Science of Mush?

[From Bruce Abbott (951102.1420 EST)]

Shannon "Billy" Williams (951101) --

Bruce Abbott (951030.1715 EST)

Back in 1898, Edward L. Thorndike performed a classic experiment in which a
cat was placed in a wooden box having a door on one side whose latch could
be released from within the box, if only the cat knew what to do. The idea
was to determine how the cat learned to solve the problem.

Ok. Thorndike studied the evolution of cat behavior.

In a manner of speaking, yes. Would you rather that I had said "Thorndike
studied the evolution of cat behavior," or would you have preferred that I
give you the details concerning how he went about it?

To make sure that the cat would be motivated to get out of the box,
Thorndike arranged to perform the experiment immediately before the cat's
dinner-time...

Thorndike did not study the motivation behind the evolution of cat behavior.

Not what I said. Explain your interpretation.

To explain this gradual and subtle change in performance across trials,
Thorndike appealed to a process of "selecting and connecting."

Thorndike was not 'explaining the change' when he 'appealed to a process of
selecting and connecting'. He was describing the change. He was
describing what needed to be explained by an explanation for the change.

Explain.

Of course, it would be much better to have a mechanism that would account
in purely physical terms for the observed behavior patterns and their
differing frequencies, so as to derive the observed patterns from first
principles, but such a model was not available. Fortunately, it is
possible to make at least some progress without one

The progress that you describe in this post is towards defining the problem.

Explain. What constitutes an explantion? Are there different types or
levels of explanation, or only one type or level? Might Thorndike have been
offering one kind of explanation, one that then sets the stage for asking
another question, aimed at another level of explanation?

How do we distinguish between definition of a problem, and solution to the
problem?

Yes, how?

Opinions are neither arguments nor explanations. Restatements that
summarize a point can help to clarify what is being said, but they can also
distort and mislead. Thus, I would like to hear the reasoning behind your
conclusions and not just your conclusions. Fair enough?

Regards,

Bruce

[From Shannon Williams (951105)]

I just received this in my mail box this afternoon. I am sorry I did not
reply sooner.

Bruce Abbott (951102.1420 EST)--

Ok. Thorndike studied the evolution of cat behavior.

Would you rather that I had said "Thorndike studied the evolution of cat
behavior," or would you have preferred that I give you the details
concerning how he went about it?

I would have prefered the first. I was not aware that you realized that
Thorndike only described how the cat behavior evolved. He did not describe
what caused it to evolve, nor by what mechanism it evolved.

To make sure that the cat would be motivated to get out of the box,
                                  ^^^^^^^^^

Thorndike did not study the motivation behind the evolution of cat behavior.

Not what I said. Explain your interpretation.

You said: "To make sure that the cat would be motivated...". The
ramifications of this point of view is that motivation is not studied. It
is assumed. If you had asked Thorndike why he thought the cat wanted to
escape, what would he have answered?

What constitutes an explantion?

An explanation explains the process by which you start at state 'A'
and end up at state 'C'. This process, which we often call a thing (a
mechanism), must be well enough described so that we can implement/verify
the steps of the process.

Are there different types of explanation, or only one type ?

There is only one type of explanation. An explanation describes steps in a
process. An explanation details how things happen.

If you do not know how to physically proceed from state A towards
state C, then do you know how to get from state A to C? Just because you
know what needs to be done, does that mean that you know how to do it?
Does an explanation _explain_ anything, if after understanding it, you
still do not know how to get from A to C?

Are there different levels of explanation, or only one level?

There are different levels of explanation. The steps in each
process/mechanism, are themselves processes/mechanisms.

Might Thorndike have been offering one kind of explanation, one that
then sets the stage for asking another question, aimed at another level
of explanation?

No. Thorndike offered a black box description of a process. He said:

        "If we hold these inputs constant, these outputs appear. At
        first the outputs are random, but over time positive results are
        reinforced so that something selects for the most effective output."

This is a description of the characteristics of the box. If you were to
buy the box, or I were to build the box, these external characteristics
would be part of the box's functional specifications. They would not
explain how the box is to be built.

How do we distinguish between definition of a problem, and solution to the
problem?

Yes, how?

The definition is the description of the problem (mechanism in our case).
It is the functional specifications of the mechanism.

The solution to the problem is the specifications which explain how to
build the mechanism.

-Shannon