Glasgow in the UK.
He is the author of five books on psychology, including Best Laid
His first novel, The Case of Emily V won the 1994 Commonwealth
Writers Prize for Best First Novel.
His latest novel is A Natural History.
K. Oatley and J.M. Jenkins, Understanding Emotions,
Blackwell, Oxford, 1996,