Neurodemocracy: Self-Organization of the Embodied Mind

Dissertation, University of Sydney (2017)
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This thesis contributes to a better conceptual understanding of how self-organized control works. I begin by analyzing the control problem and its solution space. I argue that the two prominent solutions offered by classical cognitive science (centralized control with rich commands, e.g., the Fodorian central systems) and embodied cognitive science (distributed control with simple commands, such as the subsumption architecture by Rodney Brooks) are merely two positions in a two-dimensional solution space. I outline two alternative positions: one is distributed control with rich commands, defended by proponents of massive modularity hypothesis; the other is centralized control with simple commands. My goal is to develop a hybrid account that combines aspects of the second alternative position and that of the embodied cognitive science (i.e., centralized and distributed controls with simple commands). Before developing my account, I discuss the virtues and challenges of the first three. This discussion results in a set of criteria for successful neural control mechanisms. Then, I develop my account through analyzing neuroscientific models of decision-making and control with the theoretical lenses provided by formal decision and social choice theories. I contend that neural processes can be productively modeled as a collective of agents, and neural self-organization is analogous to democratic self-governance. In particular, I show that the basal ganglia, a set of subcortical structures, contribute to the production of coherent and intelligent behaviors through implementing “democratic" procedures. Unlike the Fodorian central system—which is a micro-managing “neural commander-in-chief”—the basal ganglia are a “central election commission.” They delegate control of habitual behaviors to other distributed control mechanisms. Yet, when novel problems arise, they engage and determine the result on the basis of simple information (the votes) from across the system with the principles of neurodemocracy, and control with simple commands of inhibition and disinhibition. By actively managing and taking advantage of the wisdom-of-the-crowd effect, these democratic processes enhance the intelligence and coherence of the mind’s final "collective" decisions. I end by defending this account from both philosophical and empirical criticisms and showing that it meets the criteria for successful solution.

Author's Profile

Linus Huang
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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