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Minimal Model Explanations of Cognition

Brancazio, Nick and Meyer, Russell (2023) Minimal Model Explanations of Cognition. [Preprint]

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Active materials are self-propelled non-living entities which, in some circumstances, exhibit a number of cognitively interesting behaviors such as gradient-following, avoiding obstacles, signaling and group coordination. A live proposal across both scientific and philosophical discussions is that this may make them useful as minimal models of cognition (Hanczyc 2014, McGivern 2019). Batterman and Rice (2014) have argued that what makes a minimal model explanatory is that the model is ultimately in the same universality class as the target system, which underpins why it exhibits the same macrobehavior. We appeal to recent research in basal cognition (Lyon et al. 2021) to establish appropriate target systems and essential features of cognition as a target of modeling. Looking at self-propelled oil droplets, a type of active material, we do not find that organization alone indicates that these systems exhibit the essential features of cognition. We then examine the specific behaviors of oil droplets but also fail to find that these demonstrate the essential features of cognition. Because cognitive behaviors are not a universality class, Batterman & Rice’s account of the explanatory power of minimal models simply does not apply. However, we also want to stress that it is not intended to; cognition is not the same type of behavioral phenomena as those found in physics. We then look to the minimal cognition methodology of Beer (1996, 2020) to show how active materials can be explanatorily valuable regardless of their cognitive status because they engage in specific behaviors that have traditionally been expected to involve internal representational dynamics. It is not because these model systems are also cognitive that they can be explanatory, but because they can reveal misconceptions about the cognitive underpinnings of certain, specific behaviors in target systems where such behaviors are cognitive.

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Item Type: Preprint
Brancazio, Nicknickbrancazio@gmail.com0000-0002-7345-2337
Meyer, Russellrussell.meyer92@gmail.com0000-0003-3088-2617
Additional Information: forthcoming in European Journal for Philosophy of Science
Keywords: active materials; minimal cognition; minimal models; universality class; cognitive processes
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: Dr. Nick Brancazio
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2023 13:17
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2023 13:17
Item ID: 22409
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 9 August 2023

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