Metareasoning and mental simulation


Jessica Hamrick

(UC Berkeley)

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Date: February 22, 2017


At any given moment, how do we decide what to think about, how to think about it, and how long to think for? My research attempts to answer these questions by focusing on the phenomenon known as “mental simulation”, which is the mind’s ability to imagine seeing, interacting with, and manipulating objects and scenes, almost as if they were real. Mental simulation is an ideal domain for studying how we manage our cognitive resources, in that there are many types of meta-level decisions to be made about mental simulation that cannot always be asked of other forms of reasoning. For example, which mental simulations should be run? How many mental simulations should be run? How long should each be run for? Through a series of behavioral experiments combined with machine learning models, I show how people adaptively use their mental simulations to learn new things about the world; that they choose which simulations to run based on which they think will be more informative; and that they allocate their cognitive resources to spend less time on easy problems and more time on hard problems.

Created: Friday, February 24th, 2017