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Message on self control by Aaron Sloman in response to Pete Mandik
Posted on 2 Aug 1996 to the Psyche-D Usenet group (long since defunct)

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Date:         Fri, 2 Aug 1996 19:19:18 GMT
Reply-To:     PSYCHE Discussion Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sender:       PSYCHE Discussion Forum <[log in to unmask]>
From:         Aaron Sloman <[log in to unmask]>
Organization: School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK
Subject:      Re: Are we always in control? (Was Re: I can't see -- all is dark
Comments: To: [log in to unmask]

This is a very hasty and incomplete response as I am about to leave for AAAI96 at Portland (returning 10th Aug). Pete Mandik <[log in to unmask]> wrote on Tue, 30 Jul 1996, starting with some kind words: > I find Sloman's proposal for the architecture of self control quite > plausible. It certainly merits having further details worked out. > .... Yes. I am aware of many gaps, including the need to replace the metaphorical talk of a global workspace with something much more precise. Also the various distinctions: reactive, deliberative, and meta-management architectures are simplified approximations. [ NOTE ADDED 3 Mar 2014: For a more recent elaboration of these distinctions see ] Pete then raises questions about the real "you" (or "me"?): > Recall that Sloman proposes that organisms who enjoy control have three > layers, the reactive, the deliberative, and the meta-manager. And he > suggests that you are in control just in case your behavior satisfies the > goals of the meta-manager. > ..... > > Why is it that the *you* in the sense of *doing what you want to do* is > identified with the meta-manager? I think that there are two answers here. The first is that talking about "the you" at all, and trying to identify it with anything is just a muddle. (It's not even grammatical, which is a sign that some philosophical urge is at work that should be controlled.) We don't have to identify "the *you*" (whatever that may be) with anything at all to explain the difference between you being in control of your thoughts and you not being in control of your things. Why should *you* be anything more, or less, than the whole person? The question is just ill-formed. The second answer is to diagnose the reasons why we are tempted to look for a special thing within, to be the real "you". We can then hope to offer a better way of thinking about such things. I'll elaborate on these two answers. First another reminder | ...I'll just summarise by saying that | meta-management mechanisms are a subset of deliberative | mechanisms that can to some extent monitor internal | processes including themselves (like a computer operating | system), evaluate options, select strategies, and | make plans for the deliberative system. (a) Note that I did not claim that there is any *identification* of anything (you, me, the self, the soul, or whatever) with the meta-manager. I merely offered the extra layer of architecture as a possible explanation of how it is possible to make a distinction between being in control of ones thoughts (i.e. processes in the deliberative sub-architecture) and being partly out of control of those things. The basic idea is very simple: if there's nothing in the system that can monitor deliberative processes, and nothing that can form goals and plans for the deliberative processes, then there's no way we can make a distinction between cases where those deliberative processes do and cases where they do not conform to such goals and plans. I.e. there would be no distinction between being in control of thoughts and not being in control of thoughts. Please do not read any more into this than I have said. In particular, there is also no presumption of uniqueness of "personality" in the monitoring system. Although I did not say this in my original posting, it is obvious that meta-management *mechanisms* may at different times be "occupied by" what we may think of as different collections of "high level software", i.e. different collections of principles, preferences, beliefs, long term aims, etc. In pathological cases this will correspond to multiple personality disorder. (My original message in this thread provoked a private communication from a therapist supporting the link between the architecture and MPD). In simpler, more commonplace, cases the changing "occupancy" of the meta-management system will correspond to the sorts of (partial) changes that occur (usually unconciously and non-deliberately) when a person who is gentle and caring at home becomes dangerous and agressive when driving a car and hard and calculating when managing her staff at the office. Being hypnotised may be yet another case. How these changes occur is one of the gaps to be filled. It's not just changes in the meta-management processes, of course. The explanation of such changes need not refer to any "real you" deciding which personality should get into the driver's seat in different contexts. E.g. such switching between high level meta-management control states could be one of the more sophisticated functions of part of the purely reactive system. (People differ in the extent to which they are aware of such things and can change them when they decide they need changing.) In other words, I was not offering a theory that presupposes that "there's a real unique ME". That's just a romantic myth for which theologians, poets and teenagers are to blame. There's lots more to be said about how these different temporarily dominant *personalities* (or sub-personalities in the more normal cases) might monitor different subsets of internal events, etc, evaluate options differently and select different strategies for thinking, deliberating, deciding, etc. I expect psychologists have already documented some of the cases. It's worth stressing that I never intended to claim that the meta-management system was in TOTAL control of deliberative processes. As a number of respondents have pointed out to me, and many poets, composers, mathematicians and others (including Freud) have stressed in the past, human beings are normally constantly subject to having unselected thoughts, ideas, reminiscences, etc. Even when you are busy working hard on a purely intellectual task (e.g. responding to an email message, designing a program, proving a theorem) much of the detail simply emerges from the inaccessible murk. That's why I included "or do not contradict" when I wrote: Conjecture: being in control of thoughts, or attention, involves being in a state where the deliberative processes and other internally monitored processes conform to, or do not contradict, goals and plans of the meta-management system. Don't look for any "you" in there. (b) The second task is to diagnose the causes of the demand for something to `identify with' "the you" . I suspect one source is social pressure to assign blame or praise for purposes of social control (understood in the broadest possible sense, including what you'd like your friends and loved ones to do to you). This can function BOTH via mechanisms that we are not necessarily conscious of (including reinforcement learning systems in the reactive sub-architecture) AND ALSO via changes within meta-management processes. For the latter to work, the meta-management processes must already have some (genetically determined or otherwise inculcated) preference for taking account of the judgements of others, including judgements about how one should think, how one should reason, how one should assess alternative ways of deliberating, i.e. judgements about the very material the meta-management system is concerned with. (A curious feature of such an architecture is the way it can also treat information about its own judgements in the same way as it treats information about the judgements of others. When people rebuke themselves, blame themselves, exhort themselves, etc. these *social* control mechanisms may perhaps be triggered -- to good or bad effect, depending on the case). Insofar as part of the architecture is not amenable to such influences we start making (spurious) distinctions between the "real" you who can be praised or blamed and the other bits. There are probably other influences also. Anyhow, instead of all this we should allow that the really real you has different components: i.e. you have a complex architecture. (Kant: a good man is a man with a good will. Pity about the nether regions.) [PM] > We can imagine an alternative architecture Is this a different *architecture* ??? > whereby I do not identify with > the goals of the meta-manager, but instead with the edicts of one of the > lower layers. I don't know what "identify with" means here. I can think of a possible interpretation. E.g. you try becoming a certain sort of hippy or whatever. But it's still just meta-management choosing strategies for the deliberative system: "OK now -- Just give in to all those urges from now on. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die." (Or have a hang over.) [PM] > ..What might such an alternative be like? Note: it's not an alternative. It's a particular form of meta-management. > ...Well, maybe the > goals of the meta-manager would be relayed to me in the form of auditory > hallucinations, voices of the gods, ("Pete don't forget to pick up a > six-pack at the store") which I obey unless there's some more urgent > buisness to attend to, like fighting off a wild boar, or something. Why would you call these ghostly goals the goals of the meta-manager? The meta-management mechanisms are *defined* as those that allow monitoring, evaluating and controlling of deliberative processes. If some other part of the architecture is able to generate voices "heard" by the meta-manager or visions "seen" by the meta-manager that's an interesting possibility, but you need to be careful how you describe it. It was an important feature of the architecture I described that reactive mechanisms could disturb, interrupt, divert, deliberative processes (including meta-management processes). (Think of those cases where a horrible jingle that you have heard, e.g. a silly advertising tune, just sticks in your brain and keeps re-surfacing. Why?) [PM] > So anyways, it seems that one of the many details that will need to be > worked out in a theory of self control is to say a bit more about what > the *sense* of self is and why it gets glued to one layer and not the other. You may find it useful to read an old paper by Marvin Minsky : `Matter Mind and Models' originally published about 30 years ago. It is now available online [Link corrected 2 Mar 2014] He makes a point which is close to a point made independently by P.F. Strawson (and no doubt many more) namely that insofar as we need to include ourselves (and other people) in our models of the world we need models with a "bipartite" structure, where one part is mechanical, physical, geometrical, etc. and another part is concerned with the information acquired, stored, processed, used, i.e. social and psychological experiences. (My loose paraphrase.) The same would be true of any intelligent robot. Similar distinctions can be made about the information that nodes in a computer network have about the network, e.g. there's information about the various physical nodes and links and their locations etc. and there's information about the types of software, services provided, information stored, etc. at various locations. Each node in the network may have a model of the whole network, including itself, and may include a similar division in its model of itself. If some of the nodes have such information and other lesser nodes do not, then those that do may include, in their models of themselves, the fact that they have models of themselves, and perhaps also something about the contents of those models. The recursion need not be viciously infinite.) Since all such information is *necessarily* an oversimplification of reality our models of ourselves will be oversimple in various ways: both our models of ourselves as physical and our models of ourselves as things with minds. No doubt there are strong cultural differences. Anyhow, I suggest that instead of trying to `identify with' a part of yourself you simply live with the fact that you are very complex, and although you can distinguish cases when you are in control of your thought processes and cases where you are not, most of what goes on in your mind just goes on. Aaron -- Aaron Sloman, ( ) School of Computer Science, The University of Birmingham, B15 2TT, England EMAIL [log in to unmask] Phone: +44-121-414-4775 (Sec 3711) Fax: +44-121-414-4281

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