Public Release: 

'Unifying the Mind:' Carnegie Mellon's David Danks outlines new cognitive architecture

Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH--Everyday thinking -- like reading this sentence to deciding which shirt to wear -- requires an astounding range of brain activity, yet cognition seems to happen seamlessly.

In "Unifying the Mind: Cognitive Representation as Graphical Models," Carnegie Mellon University's David Danks outlines a new cognitive architecture that explains two aspects of the human thought process: the ability to pay attention to only things that matter; and to use many different types of cognition to learn and reason about our world.

Danks argues that by representing learning and reasoning with graphical models, both of these cognitive features can be naturally explained. Widely used in machine learning, graphical models are probability models that use graphs to show the relevance structure between different factors.

"We move between cognitive processes that seem to share information readily. By making sense of how this happens, and using graphical models to represent it, we can think about cognition in new ways, such as understanding it as different shared processes that work together," said Danks, head of the Department of Philosophy in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Danks is the first to use graphical models to analyze multiple areas of cognition, and he demonstrates how the approach is useful by reinterpreting a variety of cognitive theories. He shows how much of cognition -- particularly causal learning, cognition involving concepts and decision making -- can be understood through the lens of graphical models.

"Few philosophers address questions of interest to working scientists. David Danks is one of the few. His ideas about conceptualizing cognitive representations as graphical models have profound implications for all mind-brain investigators," said John T. Bruer, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Danks' novel approach to explaining how cognition works is one example of how Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in the study of brain and behavior for more than 50 years. The university has created some of the first cognitive tutors, helped to develop the Jeopardy-winning Watson, founded a groundbreaking doctoral program in neural computation, and completed cutting-edge work in understanding the genetics of autism. Building on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering, CMU recently launched BrainHubSM, a global initiative that focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.


The MIT Press published "Unifying the Mind." More information can be found at

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.