Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Deliberator

In my last exciting post . . . okay, actually, the post before that . . . I began a discussion of the ideas that Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder put in the book In Praise of Desire.

It started off with the idea that deliberation is an act - it is something that we do - like turning on a light switch or getting something to drink out of the refrigerator. It is an action - an intentional action - which means it is backed up by beliefs and desires the way other actions are.

But what is it? What are we doing when we deliberate?

I am going to try phrasing this in words of my own choosing. Arpaly and Schroeder do not write in these terms, but I think it captures the ideas that they are trying to get across.

We put our beliefs in a deliberator, turn in on, and hope to get better beliefs as a result, which we then attach to our desires, in order (hopefully) to get better actions as a result. That is, in the hopes of getting actions that do a better job fulfilling our desires.

As an example, the authors speak of adding 3545 and 869. We feed these two numbers into the deliberator and then we run them through a deliberation.

we focus our attention first on the sum of 5 and 9, and keep in mind that the result ends in 4 (a conclusion that, itself, can be reached without the aid of deliberation), and then sum 1, 4, and 6…and so on, then we can perform a sequence of mental actions with the final result being a correct belief about the sum of 3545 and 869.

The deliberator does not always work.

For one thing, the quality of what we get out of a deliberator depends on the quality of beliefs that we put into them.

For another, it is up to us to maintain these deliberators. Those people who let their deliberators get dirty and clogged up by gunk and nonsense do not produce as good an output as those who keep their deliberators clean, well oiled, and its blades sharp.

This point is interesting. Since I was young, I have had a bit of a reputation for doing math quickly in my head that others struggled with. In doing the math in my head, I don't do it the way I was taught in school. I don't start on the right and work my way to the left. I start at the left and work my way right. "35 + 8 = 43. 4 + 6 = 10. 430 + 10 = 440. 9 + 5 = 14. 4400 + 14 = 4414.

But that just illustrates the point. That illustrates the practice of using a deliberator to deliberate.

In another of their examples, Harold's son calls to say he will be in Calgary on Tuesday and asks about getting together for lunch. Harold thinks about it for a moment. He puts "tuesday" and "lunch" into the deliberator. The deliberator searches memory for beliefs relevant to Tuesday and Lunch. It comes back with Planning Council meeting at 1:00 PM and not enough time to get to the meeting after lunch.

This is one of the things that the deliberator is good at. Put a belief in the deliberator, and it can conduct a search for other relevant events.

Again, it's not perfect, but it is better than nothing.

Among the facts that the agent can feed into the deliberator for processing includes beliefs about the agent's own desires - what the agent wants. An agent with a belief that he has a desire that p can focus on p and the deliberator will search beliefs for any facts relevant to p - like, things that might bring about p or prevent p from being realized. In this way, deliberating helps in the fulfillment or at least helps us in avoiding the thwarting of our desires.

I think . . . the authors do not comment on this issue . . . but I think that the deliberator can only hold beliefs, not desires, though it can hold beliefs about desires. Thus, the agent can believe that he would want to go to Hawaii, even though he has no interest in going to Hawaii, and thus work out how best to get to Hawaii. However, even though he makes these wonderful plans, he just never gets around to it because, let's be honest, "Hawaii is hot and crowded and costs way too much money and why would I want to go there anyway?"

Either way, that is what the deliberator is for. We act so as to fulfill our desires, given our beliefs. We have the capacity to feed our beliefs into a deliberator in order to try to get better beliefs. It proves useful in figuring out how to get the apples down from the top of the tree, how to trap and kill a rabbit, and how to build a spear. Once the deliberator evolved, we put it to good use.

No comments: