Parikh: Formalizing the Umwelt

Formalizing the Umwelt
Rohit Parikh (CUNY)
4:10 pm, Friday, December 1, 2017
Faculty House, Columbia University

Abstract. The umwelt is a notion invented by the Baltic-German biologist Jakob von Uexküll. It represents how a creature, an animal, a child or even an adult “sees” the world and is a precursor to the Wumpus world in contemporary AI literature. A fly is caught in a spider’s web because its vision is too coarse to see the fine threads of the web. Thus though the web is part of the world, it is not a part of the fly’s umwelt.   Similarly a tick will suck not only on blood but also on any warm liquid covered by a membrane. In the tick’s umwelt, the blood and the warm liquid are “the same”. We represent an umwelt as a homomorphic image of the real world in which the creature, whatever it might be, has some perceptions, some powers, and some preferences (utilities for convenience). Thus we can calculate the average utility of an umwelt and also the utilities of two creatures combining their umwelts into a symbiosis. A creature may also have a “theory” which is a map from sets of atomic sentences to sets of atomic sentences. Atomic sentences which are observed may allow the creature to infer other atomic sentences not observed. This weak but useful notion of theory bypasses some of Davidson’s objections to animals having beliefs.

Russell, S. J. and Norvig, P. (2002). Artificial Intelligence: a modern approach. (International Edition).
Von Uexküll, J., von Uexküll, M., and O’Neil, J. D. (2010). A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans: with a theory of meaning. University of Minnesota Press.​


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