How do agents represent?
Last modified: October 10, 2007
Representation is inherent to the concept of an agent, but its importance in complex systems has not yet been widely recognised. In this paper we introduce Peirce's theory of signs, which facilitates a definition of representation in general. In summary, representation means that for some agent, a model is used to stand in for another entity in a way that shapes the behaviour of the agent with respect to that entity. Representation in general is then related to the theories of representation that have developed within different disciplines. We compare theories of representation from metaphysics, military theory and systems theory. Additional complications arise in explaining the special case of mental representations, which is the focus of cognitive science. We consider the dominant theory of cognition - that the brain is a representational device - as well as the sceptical anti-representational response. Finally, we argue that representation distinguishes agents from non-representational objects: agents are objects capable of representation.