RC1 How to Make Sense of a Problem While You Are Trying to Solve It


According to the classic theory, problem solving consists of heuristically searching for a chain of operations over a given set of representations, linking some initial state to a goal state. In this course, we will consider what is incomplete about this picture, namely: How to find and setup an appropriate problem representation? For machines and humans alike, this is not always straight-forward – sometimes we might even have to change our representations on the way, as we encounter impasses, or new, unexpected data. We will cover recent research efforts which try to remedy the classic approach’s side-stepping of the (re-)representation issue, including insight problems, as well as analogical, situated, embodied, and social aspects of problem solving. Taking metaphor as one particularly striking instance of representational change, we will see how transfer from an unrelated knowledge domain might allow to amend or even completely re-interpret one's current problem representation.


The course will give an overview of empirical findings and theories from several approaches to problem solving, contrasting classic and current approaches from cognitive psychology and AI. We will see how different current lines of research try to deal with the (re-)representation issue. By considering the varied angles from which different researchers try to approach this issue, we will also learn about the interdependency of task complexity, representational complexity, and methodology.


  • Angerer, B., & Schreiber, C. (2019). Representational dynamics in the domain of iterated mental paper folding. Cognitive Systems Research, 54, 217–231. (doi:10.1016/j.cogsys.2018.11.011)
  • Indurkhya, B. (2006). Emergent representations, interaction theory and the cognitive force of metaphor. New Ideas in Psychology, 24, 133–162. (doi:10.1016/j.newideapsych.2006.07.004)
  • Ohlsson, S. (2012). The problems with problem solving: Reflections on the rise, current status, and possible future of a cognitive research paradigm. Journal of Problem Solving, 5, 101–128. (doi:10.7771/1932-6246.1144)
  • Olteteanu, A.-M. (2015). "Seeing as" and re-representation: Their relation to insight, creative problem-solving and types of creativity. In T. R. Besold, K.-U. Kühnberger, & A. Smaill (Eds.), Proceedings of the workshop "Computational Creativity, Concept Invention, and General Intelligence" 2015. Publications of the Institute of Cognitive Science, Vol. 02-2015, Osnabrück.

Course location

Forum 1

Course requirements


Instructor information.

Benjamin Angerer


University of Osnabrück


Benjamin Angerer is currently a PhD student in the DFG-funded graduate school "Situated Cognition" at the University of Osnabrück. Before, he studied Cognitive Science in Osnabrück, Vienna, and Ljubljana. His research interests cover problem solving, analogy-making/metaphor production, representational change, and qualitative methodology. Currently, he is working on his PhD project "The Role of Spontaneous Metaphor in Mathematical Thinking".