Part I, II
How does the brain solve the problem of recognizing a musical tune or an utterance irrespective of its amplitude, tempo or overall pitch? How does it determine that a pony is a type of horse, that dogs, coyotes and wolves are related, or that going on a wild goose chase is not really about running after a bird? These are important questions because they have to do with one of the most fundamental and essential aspects of intelligence: the brain's ability to draw analogies. Without it, we would have a hard time understanding each other or the world around us. In this two-part article, I will argue that the secret to making analogies lies in the timing of sequences and the ability to make predictions.
Analogies, Hofstadter and Predictions
Professor Douglas Hofstadter is the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. Hofstadter became famous after the publication in 1979 of his book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize. He is one of those elitist academics who have developed a fanatical faith in materialism and naturalism. In other words, he believes that complex life somehow sprang from dirt and evolved into bats and whales all by itself and that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. It never ceases to amaze me that some of the most brilliant and knowledgeable people on earth can be so full of crap at the same time. From my perspective, it is fitting that true AI, the kind that materialists like Hofstadter are after, will come from the one place that they least expect.
This is not to say that Hofstadter has nothing interesting to say. Far from it. Like I said, the man is brilliant, one of those highly educated intellectuals one never gets tired of listening to, whether or not one agrees with what they have to say. The reason that I bring this up has to do with analogies. Hofstadter spent the last four decades preaching to everyone who was willing to listen that the ability to detect analogies is at the core of human intelligence. He makes a pretty convincing case. Of course, analogies are not the be-all of intelligence. There would be no intelligence without the ability to learn patterns and sequences, to make predictions, to develop motor skills, to seek goals and adapt to one's environment. Hofstadter is aware of all this, I am sure, but he has chosen to focus only on aspects of intelligence that involve analogies. For example, he speculates about how thoughts in memory are organized in chunks (what I and others are calling a hierarchical structure), and how a single conscious thought can awaken another and make it available to introspection in working memory.
Naturally, one wonders why nothing spectacular has emerged from the decades Hofstadter and his students have spent experimenting with analogies. Hofstadter has only himself to blame, in my opinion. He perfectly understands that analogies are at the core of the organization of memory but, instead of digging deep to the root of the phenomenon, he spends most of his time and energy playing with pictograms, languages and words, i.e., with symbols. It is all very entertaining but it is an altogether too high a level of abstraction. Surely the ability to recognize an analogy is much more fundamental than the high level manipulation of symbols. The only way to explain how the brain makes analogies is to come up with a biologically plausible mechanism that is universally applicable to all types of analogies. By focusing on language, Hofstadter has locked himself into the same box as the symbol manipulation proponents of the last century and the Bayesian Brain fanatics of this century. That's too bad.
Strangely, it never occurs to Hofstadter that analogies are possible, not because the brain is designed specifically to discover them, but because the brain is designed and organized to make something that is even more fundamental than analogies: predictions. This will be the topic of my next post.