Posts Tagged: problem solving

Paper: A taxonomy of (practical vs. theoretical) actions

The solution to a problem changes the problem.
Peer’s Law

[Copyright neth.de, 2008]:

Hans Neth and Thomas Mueller (2008). Thinking by doing and doing by thinking: A taxonomy of actions. Paper presented at CogSci 2008.


Hansjörg Neth, Thomas Müller

Thinking by doing and doing by thinking: A taxonomy of actions

Abstract:  Taking a lead from existing typologies of actions in the philosophical and cognitive science literatures, we present a novel taxonomy of actions. 

Chapter: The functional task environment


Human beings, viewed as a behaving system, are quite simple.
The apparent complexity of our behavior over time is largely a reflection
of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves.
(Simon, 1996, p. 53)

Wayne D. Gray, Hansjörg Neth, Michael J. Schoelles

The functional task environment

From the introduction:  Although human thought may be possible in those floatation tanks that are used to encourage meditative states, in by far the majority of instances thought occurs in the context of some physical task environment. The physical environment can be as simple as a light and book. It can be as complex as the face of a mountain and the equipment of the climber. It may be as dynamic as the cockpit of an F-16 in supersonic flight and as reactive as a firefight in Iraq or as heated as an argument between lovers.

Paper: Thinking by doing?

There is a co-ordination of senses and thought, and also
a reciprocal influence between brain activity and material creative activity.
In this reaction the hands are peculiarly important. It is a moot point whether
the human hand created the human brain, or the brain created the hand.
Certainly the connection is intimate and reciprocal.
A.N. Whitehead, Technical Education and its Relation to Science and Literature, p. 78.

[Copyright neth.de, 1999–2014]

Hans Neth and Steve Payne (2002): Thinking by doing: Epistemic actions in the ToH, paper presented at CogSci 2002.


Hansjörg Neth, Stephen J. Payne

Thinking by doing? Epistemic actions in the tower of Hanoi

Abstract:  This article explores the concept of epistemic actions in the Tower of Hanoi (ToH) problem. Epistemic actions (Kirsh & Maglio, 1994) are actions that do not traverse the problem space toward the goal but facilitate subsequent problem solving by changing the actor’s cognitive state.  We report an experiment in which people repeatedly solve ToH tasks.  An instructional manipulation asked participants to minimize moves either trial by trial or only on the last three of six trials.  This manipulation did not have the predicted effect on the trial-by-trial move counts.  A second, device manipulation provided some participants with an “exploratory mode” in which move sequences could be tried then undone without affecting the criterion move count.  Participants effectively used this mode to reduce moves on each trial, but there was no clear evidence that they used it to learn about the problem across trials.  We conclude that there is strong evidence for one sub-type of epistemic action (acting-to-plan) but no evidence for a second sub-type (acting-to-learn).