Dr. Shimon Edelman
One aspect of psychology that isn't broadly known by indidivuals, other than psychologists or psychology researchers, is the realm of computational psychology. Computers? And psychology? How can the two relate? Interestingly enough, there are boundless ways in which we use computational modeling to make sense of cognitive processes. This is what Dr. Shimon Edelman focuses on during his research at Cornell University. Computational psychology is part of the cognitive science family and explores the essence of cognition (including motivation, emotion, perception, etc.) and various cognitive functionalities through developing a detailed, process-based understanding by specifying corresponding computational models (in a broad sense) of representations, mechanisms, and processes (Sun, 2008). Essentially, this means it embodies descriptions of cognition in computer algorithms and programs, based on computer science. We use these "computer algorithms" to represent cognitive functions; therefore, allowing us to establish computational models of the way we think and make sense of the world around us.
The brain has many ways of establishing these computational models. There needs to be a mode of cultivating a representation of the world around us through the different sensory factors we possess. Such as, the eyes to see what happens around us, the skin to feel touch, heat or cold for example, our balance, the taste and texture of elements, and also the sound of our environment. This isn't an exhaustive list but covers a few of the main elements we use to create our own unique continuous representation of our own idiosyncratic reality. We make judgements and decisions computationally every single minute, dare I say second. Dr. Edelman touches on a recent study he conducted investigating the evolutionary mechanisms that certain feelings, such as pain, may have in influencing motivation (Kolodny et al., 2021). Thus, computational psychologists not only focus on the algortihmic processes that exist, but they also incorproate traditional psychological theories to elicit a more nuanced understanding of the mind.
"Minds are built around representations of the rest of the world and sometimes also of themselves."
Evolution may play a significant role in the ways in which we generate representations of the world around us, but what about culture? The different countries we live in, the variety of differnt foods we all eat, the types of religions that exist, the different reasons for which we are rewarded or punished by our society, along with the alternative ways we are raised by the generations before us that ultimately got to where you are today. All of these elements, too, play a significant role. Dr. Edelman shares his thoughts on this culutral vantage point and much more. Here more about computational psychology during our conversation using the link below.
(Recorded July 2021.)
Sun, R. (2008). The Cambridge Handbook of Computational Psychology. Cambridge University Press.
Kolodny, O., Moyal, R., & Edelman, S. (2021). A possible evolutionary function of phenomenal conscious experience of pain. Neuroscience of Consciousness. doi: 10.1093/nc/niab012
Dr. Edelman's TED Talk