The idea of brain processes as simulations can unify the interpretation of a number of seemingly diverse mental functions. Rickert (1992) proposes to extend the idea of planning to trying out ideas, even in the absence of "a coherent plan." Plans need not be coherent or even rational. They need only include a sequence of actions determined in advance. The idea of thinking as simulation is consistent with my original conception, and extends it in a useful direction.
1.2 Rickert (1992) proposes to extend the idea of planning to trying out ideas, even in the absence of "a coherent plan." The planning mechanism, however, should be conceived more broadly than everyday plans of the "things to do today" sort. Plans need not be coherent or even rational. They need only include a sequence of actions determined in advance. The idea of thinking as simulation is consistent with my original conception, and extends it in a useful direction. An idea can be tried out as a linguistic string and fed back into the perceptual mechanisms of the brain, completing a serial loop through neurological machinery originally evolved to deal with the outside world. By a process of successive iterations, plans can thus be refined without having to try them out in the real world. Language greatly extends the range of possible simulations.
1.3 The simulation language can be used to unify several psychological processes that seem qualitatively distinct. Simulation of the past is memory and the continuous reworking of memory that occurs in active human (as opposed to passive computer) memories. Simulation of the future is generation of new plans, and simulation of the present is awareness.
1.4 The idea of thinking as simulation brings up computer analogies and the present fascination with virtual reality, a human-computer interface that gives the user the impression of actually being in a computer-generated environment. But the brain itself sits in an isolated environment, carefully insulated from the real world, both physically and biochemically (Bridgeman, 1988). The only things going in and out are tiny depolarizations on millions of parallel axons. Somehow the brain translates these into a reality, a sense of being in the present time and place. We are always the willing victims of an illusion of virtual reality.
Bridgeman, B. (1988) The Biology of Behavior and Mind. New York: Wiley.
Bridgeman, B. (1992) On the Evolution of Consciousness and Language. PSYCOLOQUY 3 (15) consciousness.1
Dennett, D. C. (1991) Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
Rickert, N. W. Consciousness and Simulation: Commentary on Bridgeman on Consciousness. PSYCOLOQUY 3 (15) consciousness.1