This article proposes a theory of neuronal processes underlying cognition, focusing on the mechanisms of understanding in the human brain. Understanding is a product of mental modeling. The paper argues that mental modeling is a form of information production inside the neuronal system extending the reach of human cognition “beyond the information given” (Bruner, J.S., Beyond the Information Given
, 1973). Mental modeling enables forms of learning and prediction (learning with understanding and prediction via explanation) that are unique to humans, allowing robust performance under unfamiliar conditions having no precedents in the past history. The proposed theory centers on the notions of self-organization and emergent properties of collective behavior in the neuronal substrate. The theory motivates new approaches in the design of intelligent artifacts (machine understanding) that are complementary to those underlying the technology of machine learning.
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