The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Script

In the 1970s, Roger Schank employed similar ideas in his model of “conceptual dependency” and in his theory of "case-based reasoning”. 

Case-based reasoning is a form of analogical reasoning in which the elementary unit is the “case”, or situation. A type of memory called “episodic” archives generalizations of all known cases. Whenever a new case occurs, similar cases are retrieved from episodic memory. Then two things happen. First, the new case is interpreted based on any similar cases that were found in the episodic memory. Second, the new case is used, in turn, to further refine the generalizations, which are then stored again in episodic memory. 

The crucial features of this model are similar to the ones that characterize frames. Interpretation of the new case is expectation-driven, based on what happened in previous cases.  Episodic memory contains examples of solutions, rather than solutions or rules to find solutions.

Because the episodic memory is continuously refined, Schank refers to it more generally as “dynamic” memory: it can grow on its own, based on experience.  The script is an extension of the idea of the case.

A scene is a general description of a setting and of a goal in that setting.  A script is a particular instantiation of a scene (many scripts can be attached to one scene).

A script is a social variant of Minsky's frame. A script represents stereotypical knowledge of situations as a sequence of actions and a set of roles. Once the situation is recognized, the script prescribes the actions that are sensible and the roles that are likely to be played. The script helps understand the situation and predicts what will happen. A script performs “anticipatory” reasoning.

For example, a script describes the scene of a restaurant: the host seats the customers as they walk in and hands them a menu, the waiter takes their order and delivers it to the kitchen, the waiter brings the food, the waiter brings the bill, the waiter brings the change. When we enter a restaurant, we know what to expect. The moment we recognize a building as a restaurant, we know that there are waiters inside. If we walk in, we “expect” to be handed a menu, and we expect a waiter to take our order, and at the end we expect the bill. This is all in the script for restaurants. Our daily life is controlled by a multitude of scripts that direct our actions in all stereotypical situations (the vast majority of the situations that we encounter in our life).

A script is a generalization of a class of situations. If a situation falls into the context of a script, then an expectation is created by the script, based on what happened in all previous situations. If the expectation fails to materialize, then a new memory must be created.  Such new memory is structured according to an "explanation" of the failure.  Generalizations are created from two identical expectation failures. Memories are driven by expectation failures, by the attempt to explain each failure and learning from that experience.  New experiences are stored only if they fail to conform to the expectations. 

Here, again, remembering is closely related to understanding and learning. Memory has the passive function of remembering and the active function of predicting.  The comprehension of the world and its categorization proceed together. 

More and more complex structures were added by Schank and his associates to the basic model of scripts. A "memory organization packet" (MOP) is a structure that keeps information about how memories are linked in frequently occurring combinations. A MOP is both a storing structure and a processing structure. A MOP is basically an ordered set of scenes directed towards a goal.  A MOP is more general than a script in that it can contain information about many settings (including many scripts). A "thematic organization packet" is an even higher-level structure that stores information independent of any setting. 

Ultimately, knowledge (and intelligence itself) is stories. Cognitive skills emerge from discourse-related functions: conversation is “reminding” and storytelling is “understanding” (and in particular “generalizing”). The stories that are told differ from the stories that are in memory: in the process of being told, a story undergoes changes to reflect the intentions of the speaker. The mechanism underlying stories is similar to script-driven reasoning: understanding a story entails finding a story in memory that matches the new story and enhancing the old story with details from the new one.  Underlying the mechanism is a process of "indexing" based on identifying five factors: theme, goal, plan, result and lesson. Memory actually contains only "gists" of stories, that can be turned into stories by a number of operations (distillation, combination, elaboration, creation, captioning, adaptation). Knowledge is embodied in stories and cognition is carried out in terms of stories that are already known.

This may explain both the passion for sport races (whether car racing or cycling) and for narrative art (whether films or novels). Both categories of human activities basically construct very complicated stories that challenge our minds. As we follow a race, we construct a story based on the stereotype actions that can happen in a race. And we root for our idol based on what stereotype actions would propel her/him to the head of the race. As we watch a film, we construct a story based on the stereotype actions that can happen in a film. And we identify with the protagonist based on what stereotype actions would make her/him succeed.


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