(What the name means)

Phaeaco is the name of the author’s proposed architecture for cognitive representation, pattern identification, learning, and categorization. This page explains what the name “Phaeaco” means, and why it was chosen. To read about the project itself, follow this link to the Bongard problems (Phaeaco’s current focus of attention).

There are several reasons, listed below, for which I find this name fitting for my project.

1. It is a proper name

There is a passage in Homer’s Odyssey that I find extremely interesting from a modern, cognitive perspective. In Books Eta and Theta, the Phaeacians, a peace-loving and sea-faring people, are described. They are the first to welcome in their land the hero, Odysseus (in Latin: Ulysses), who has suffered a long and arduous journey in the seas. The Phaeacian king Alcinous orders his people to construct a ship for Odysseus to help him travel to his final destination, the island of Ithaca, where his home is. Alcinous, while describing to Odysseus the virtues of the Phaeacian ships, says the following (translation by the author of this page, with some vital help from his advisor, and Kellie Gutman):

“Your country, tell me what it’s called, your people and your city;
then let our ships design their course, and bring you safely homeward.
Phaeacian ships do not have men to steer them on their courses;
they lack the rudders you may see in ships of other nations;
but on their own they guess the thoughts and wishes of their makers;
they know all countries of the world, their cities, and their meadows;
they travel swiftly like the wind that blows o’er seas and oceans,
avoiding storms and cloudy skies, so they are not in danger
of sailing off their course to founder, sink, and slowly vanish.”

Eerie, isn’t it? Who said Artificial Intelligence is a modern concept? Nearly 3,000 years ago it seems Homer had some grasp of it. I found this paragraph to be very apposite to the image of a program-ship that on its own may guess the thoughts and wishes of its maker, and sail through misty cognitive spaces to find, unharmed, its target.

The above excerpt is from Book Theta, two paragraphs before the end. Earlier, in Book Eta, goddess Athena (in Latin: Minerva), in disguise, tells Odysseus the following about the Phaeacians:

“They’re sailors, that is what they are, whose ships, by Neptune’s graces,
glide o’er the seas like birds, or like perceptions through your spirit.”

Looks like Homer had some cognitive project in his mind! Now, if only he had given the Phaeacian ship a name! Well, unfortunately, he did not. So I decided to give it a name myself. I thought the name should reflect the ship’s origin, and should be of feminine gender (as all ancient names of ships were), rhyming with another important ancient ship’s name:

2. It rhymes (in Greek) with Argo

Argo was the name of the ship of another (non-Homeric) hero: Jason, who sailed in the seas to find the golden fleece, helped by his comrades, the Argonauts. Since we call ourselves the Fargonauts (from FARG, our research group), I thought that’s cute, too. Here are the names of the two ships, in the original language:

3. It is an acronym in English

Once, my research advisor mentioned that he finds most of today’s acronyms very contrived. So I set off devising an acronym that would be obviously too contrived. See, I was thinking about a name for my project for months, and I could not come up with one that would be cutesy, and “fitting”, and conforming to the spirit of our research group’s prior names for projects. So I abandoned this defensive attitude, took up an offensive one, and came up with the following monstrosity:

P = Pattern-recognizing (an allusion to the title of M. M. Bongard’s book, from which my project sprang up)
H = Hofstadter-inspired (a tribute to my advisor)
A = Architecture (that’s what Phaeaco is)
E = Empirically (its justification comes from an empirical observation of its cognitive achievements)
A = Approaching (it is just an approximation; I hope it will keep approaching...)
C = Cognitive
O = Organization

That’s it. How does it sound? Contrived, eh? But wait!...

4. It is an acronym in Greek, too!

Here it is: ΦΑΙΑΚΩ, in ancient (Attic) Greek, makes up the following acronym:

Φ =
Α =
Ι =
Α =
Κ =
Ω =

How does it look? Does it look Greek to you? Now, what does all that mean? I leave that as an exercise for the reader. Suffice it to say that the words are not random, they are meaningful, make up a sentence in ancient Greek, and relate both to the project and to Homer’s Odyssey.

5. It rhymes somewhat (in English) with fiasco!

In our research group we have a tradition for coming up with not-so-pretentious, and often funny-sounding names. It’s a reaction, if you will, to other, impressive-sounding names of various projects in cognitive science. Our group’s name, FARG, attests to that.

Back to Harry’s “main” research page