Synthetic Neuroethology

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Abstract

Computation and philosophy intersect three times in this essay. Computation is considered as an object, as a method, and as a model used in a certain line of philosophical inquiry concerning the relation of mind to matter. As object, the question considered is whether computation and related notions of mental representation constitute the best ways to conceive of how physical systems give rise to mental properties. As method and model, the computational techniques of artificial life and embodied evolutionary connectionism are used to conduct prosthetically enhanced thought experiments concerning the evolvability of mental representations. Central to this essay is a discussion of the computer simulation and evolution of three-dimensional synthetic animals with neural network controllers. The minimally cognitive behavior of finding food by exhibiting positive chemotaxis is simulated with swimming and walking creatures. These simulations form the basis of a discussion of the evolutionary and neurocomputational bases of the incremental emergence of more complex forms of cognition. Other related work has been used to attack computational and representational theories of cognition. In contrast, I argue that the proper understanding of the evolutionary emergence of minimally cognitive behaviors is computational and representational through and through.

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