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Anticipatory Representational Mechanisms in Animals

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  • UserDr. Marcin Milkowski, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
  • ClockWednesday 18 September 2013, 16:00-17:00
  • HouseMechanical Engineering, G36.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Leandro Minku.

Host: Prof. Aaron Sloman, Note: unusual time and place

Some of animal behavior can be explained by appeal to their internal or mental representations. For example, it is usually agreed that rats are capable of path integration (even in complete darkness, and when immersed in a water maze) because they maintain a cognitive map of their environment. Exactly how and why neural states give rise to mental representations is a matter of an ongoing debate. The purpose of my talk is to show that anticipatory mechanisms involved in rats’ cognitive maps meet Ramsey’s (2007) “job description challenge”: it is clear in what way they are representationally relevant for explaining and predicting rats behavior.

First, I introduce the idea of anticipatory representational mechanisms, which is used to analyze the current research in ethology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. Representational mechanisms (Mi?kowski, 2013) have at least the following capacities: (a) referring to the target (if any) of the representation; (b) identifying the characteristics target; (c) evaluating the epistemic value of information about the target. While the first two capacities bear close resemblance to traditional notions of extension and intension, the third one is supposed to link the representational mechanism with the work of the agent or system that peruses it.

Such mechanisms are representational in that that they enable the system to detect that it is in error (via evaluation of the epistemic value) and they are prone to misidentification of targets because of the referential opacity. Both aspects, namely system-detectable error and referential opacity, are the basis for the causal relevance of content in representational mechanisms.

The anticipatory representational mechanisms have an additional capacity to anticipate the future characteristics of the represented target. Anticipatory capacities are posited widely in current cognitive science (Pezzulo, 2008, 2011) and they have deep connections with Rosen’s anticipatory systems (Rosen, 1991, 2012). I will claim that anticipatory mechanisms in my sense meet Ramsey’s challenge, and that taxis behavior in animals does not. This suggests that the presence of anticipation is also strong evidence for the presence of representation in observed animals. In particular, the role of error detection (for which there is partial neurological evidence in rats) will be stressed.


Milkowski, M. (2013). Explaining the Computational Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Pezzulo, G. (2008). Coordinating with the Future: The Anticipatory Nature of Representation. Minds and Machines, 18(2), 179-225. doi:10.1007/s11023-008-9095-5

Pezzulo, G. (2011). Grounding Procedural and Declarative Knowledge in Sensorimotor Anticipation. Mind & Language, 26(1), 78-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0017.2010.01411.x

Ramsey, W. M. (2007). Representation Reconsidered. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511597954

Rosen, R. (1991). Life itself: a comprehensive inquiry into the nature, origin, and fabrication of life. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rosen, R. (2012). Anticipatory systems: philosophical, mathematical, and methodological foundations (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

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