Animats in the Modelling Ecosystems (Response to Barbara Webb)

The Journal of Adaptive Behavior has recently published a target article by Barbara Webb entitled “Animats vs. Animals”. I was invited to write a critical response to her paper and joined Anthony Chemero to defend a variety of models in science, ranging from the most concrete to the most abstract.


As a short summary the graphic above (click the image for a lager view) shows a diagramatic representation of the types of models and their relationship with theories and empirical data. Barbara Webb style models are but one of the possible models that are useful to science, not the only one.

Barbara Webb is a well known roboticist due to her robotic models of cricket phonotaxis, used as tools to behavioral and neurobiological discovery. On her paper Webb argues that artificial robotic models need to target specific animals, as she does, putting into question the epitemic value of abstract (or conceptual models), such as those of Randall Beer and, altogether, great part of Artificial Life and Simulation of Adaptive Behaviour research. Together with Anthony Chemero I have argued back that the modelling ecosystems is rich and populated by a variety of modelling practices, some of which are one-to-one representations of existing target animals, and yet others are not, and cannot be so if they are to fullfil their epistemic role. Such is the case of conceptual models whose use is of foundamental importance as a theoretical guide to discovery in complex fields of knowledge (such as biology and cognitive science).

If interested you can download the full paper:

Eduardo Izquierdo-Torres has also made some intereting comments on his website regarding the discussion with Barbara Webb (he includes links to some of the commentaries also), don’t miss it.

One thought on “Animats in the Modelling Ecosystems (Response to Barbara Webb)

  1. […] There are a number of very interesting and different defenses — all of them worth reading carefully. Each of the commentaries, in fact, deserves a dedicated discussion of their own, but I won’t have time for that. Suffice it to say (at least for now), that I particularly recommend the articles by: Randall Beer and Paul Williams, Inman Harvey, Jason Noble and Manuel de Pinedo, and Seth Bullock. I also really the article by Xabier Barandiaran and Anthony Chemero. In particular, the reference to metaphorical forests. […]

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