Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind
Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennett, Reginald B. Adams
There is a spectrum of books on the brain or mind. There are the reductionists that consider the neurons and what a collection of a few neurons can do. At the other end are the mentalists and psychologists that build on the subjective and clinical. There are very few books in the vast middle. This book is in the middle, and it is a far reach on either side to the next book that I am aware of. That’s progress.
Unordered so far:
I find myself enjoying but not analyzing the jokes in the book. This is of course, counterproductive in this context.
The ‘running gag’: This is where some repetitive characteristic is repeated over and over while remaining funny. Molière excelled at this, and a few modern movie directors. This is in the pattern of Bergson’s mechanical humor.
The adaptive purpose of humor has not been addressed before that I recall. The book sets out a high goal for ‘theory of humor’ which all theories that I am aware of fail.
Page 86: Quote:
The authors show some cognizance of what it is to be a program as they describe why most current software approaches to emotion are wrong. Still the logical functions need integrity in their state in order to serve the ends for which they evolved. Of course they don’t always retain this integrity but an oversimplified model with emotion at the top would deny them any integrity. Coroutines are a software pattern that allows two cooperating programs to interact with neither being superior. Coroutines are too simple however. Blackboard systems come closer but do not attempt to capture the peculiar authority of the emotions.
I am especially happy that the authors realize that the conventional ways to program a conventional computer are not the only ways.
An idea pops to mind here which a brief glance at the index suggests may not be noted in the book:
Dennett’s ‘multiple draft’ mechanism suggests itself in a significant class of humor.
When we hear about the ‘fish in their tank’, drafts are begun for each several meanings of “tank”.
The military tank draft is quickly submerged leaving no memory trace.
Forgotten but not gone, it is resurrected at the end and crows gleefully ‘I told you so’.
It is the happy draft and deposits itself in memory.
As I read farther in the book I see that they present somewhat of a generalization to multiple drafts, yet I think there are significant and relevant elements of the original theory not covered here.
This book has meat—it is dense. I disagree here and there but that is evidence that they have actually said something that is meaningful and often falsifiable. The first 100 pages has the content of many 200 page books.
GOFAI = “Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence” for page 106.
The book seems not to define “spreading activation” and I assume that this will do.
So far the book seems to propose a structure for the mind without a great deal of connection to humor. I like the idea of ‘mental space’ for its similarity to the block structures of modern programming languages which delimit the meanings of symbols. The obvious connection is that while a programmer considers such a block, he has in his head a corresponding mental state.
On page 106, Quote:
The book rails against the notion of ‘copying stuff to working storage’. I am sorry but copying information is exactly what axons do, no more—no less! It is true that the information takes a different form after it has been moved. So too in computers information is transformed for various strategic purposes.
This part of the book provoked this which needs more work.
I think the book protests too much against computer analogies. The book, and many others, protests against a naïve or obsolete view of what computers do. In modern computer languages an assignment or definition of a term does not generally copy data designated; more generally it copies or produces a pointer to that data, which in turn includes pointers (in the sense of Kanerva and less specifically in the sense of SA (spreading activations)) to other data much like the ‘nodes’ alluded to earlier. Brain ‘pointers’ and computer pointers are quite different in their detailed logical properties however.
I think that anticipation is important. I learned of that idea from Hawkins. It is not entirely obvious why however. It may be for the same reason that it is important in two person games of perfect information. With anticipation one has more time to plan what to do in likely situations. Indeed one can plan for contingencies—just in case—to scout ahead in one’s mind’s eye.
Page 127: They get around to discussing ‘mind space’ instead of merely invoking it. It seems quite like the hypothetical constructs in ‘natural deduction’ which is a form of formal logic that is intended to be more like actual mathematical thought than the dryer simpler constructs of conventional formal logic. They can be proven equivalent and indeed a simple efficient program can translate between the two sorts of logic.
The early 20th century invention of ‘natural deduction’ (ND) is an attempt to provide a formal logic that also has a recognizable connection to how we think that we think. ND is indeed very efficient and provides an intuitive entrée to formal logic. I wish that there were an adequate introduction to it on the web. A ‘proof’ in ND is composed of similar sub units, recursively, very much like computer programming languages which are defined recursively. Quote:
A ‘committed belief’ is an immediately available belief that you are unaware of. If you are sitting in a chair at the kitchen table and someone asks if you are sitting in a chair you will assume that he is broaching some obscure philosophical question. You will probably not examine the question of whether you are sitting in a chair. I am convinced of the notion of ‘committed belief’ or ‘epistemic commitment’. Here are two examples of this.
It just occurred to me (page 201) that committed beliefs reside in the hypothetical. Indeed in the realm of humor it is almost always so. Such beliefs are vaguely like ‘logical necessity’ in some formal logics.
As I read the book’s theory of jokes I am pushed to explain humor in other words—words that express an idea that I think comes directly from the book:
I think we humans have a large collection of prototypical situations (PS) accumulated in our head. These are conveyed culturally by stories, anecdotes and direct experience. These PSs have parameters which must be bound as we recognize some concrete instance of a PS. We see a group of 4 people, two large and two small. We exhume our ‘family PS’ and subconsciously try to identify which of the large people is the father, and perhaps the genders of the children. Such bindings can become brief hypothetical committed beliefs and thus subject to the logic of the book’s humor theory. The mathematician’s concept of a group is almost exactly such a PS. A mathematician knows he has seen some particular group when he identifies the operation between elements and the identity member of the group.
Just as the mathematician has a store of group theorems that are immediately available for predicting new information in the observed specific instance, so does the PS provide a number of expectations in a new situation. Tentative bindings play a crucial rôle in elaborating these expectations. All of this follows closely the patterns found in natural deduction. The book makes most of these points at the end of page 52 and attributes “frame” to Minsky and mentions “scripts” and “models” as antecedent notions by earlier authors. The formal logic connection is absent.
A computer is a PS which authors of books like this often invoke! They do this when they say that the brain is not like a computer. They often fail to mention the bindings that they have in mind when they declare this. The current authors are less at fault here than most recent authors.
Page 287: Quote
Page 289: Is humor an adaptation?
I suddenly see two different mechanisms which are adaptive:
Page 89: Quote: