The Connoisseur's Guide to the Mind

Roger C. Schank

I love to eat and I love to think. But, I really don't want to spend too much time analyzing what I eat. I just want to eat good things. I don't want to prepare them, or even know that much about how they were prepared. I just want to order them and have them appear and taste good. To do this, I have to know enough to order intelligently. I must learn something about what is available to be ordered or who is good at preparing what.

It is possible to enjoy good thinking just as one enjoys good eating. One can appreciate the work of others, listening or reading, as the opportunity presents itself. This might mean knowing what courses to take and which teachers to listen to, or which authors have something important to say.

In this way, eating and thinking have an important similarity. One can appreciate the work of others, and feel quite knowledgeable, without becoming either a chef or an author. One only has to learn enough to appreciate what is being served.

Eating and thinking have another thing in common. Sometimes one cannot simply order, one has to produce. In the case of eating, many of us are happy to be bad cooks, or at least not as good as various experts we are aware of, knowing that we will not have to eat our own cooking forever.

We need not learn to understand what a great chef is doing when he cooks, because restaurants are available. But, in this regard, thinking is quite different from eating. We are almost constantly engaged in thinking. Though we could stand idly by while we think badly, knowing that libraries will always be available, it is important to understand enough about how our own minds work, so that we can make effective use of them.

This book is about eating and thinking. I have spent most of my adult life thinking about thinking. I have also thought a lot about eating. Unfortunately, no one pays me for this so I have spent more time on thinking. This is okay because thinking is great fun. Even more fun is thinking about thinking.

For many years, researchers in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been thinking about thinking. it might seem odd, at first glance, that such work be done with computers, rather than, for example, with psychology. Of course, work on thinking does take place in psychology laboratories. But, in Al we have the luxury of being able to build explicit models of the thinking process without having to worry about details such as, can what we are saying be proved? instead we worry about whether what we propose as a model of how thinking works can actually be built. To put this another way, in AI we think about the process of thinking rather than what can be proven about thinking.

So my coworkers, students, and I have been thinking about thinking for many years. We watch real people think and try to build models of what it is we think they are doing so we can get computers to do the same thing. Of course, we also eat, and because professors spend a great deal of time talking about their work in odd comers of the globe, we get to eat odd cuisines in those odd places.

So, even more fun than thinking about thinking is thinking about thinking and eating. I hope that you agree because that is what this book is about.

Chicago, Illinois
January 1991


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