Reading is a complex cognitive behavior, making use of dozens of tasks to achieve comprehension. As such, it represents an important aspect of general cognition; the benefits of having a theory of reading would be far-reaching. Additionally, there is an aspect of reading which has been largely ignored by the research, namely, reading appears to encompass a creative process. In this dissertation, I present a theory capable of explaining creative reading. There are not separate reading behaviors, some mundane and some creative; instead, all of reading must be understood as a creative process. Therefore, a comprehensive theory of reading and creativity is needed. Unfortunately, although the scientific study of reading has been undertaken for almost a century, it is often done in a piecemeal fashion–that is, the research has often concentrated on a narrow aspect of reading behavior. This is due, to some degree, to the fact that reading is a huge process–however, it is my belief that failing to consider the complete reading process will limit the research, Thus, in my work, I identify a set of tasks which sufficiently covers the reading process for short narratives. Together, these tasks form the basis of a functional theory of reading.
Using the reading framework to support the research, I produced a theory of creative understanding, which is the process by which novel concepts come to be understood by a reasoner. To accomplish this, I created a taxonomy of novelty types, I produced a knowledge representation and ontology of sufficient flexibility to permit the representation of a wide-range of conceptual forms, and I created an interlocking set of four tasks which act together to produce the behavior–memory retrieval, analogical mapping, base-constructive analogy, and problem reformulation. My technique for base-constructive analogy is one of the more unique features of my work; it permits existing concepts to be combined in ways which enable novel concepts to be understood. In addition to that, the theory provides for reasonable bounding to occur on the process of creative understanding through a set of heuristics associated with the ontology. This allows reasonable bounding to occur while greatly reducing the possibility of non-useful understandings.
The theory of creative reading is instantiated in a computer model, the ISAAC system, which reads and comprehends short science fiction stories. The model has allowed me to perform empirical evaluation, providing an important stage in the overall theory revision cycle. The evaluation demonstrated that ISAAC can answer independently-generated comprehension questions about a set of science fiction stories with skill comparable to a group of college students. This result, along with an analysis of the internal workings of the model enables me to claim that my theory of creative reading is sufficient to explain important aspects of the behavior.
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