Our Society In Mind

New ways to think about representing resources within the human mind.

Adam Kumpf
6.868 Final Project
May 18, 2006


This paper aims to show how the management of resources in our real-world society is likely to be quite similar to how humans manage resources within their minds. Since analogies are one of the most powerful tools we have for transferring bodies of knowledge from one domain to another, they will be used to suggest new ways to think about how the many resources within the human mind can be organized, shared, and used efficiently. Analysis of modern-day US employee information will be used to explore and categorize the many resources available on the national level and the occupations evolved to efficiently handle them. An abstract version of these resources and occupations will then be formed such that relevant analogies can be made with respect to the human mind. As with any transfer of ideas from one domain to another, some shortcomings will occur. These key differences are important to consider and will be discussed following the analogies. Finally, a proposed direction for future research will be given as a conclusion to this introductory exploration.


The analogies formed in this paper are based upon the foundation laid forth in The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky. In the book, a key distinction is made between the typical view of the human mind and a more scientific model that lends itself nicely to new theories and explanations that are likely to push the field of artificial intelligence forward. Most important in Minsky's version of the mind is that there is no central intelligent point, but rather groups within the mind act together to form a set of behaviors we deem to be intelligent. These societies within the mind share sets of resources and likely compete for priority dependent on the goals of other higher level societies. These groups within the mind are not claimed to be actual societies, but rather just regions of the brain that share a common set of resources, abilities, or goals.

Another important idea that comes from Minsky's latest work, The Emotion Machine, is that analogies are an extremely powerful way of transferring knowledge from one domain to another. In particular, panalogies (not covered here) allow for multiple representations of a problem or situation to occur in parallel so that they can be switched in and out as new information is gathered. These panalogies are amazingly fast and efficient and rely heavily upon the mind's innate ability to use analogies. It is for this reason that I have chosen to make use of analogies to transfer knowledge from the society in which we live to the society within our own minds.

The particular resources within the human mind discussed by Minsky are quite vague but likely include sensory input, memory, physical actuation, credit assignment, reasoning abilities, and a complex system of commonsense knowledge. How these resources are represented, interact, and affect one another is not well understood and thus will be the main focus of this paper's analysis and proposed implications.

Building the Dataset

Since the main goal of this paper is to make analogies between the society in which we live and the interaction between resources in our minds, it is important to start with a substantial source of data about our nation's society. To do this, information was obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and all of the United States' occupations were split into one of over 40 categories. Each category was then given a general description of the kind of work done within it and was then abstractly defined in terms of fundamental resources that could be extended to both higher and lower levels of societies. Before definitions could be formed for all of the occupational categories, it was important to clearly define the fundamental set of abstract resources. All of these resources were defined iteratively, narrowing and expanding the set as more occupations were considered until all jobs seemed to utilize the resources in some form or another.

Once the set of abstract resources was complete, all of the occupational information was entered into a spreadsheet and categorized by job type. The job categories were then carefully defined in broad terms as to include as many of the specific jobs as possible within the category while maintaining their commonalities. This proved to be quite difficult in categories such as "Office Work" that include a diverse set of tasks, but none the less were merged to keep the total number of job categories down to a conceptually digestible size.

The most difficult, somewhat arbitrary, but extremely important aspect of this project was to translate the "Real World Descriptions" into a new representation using only the aforementioned abstract resources. This set of "Abstract Descriptions" serves as the bridge for making analogies because it removes the specific tasks involved with each occupational category and allows the reader to more easily connect the two realms of resource management and representation.


Abstract Resource Definitions

Abstract Resource Definition Examples
Raw Only indirectly suitable for consumption or use. Coal, Oil, Lumber, Land, Energy, Ore
Sustaining Required in some manner to keep something operational / living. Food, Water, Sunlight, Oxygen
Physical An object; usually for performing a particular task. Goods, Structures
Active Aid in the transportation, modification, construction, or servicing of another resource. Labor, Services, Vehicles
Descriptive Data about a procedure or an object's properties. Knowledge, History, Records, Information
Reasoning Ability to compare alternatives and make choices. Decisions, Commonsense, Computation
Monitoring Sensory information. Sound, Vision, Health, Security, Smell, Touch, Temperature
Harmful Destructive to operational / living things. Trash, Pollution, Disease, Natural Disasters
Protective Reduces the likelihood of injury from harmful resources. Shelter, Law Enforcement, Fire and Rescue
Organizational Subgroups formed to focus on a particular set of goals. Business, Religion, Government
Fixed Uncontrollable in quantity or location. Time, Space
Liquid Unusable alone, but redeemable for most other resources. Money, Promises, Respect
Complex Including some or all of the other resources. Diagnostic = Monitoring + Reasoning

2004 U.S. Employee Data

Job Category # Employees % Workforce Real World Description Abstract Description
Sales 13,831,100 10.53% Exchanging goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent. Exchanging physical or active resources for liquid resources.
Foodservices 9,966,600 7.59% Making, transporting, and serving or dispensing prepared foods. Making, transporting, and distributing sustaining resources.
Office Work 9,710,100 7.39% Clerical, Administrative, Secretarial, and Data Entry services. Checking and storing descriptive resources.
Management 8,932,600 6.80% Handling, supervising, or controlling a business or other enterprise. Using reasoning resources to direct organizational resources.
Education 7,970,200 6.07% Teaching of skills, knowledge, or other practices. Transferring descriptive resources to others.
Construction 6,084,300 4.63% Building physical structures for art, trade, or work. Using active resources to build physical or protective resources.
Building Services 5,582,300 4.25% Cleaning and maintenance of buildings. Removing harmful resources.
Material Moving 5,059,800 3.85% Transporting goods from one location to another. Using active resources to move physical resources from one place to another.
Info / Records 5,043,400 3.84% Storing and retrieving transactions or other relevant information. Storing and retrieving descriptive resources.
Health 4,133,400 3.15% Diagnosing and treating illnesses and abnormalities in humans. Using monitoring and reasoning resources, then appropriate physical, active, or sustaining resources to reduce harmful resources.
Vehicle Oper. 4,073,100 3.10% Driving a vehicle to transport people or goods. Guiding active resources to transport people or physical goods.
Financial 3,891,200 2.96% Handling, documenting, and checking transactions involving money. Using reasoning and descriptive resources to check transactions involving liquid resources.
Materials 3,849,000 2.93% Inspecting, Measuring, and Transporting materials. Transporting or using monitoring resources on raw resources.
Personal Care 3,737,400 2.84% Caring in a supplemental way for the human body such as physical training and cosmetics. Monitoring and active resources used to aid another's own physical and active resources.
Business 3,268,000 2.49% Analyzing and forecasting markets for the purposes of investment, development, and sales. Using monitoring and reasoning resources to decide where liquid resources should be invested.
Computer / Math 3,142,300 2.39% Programming of computer systems and logical relationships. Using reasoning, descriptive, and active resources to alter the reasoning and descriptive resources of another.
Healthcare 3,112,300 2.37% Assisting in operations and procedures associated with diagnosing and treating humans. Using reasoning and active resources to aid those trying to reduce harmful resources in humans.
Protective 2,746,500 2.09% Protecting humans from harm via law enforcement or disaster relief. Using monitoring and protective resources to reduce harmful resources to humans.
Armed Forces 2,600,000 1.98% Protecting a nation from harm via law enforcement, disaster relief, and military efforts. Using monitoring, reasoning and protective resources to reduce harmful resources to a nation.
Repair 2,374,400 1.81% Reconstruction of broken or damaged goods. Using descriptive, active, and physical resources to undo changes caused by harmful resources on physical resources.
Health Tech. 2,343,900 1.78% Using and explaining technical equipment to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of humans. Using active and descriptive resources to aid reasoning resources for the reduction of harmful resources in humans.
Engineering 2,234,900 1.70% Designing and analyzing the function and form of new goods or services. Using reasoning resources to develop new descriptive resources for physical and active resources.
Metal / Plastic 2,174,700 1.66% Machining, casting, and molding tools and parts. Using active resources to change raw resources into physical resources.
Assembly 1,996,900 1.52% Putting various parts together to construct new goods. Using active resources to construct complex physical resources from many simpler physical resources.
Vehicle 1,688,400 1.28% Diagnosing and repairing vehicles used for transportation. Using reasoning, descriptive. and active resources to reduce harmful resources on physical resources that are used for moving other physical resources.
Community 1,608,000 1.22% Aiding underprivileged, misguided, or troubled persons to help them function in society. Aiding others that have less liquid, physical, or reasoning resources.
Legal 1,025,100 0.78% Pursuing and interpreting the laws governing a society. Using reasoning resources to give or take away liquid, physical, or active resources from others that have shown inappropriate reasoning.
Farming 964,400 0.73% The growing and cultivating of renewable resources. Using active, physical, and raw resources to produce other raw, sustaining, or physical resources.
Production 953,700 0.73% Creating goods from raw materials and/or smaller components. Creating physical resources by using active, raw and other physical resources.
Media 944,500 0.72% Announcing news and events to many people. Using active resources to transfer descriptive resources to many others at once.
Textile 929,100 0.71% Creating fabrics or garments from raw materials. Using active and physical resources to change raw resources into usable physical resources.
Food Processing 724,500 0.55% Cleaning, selecting, or combining raw foods to make them easier for consumption or further processing. Using active resources to change raw or sustaining resources into more usable sustaining resources.
Art / Design 665,800 0.51% Creating the look or feel of a good to evoke human responses intended to alter one's mental state. Creating the look or feel of physical resources to change others descriptive and reasoning resources.
Entertainers 655,700 0.50% Publicly performing a role for the amusement of those watching. publicly using active resources to alter the descriptive and reasoning resources of others.
Electrical 594,100 0.45% Installing and repairing electrical wiring and circuitry. Using physical and active resources to allow for the transfer of raw, descriptive, monitoring, and reasoning resources.
Social Science 454,100 0.35% Analyzing and forecasting economic and social interactions within a society. Using reasoning resources for the analysis of an organizational resource's liquid, descriptive, reasoning, and active resources.
Printing 413,200 0.31% Editing and publishing written and visual works. Using active and reasoning resources to modify and display physical resources.
Woodwork 363,700 0.28% Creating wooden goods from stock lumber and shaping tools. Creating physical resources from raw resources.
Science Tech. 324,200 0.25% Performing specialized techniques to aid in scientific tests. Using descriptive and active resources to develop better descriptive resources.
Transportation (Air/Rail/Water) 314,400 0.24% Transporting goods or people via plane, train, or boat. Moving physical and complex resources via physical or active resources.
Architecture 285,100 0.22% Designing and planning the structure of buildings and spaces. Using descriptive and reasoning resources to build physical or protective resources.
Physical Science 221,800 0.17% Researching the natural world. Using monitoring, descriptive, and reasoning resources to develop better descriptive resources of natural things.
Life Science 216,300 0.16% Researching living things in the natural world. Using monitoring, descriptive, and reasoning resources to develop better descriptive resources of living things.
System Operations 190,900 0.15% Operating power and waste management plants. Using active and reasoning resources to control the use of raw and harmful resources.

The Analogous Individual

Let us now characterize some of the basic interactions within the real-world society so that we may develop a theory about how its resources are managed and used. It will then be possible to easily make analogies between the knowledge we have about our everyday lives and the knowledge we seek about how our minds work.

In general, the people within a nation are most focused on organizing, sharing, and using their country's own resources. However, a subset of the occupational categories finds value in dealing with resources at levels either higher or lower than their own. For example, doctors deal not only with society's resources, but also the resources within an individual's own mind or body. Another example, in the opposite direction, is the Armed Forces which deals mainly with larger scale resources outside the confines of the military's own nation. These inter-societal and intra-societal resource interactions lend themselves nicely to a three layer model as shown below.

Figure 1.

Resource interactions that happen within a given level are Intra-Societal (see Figure 2). Most jobs operate on this level and include occupations such as sales workers, business women, repair technicians, engineers, scientists, farmers, reporters, police, and construction workers.

Figure 2.

Resource interactions that happen between levels are Inter-Societal (see Figure 3). These interactions either focus on individuals within a society (such as doctors, artists, and teachers) or treat the entire society as a single resource within a higher-level society (such as militaries, politicians, and international investors).

Figure 3.

With the basic foundation and framework now in place, it is possible to construct a large set of analogies that relate the real-world society to the society within the human mind. The analogies listed below are only a small handful of those that could possibly be constructed, but are intended to open new perspectives and ideas about how the mind may work. The reader is encouraged to construct additional analogies to both deepen their own understanding of the mind and to help further the exploration of Minsky's theories of artificial intelligence.

Intra-Societal Analogies

Inter-Societal Analogies


The analogies presented are arguably somewhat vague and speculative, but they do open the door to some new perspectives on how the human mind may work. In particular, the comparison of the real-world society to the mind's management of resources has some very interesting implications regarding the types of resources the human mind is likely to have and and some of the agents involved in effectively managing, organizing, transporting, and safeguarding them.

One of the most important implications of this kind of analysis is that the mind clearly becomes more capable by allowing itself to specialize. Instead of treating the entire mind as one part, or even a small handful of self-sufficient parts, it is composed of hundreds of specialized parts that lack much ability on their own, but thrive in an environment where the other parts are active. Each specialized part functions very efficiently and quickly and is surrounded by others that help out and allow it to affect things much farther away than its physical extremes.

Another important implications is that once a reasonably complete mapping is made from the real-world to the human mind, many of the principles, ideas, and equations of economics can be applied to the level of an individual's mind. This brings up a long series of questions about which I can only begin to imagine. What constitutes mental taxes? Are there charities to help sections of the brain that are slow or inefficient? Is there a liquid (unusable alone, but redeemable for most other resources) resource that sections of the mind can store and save as a kind of promisary note? Does the mind have to deal with interest or inflation of its resources?

Key Differences

It is very important to note that there are some key differences between the real-world society and the analogous society within our mind. In particular, the real-world society contains millions of people who all reason independently and within their own minds contain a large set of complex resources. However, inside our own minds, the resources are much more limited and primitive. It is quite likely that regions within our minds are responsible for reasoning, but are not in and of themselves composed of other resources that can reason.

Another key difference is the nature of mobility. In the real-world, almost every resource can be transported or transformed. But in a biological system, such as the human mind, mobility is very limited for many of the system's resources. Nutrients and information can be sent via vessels and nerves, but processing machinery or muscles are fairly fixed in their location within the body. This makes it difficult to form analogous connections between many of the occupations that deal with transporting and modifying physical goods and the mind.

Finally, it is worth noting that these analogies are not meant to be direct mappings between the interactions between people and the interactions within the mind. Finding the equivalent to cars or coffee mugs in the human mind is little more than an exercise in creativity. The analogies here are used solely as a tool to help the reader, and myself, conceptualize sets of complex interactions between resources within the human mind.

Proposed Direction

This paper has opened up a new perspective on the human mind by using large amounts of information easily obtained about the society in which we live, and then projecting it onto the human mind by way of analogies. It is not theoretically rigorous or complete and needs more analysis, critique, and grounding before further pursuit. However, the principle findings do seem quite exciting and relevant to the advancement of artificial intelligence since it opens new doors between two bodies of knowledge that may have otherwise been considered separate; A.I. and Economics.

I see two distinct paths for exploration that would further this line of exploration.


The Society of Mind: Marvin Minsky
The Emotion Machine: Marvin Minsky
Comments and Suggestions: Dustin Smith
Class Discussion: Ian Eslick
U.S. 2004 Employee Data: http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2006/spring/table.pdf (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Real World Descriptions: Dictionary.com
Real World Descriptions: Wikipedia.org