All of CounterBlunder's Comments + Replies

Thanks for the thoughtful response, that perspective makes sense. I take your point that ACT-R is unique in the ways you're describing, and that most cognitive scientists are not working on overarching models of the mind like that. I think maybe our disagreement is about how good/useful of an overarching model ACT-R is? It's definitely not like in physics, where some overarching theories are widely accepted (e.g. the standard model) even by people working on much more narrow topics -- and many of the ones that aren't (e.g. string theory) are still widely k... (read more)

2Abram Demski2y
Makes some sense to me! This is part of why my post's conclusion said stuff like this doesn't mean you should believe in ACT-R. But yeah, I also think we have a disagreement somewhere around here. I was trained in the cognitive architecture tradition, which tends to find this situation unfortunate. I have heard strong opinions, which I respect and generally believe, of the "we just don't know enough" variety which you also espouse. However, I also buy Allen Newell's famous argument in "you can't play 20 questions with nature and win", where he argues that we may never get there without focusing on that goal. From this perspective, it makes (some) sense to try to track a big picture anyway.  In some sense the grand goal of cognitive architecture is that it should eventually be seen as standard (almost required) for individual works of experimental psychology to contribute to a big picture in some way. Imagine for a moment if every paper had a section relating to ACT-R (or some other overarching model), either pointing out how it fits in (agreeing with and extending the overarching model) or pointing out how it doesn't (revising the overarching model).  With the current state of things, it's very unclear (as you highlighted in your original comment) what the status of overarching models like ACT-R even is. Is it an artifact from the 90s which is long-irrelevant? Is it the state of the art big-picture? Nobody knows and few care? Wouldn't it be better if it were otherwise? On the other hand, working with cognitive architectures like ACT-R can be frustrating and time consuming. In theory, they could be a time-saving tool (you start with all the power of ACT-R and can move forward from that!). In practice, my personal observation at least is that they add time and reduce other kinds of progress you can make. To caricaturize, a cog arch phd student spends their first 2 years learning the cognitive architecture they'll work with, while a non-cog-arch cogsci student can

I agree that there isn't an overarching theory at the level of specificity of ACT-R that covers all the different aspects of the mind that cognitive science researchers wish it would cover.  And so yes, I can see cognitive scientists saying that there is no such theory, or (more accurately) saying that even though ACT-R is the best-validated one, it's not validated on the particular types of tasks that they're interested in, so therefore they can ignore it.  

However, I do think that there's enough of a consensus about some aspects of ACT-R (and o... (read more)

Long-time lurker, first time commenting.  Without necessarily disagreeing on any object-level details, I want to give an alternate perspective. I'm a PhD in computational cog sci, have interacted with most of the top cognitive science departments in the US (e.g. through job search, conferences, etc), and I know literally zero people who use ACT-R for anything. It was never mentioned in any of my grad classes, has never been brought up in any talk I've been to -- I don't even know if I've even seen it ever cited in a paper I've read. I know of it, obvi... (read more)

2Abram Demski2y
I think my post (at least the title!) is essentially wrong if there are other overarching theories of cognition out there which have similar track records of matching data. Are there? By "overarching theory" I mean a theory which is roughly as comprehensive as ACT-R in terms of breadth of brain regions and breadth of cognitive phenomena. As someone who has also done grad school in cog-sci research (but in a computer science department, not a psychology department, so my knowledge is more AI focused), my impression is that most psychology research isn't about such overarching theories. To be more precise: * There are cognitive architecture people, who work on overarching theories of cognition. However, ACT-R stands out amongst these as having extensive experimental validation. The rest have relatively minimal direct comparisons to human data, or none. * There are "bayesian brain" and other sorta overarching theories, but (to my limited knowledge!) these ideas don't have such a fleshed-out computational model of the brain. EG, you might apply bayesian-brain ideas to create a model of (say) emotional processing, but it isn't really part of one big model in quite the way ACT-R allows. * There's a lot of more isolated work on specific subsystems of the brain, some of which is obviously going to be highly experimentally validated, but, just isn't trying to be an overaching model at all. So my claim is that ACT-R occupies a unique position in terms of (a) taking an experimental-psych approach, while (b) trying to provide a model of everything and how it fits together. Do you think I'm wrong about that? I think it's a bit like physics: outsiders hear about these big overarching theories (GUTs, TOEs, strings, ...), and to an extent it makes sense for outsiders to focus on the big picture in that way. Working physicists, on the other hand, can work on all sorts of specialized things (the physics of crystal growth, say) without necessarily worrying about how it fits in

That's a very good point, CounterBlunder, and I should have highlighted that as well.  It is definitely fairly common for cognitive science researchers to never work with or make use of ACT-R.  It's a sub-community within the cognitive science community.  The research program has continued past the 90's, and there's probably around 100 or so researchers actively using it on a regular basis, but the cognitive science community is much larger than that, so your experience is pretty common.

As for whether ACT-R is "actually amazing and people ha... (read more)

Does that paper actually mention any overall models of the human mind? It has a list of ingredients, but does it say how they should be combined?