Inquiry as Foraging
David L. Barack
Philosopher & Neuroscientifique – website
Chercheur associé – University of Pennsylvania,
Department of Philosophy, Platt Lab, Department of Neuroscience

Inquiry often involves making a series of decisions to gather information to learn about the world, a process at the heart of foraging. Foraging places special demands on decision making that have deeply shaped the mechanisms that give rise to search behavior, whether for external resources like food or social opportunities, or internal ones like memories or strategies. Consequently, foraging is a scaffold that shapes the computations central to all cognition. In this talk, I will analyze foraging, discuss how foraging extends to a range of cognitive activities including inquiry, and present preliminary findings on neural mechanisms for foraging to learn about the environment and how these may go awry in some populations. I discuss some recent work investigating how foraging can reveal how humans and monkeys search for information even in simple environments. These foraging tasks can also reveal unsuspected insights into individuals who are distractible or impulsive, hallmarks of ADHD. I also discuss how using a novel task based on the board game Battleship, I discovered foraging strategies to search for information useful for learning hidden shapes. Further, the degree to which these sequences matched foraging patterns predicted how quickly shapes were learned. Surprisingly, recent new results suggest older adults are better at information foraging than younger and learn the shapes more quickly. Finally, neural recordings were performed in the orbitofrontal cortex while monkeys played Battleship. Information gathered while learning the shapes predicted changes in neural activity, and representations in the orbitofrontal cortex decrease in dimensionality while shapes are learned, with neural activity after learning occupying more of a common population activity subspace than during learning. This suggests that representations of hidden features are constructed in the orbitofrontal cortex by an increase in correlated activity in the population. These findings collectively shed new light on a complex cognitive skill and illustrate how foraging underlies inquiry.

Invited by David Robbe
Monday July 8th 2024 at 11h – Inmed conference room

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