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What Roles Do Representations Play in Learning?

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Q: What roles do representations play in learning?

The philosophical theories regarding the nature of learning process revolved around the idea that the process associated stimulus traces that connected the internal representations of stimuli that repeatedly occur together in time and space. The term representation refers to something that symbolizes or presents likeness of something to the mind or senses.

According to the author, the term is used in its mathematical sense. He says that learning should be studied in the framework of representation. Studying animals, he developed a framework that linked quantities computed and stored by the nervous system representing aspects of the animal’s environment to the animal’s relationship with that environment. The brain is said to represent an aspect of the environment when there is a functioning isomorphism between an aspect of the environment and a brain process that adapts the animal’s behavior to it.

Again he uses the mathematical definition of isomorphism saying that they are formal correspondences between distinct systems of mathematical study; often with one being an object not well understood and another more richly developed system. And a functioning isomorphism is one in which the capacity of one system to represent another is put to use. This system, he puts to use in order to study learning in animals. He says that the representation of space and time is crucial. Representation of space is through representation of the geometric relationships among surfaces in the animal’s environment and its momentary geometric relationship to them and representation of time is through representation of time at which events have occurred and the representation of temporal intervals. This means that there is an orderly mapping from entities in the environment to entities in the nervous system. These neuro-physiological entities enter the neuro-physiological processes that correspond in their formal characteristics to external processes. All this together constitute a neural system that is isomorphic to an environmental system. Distinct systems of neural variables and neural processes model distinct aspects of the environment, thus forming neural subsystems. Each of these subsystems serves to adapt the animal’s behavior to the aspect of the environment modeled by that module. These neural modules accumulate information about the world overtime and this accumulation of information is called learning.

Furthermore he says that while navigating through our environment (space), both, humans and animals use the process of estimating and updating their position by gauging the speed, direction and time of movement. This helps them construct a map of their environment and using that they can pilot themselves and orient themselves to their targeted destination. For example, a rat has a map which preserves the distance and angle and using this map the rat establishes its position within the environment that it perceives. These maps are impenetrable to non geometric data. The rats use the map by translating and rotating its position so that it is congruent to the currently perceived shape of the environment

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