What's a mind without a body? New research adds physiology to computer models

January 16, 2018 by Erin Cassidy Hendrick, Pennsylvania State University
Though computers are becoming better programmed to process information like our brains do, the power of the human mind is unmatched. But what’s the mind without a body? Credit: iStock

Though computers are becoming better programmed to process information like our brains do, the power of the human mind is unmatched. But what's the mind without a body?

A new research study being conducted by Frank Ritter, professor in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), asserts that without a physiological complement, "[A computer program modeling the ] would just be a brain in a vat."

Ritter's reasoning for exploring this approach is that a 's natural needs, state and inclinations inherently influence whatever the mind does.

He explained, "All the aspects of a human body—nausea, hunger, emotion—they all support and drive cognition and influence it."

For example, while driving, the brain makes all the decisions about what speed to reach, where to turn. But what if the person driving had been awake for more than 24 hours? The fatigue on their body inevitably influences the ability to drive.

Now, thanks to a sub-contract, Ritter and Christopher Dancy, an assistant professor of computer science at Bucknell University and former Penn State IST doctoral student, are exploring that notion by programming a sense of bodily processes within a computer simulation.

The researchers are focusing the majority of their efforts on how the mind responds to . Specifically, they are exploring this topic through the framework of ACT-R/Phi, which combines a theory developed by Carnegie Mellon of how the human brain works (ACT-R) with a theory developed at the University of Mississippi of how the body works (HuMod). Built off the results of numerous psychology experiments, the combined ACT-R/Phi program allows researchers to determine how a human would react in different situations.

By adding the concept of a body to ACT-R/Phi, Dancy said, "We get a fuller picture of how our normal physiological functions modulate our actions and decisions."

The research is sponsored by the U.S. Army SBIR Program Office through a larger effort with Charles River Analytics. The researchers are focused on the application of ACT-R/Phi to predict, based on the factors the program can measure, how much weight a certain soldier could carry. Using their model, the researchers will apply the concept of fatigue in a more mannered and accurate way.

"[This] work will move towards giving a realistic picture of how we might predict a soldier would perform on certain tasks," Dancy said.

The researchers are hopeful their investigation can add a valuable perspective to the fields of robotics and psychology.

"Understanding how we transform and transfer information in our mind to make decisions is one part of study of IST in this digital age," Dancy concluded.

Explore further: Study finds driving speed affected when a driver's mind 'wanders'

Related Stories

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017

When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Computer model can predict human behavior and learning

November 7, 2008

A computer model that can predict how people will complete a controlled task and how the knowledge needed to complete that task develops over time is the product of a group of researchers, led by a professor from Penn State's ...

Mind wandering is common during driving

August 31, 2017

Researchers in the United States have investigated mind wandering in volunteers during a driving simulation. When prompted at random during the simulation, the volunteers reported mind wandering 70% of the time. Using electrophysiological ...

Will artificial intelligence become conscious?

December 8, 2017

Forget about today's modest incremental advances in artificial intelligence, such as the increasing abilities of cars to drive themselves. Waiting in the wings might be a groundbreaking development: a machine that is aware ...

Recommended for you

Nanoscale Lamb wave-driven motors in nonliquid environments

March 19, 2019

Light driven movement is challenging in nonliquid environments as micro-sized objects can experience strong dry adhesion to contact surfaces and resist movement. In a recent study, Jinsheng Lu and co-workers at the College ...

OSIRIS-REx reveals asteroid Bennu has big surprises

March 19, 2019

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid's surface. Bennu also revealed itself ...

The powerful meteor that no one saw (except satellites)

March 19, 2019

At precisely 11:48 am on December 18, 2018, a large space rock heading straight for Earth at a speed of 19 miles per second exploded into a vast ball of fire as it entered the atmosphere, 15.9 miles above the Bering Sea.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 17, 2018
Wow; absolutely groundbreaking - John Searle at Berkeley was a genius in 1980..... Oh...wait, this is 'new' work in A.I. ...? ... And the Army has greenlighted funds ... ...? If we're re-selling ideas a generation+ old, I wonder how much my Manhattan Project idea will net me? We still have a chance to win the war!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.