Decision-making and anticipations: Why Buridani’s ass is an unlikely creature (2005)

Alexander Riegler

In: Smit, I., Wallach, W. & Lasker, G. E. (eds.) Cognitive, emotive and ethical aspects of decision making in humans and in AI. Volume IV. Windsor, Canada: The International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, pp. 35-40

Asinus Buridani starved because it could not decide whether to feed from the left or right haystack. Naturally, decisions need to be triggered. Where does this bias come from? Usually conscious free will is held responsible despite warnings such as Huxley’s Helpless Spectator Theory, which degrades consciousness to mere surveillance unable to do anything, and Freud’s claim that human consciousness is not the ‘master in its own house’. Similarly, in Libet’s empirical results free will appears to be at the mercy of the limbic unconsciousness. Prinz framed this remarkable result as “We don’t do what we want, but we want what we do.” The consequences are obvious. What is referred to as a ‘decision maker’ is actually constructed at a level that obviously eludes conscious access. I propose an algorithmic account for decision making in humans and artificial cognitive agents that not only take the empirical results into consideration but also link decision making to the concept of anticipation. My claim is that decisions are the result of internal canalizations that arise from the dynamical hierarchical interlocking of structural elements in the cognitive system. This inevitably forces a particular path of how to react to certain contexts. I present psychological, ethological, and evolutionary evidence that support my account.

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