Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Braitenberg Vehicle

In his book Vehicles, Braitenberg (1984) describes a number of thought experiments which are used to illustrate his synthetic approach to psychology. Each of these vehicles can be thought of as a robot in which simple relationshiops between sensors and motors are imposed. With each chapter, the vehicles become more complex: later vehicles evolve, are capable of learning, can predict future circumstances, and so on.

Braitenberg always contrasts our knowledge from the perspective of "building" these devices to the knowledge of those who encounter these machines already built and behaving. He argues that these latter individuals, if given the task of inferring the internal structures of the behaving agent (i.e., analytic theory), will generate more complex theories than the ones available to the researchers. One reason for this is that analytic theories fall into the frame of reference problem (Pfeifer & Scheier, 1999) by attributing behavioral complexities to internal mechanisms, and not to environmental influences. That is, analytic researchers fail to take heed of Simon's (1969) famous parable of the ant.

  1. Braitenberg, V. (1984). Vehicles: Explorations In Synthetic Psychology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Pfeifer, R., & Scheier, C. (1999). Understanding Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. Simon, H. (1969). The Sciences Of The Artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

(Added November 2009)