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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Metareasoning and Mental Simulation
by Hamrick, Jessica B., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2017, 169; 10690688
Abstract (Summary)

At any given moment, the mind needs to decide how to think about what, and for how long. The mind's ability to manage itself is one of the hallmarks of human cognition, and these meta-level questions are crucially important to understanding how cognition is so fluid and flexible across so many situations. In this thesis, I investigate the problem of cognitive resource management by focusing in particular on the domain of mental simulation. Mental simulation is a phenomenon in which people can perceive and manipulate objects and scenes in their imagination in order to make decisions, predictions, and inferences about the world. Importantly, if thinking is computation, then mental simulation is one particular type of computation analogous to having a rich, forward model of the world.

Given access to such a model as rich and flexible as mental simulation, how should the mind use it? How does the mind infer anything from the outcomes of its simulations? How many resources should be allocated to running which simulations? When should such a rich forward model be used in the first place, in contrast to other types of computation such as heuristics or rules? Understanding the answers to these questions provides broad insight into people's meta-level reasoning because mental simulation is involved in almost every aspect of cognition, including perception, memory, planning, physical reasoning, language, social cognition, problem solving, scientific reasoning, and even creativity. Through a series of behavioral experiments combined with machine learning models, I show how people adaptively use their mental simulations to learn new things about the world; that they choose which simulations to run based on which they think will be more informative; and that they allocate their cognitive resources to spend less time on easy problems and more time on hard problems.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Griffiths, Thomas L.
Commitee: Dragan, Anca D., Lombrozo, Tania
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 79/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cognitive psychology, Artificial intelligence
Keywords: Bayesian modeling, Cognitive modeling, Imagination, Mental simulation, Metareasoning, Physical reasoning
Publication Number: 10690688
ISBN: 978-0-355-83139-9
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