Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception

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Benjamin L. Russell

Nov 11, 2009, 7:34:59 AM11/11/09
Recently, I stumbled across a rather fascinating project entitled
"Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-Making
and High-Level Perception" [1] (see

According to the Overview (see the site at the above-mentioned URL),

>Metacat is a computer model of analogy-making and perception that
>builds on the foundations of an earlier model called Copycat. Copycat was
>originally developed by Douglas Hofstadter and Melanie Mitchell as part of
>a research program aimed at computationally modeling the fundamental
>mechanisms underlying human thought processes. Central to the
>philosophy of this research is the belief that the mind's ability to perceive
>connections between apparently dissimilar things, and to make analogies
>based on these connections, lies at the heart of intelligence. According to
>this view, to understand the analogical mechanisms of thinking and
>perception is to understand the source of the remarkable fluidity of the
>human mind, including its hidden wellsprings of creativity.

For those of you who may have read the book _Fluid Concepts And
Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of
Thought_ [2], by Douglas Hofstadter, Copycat was a computer model of
analogy-making and perception that sought to examine the underlying
process of human creativity by focusing on analogies between patterns
of sequences of letters within words.

The name "Metacat" reminded me of a chapter in the book entitled
"Chapter 7. Prolegomena to Any Future Metacat," which itself was
probably a pun on the book _Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics_
[3], by the Western philosopher Immanuel Kant. Although the chapter
title is not referenced on the above-mentioned site, since the
architect, Marshall, worked together with Hoftstadter, it is highly
likely that that chapter title is at least partially responsible for
the name of the project.

Copycat lacked the ability of "self-watching"; it was unable to
examine how it arrived at its answers, and hence was unable to draw
conclusions on a meta-analogical level. Metacat addresses this issue,
as follows (see the above-mentioned Overview):

>Metacat focuses on the issue of self-watching: the ability of a system
>to perceive and respond to patterns that arise not only in its
>immediate perceptions of the world, but also in its own processing of
>those perceptions. Copycat lacked such an "introspective" capacity,
>and consequently lacked insight into how it arrived at its answers. It
>was unable to notice similarities between analogies, or to explain the
>differences between them or why one might be considered to be
>better or worse than another. In contrast, Metacat's self-watching
>mechanisms enable it to create much richer representations of
>analogies, allowing it to compare and contrast answers in an insightful
>way. Furthermore, it is able to recognize, remember, and recall
>patterns that occur in its own "train of thought" as it makes analogies.
>For instance, by monitoring its own processing, Metacat can often
>recognize when it has fallen into a repetitive cycle of behavior,
>enabling it to break out of its "rut" and try something else.

I tried out the Metacat simulation (its runs using Petite Chez Scheme
+ the Scheme Widget Library (SWL) + Tcl/Tk (version 8.3 or later)) on
Windows XP Professional, Service Pack 3 (for which there is a
self-extracting installer (see that installs Petite Chez
Scheme, SWL, and Tcl/Tk combined), and it worked! Although it took up
a lot of memory and ran rather slowly (the execution speed is
adjustable), it graphically represented the analogy-making process in
real time.

This kind of self-referencing cognitive project seems ideally suited
to Scheme. Does anybody know of any similar self-referencing or
reflective [4] projects for which the strengths of Scheme stand out?

-- Benjamin L. Russell

[1] Marshall, James B. "Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive
Architecture for Analogy-Making and High-Level Perception." James B.
Marshall. 17 Oct. 2009. 11 Nov. 2009.

[2] Hofstadter, Douglas R. _Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies:
Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought._ New York,
NY: Basic Books, Inc., March 21, 1996.

[3] Kant, Immanuel. _Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics._
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1783.

[4] "Reflection (computer science) - Wikipedia, the free
encyclopedia." _Wikipedia, the
free encyclopedia._ 9 Sept. 2003. 11 Nov. 2009.
Benjamin L. Russell / DekuDekuplex at Yahoo dot com
Translator/Interpreter / Mobile: +011 81 80-3603-6725
"Furuike ya, kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto."
-- Matsuo Basho^

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