[ExI] The digital nature of brains (was: digital simulations)

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Mon Feb 1 13:14:09 UTC 2010

On 1 February 2010 23:53, Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> --- On Mon, 2/1/10, Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
>> The system has understanding, but no part of the system
>> either separately or taken as an ensemble has understanding.
>> I've tried to explain this giving several variations on the
>> CRA, none of which you have directly responded to
> Because that answer doesn't make any sense to me, Stathis. Looks like you want to skirt the issue by asserting that the system understands things that the man, *considered as the system*, does not understand. You do this by imagining a fictional third entity that you call the "ensemble of neurons" that exists independently of the system. But the ensemble is the system.

Could you respond to the specific examples I have used to demonstrate
this apparently non-obvious point? The neurons do not understand
language, they probably don't "understand" anything, and if they got
together on a day off to talk about it they still wouldn't understand
anything. And yet acting in concert, they produce this new entity, the
person, who does understand language. Note that it works both ways:
the person, who is very much more intelligent than the neurons,
doesn't have a clue what is going on in his head when he thinks
either. It's his head, so how is this possible?

> Did you read the actual target article? Notice that the system AND the neurons "taken as an ensemble" understand the stories in English but they do not understand the stories in Chinese. Please explain why the ensemble and the system understand English but not Chinese. Why the difference?

You have to acknowledge that there are different levels of
abstraction. The man understands English but that's completely
irrelevant to his mechanistic symbol manipulation. It could be that a
lone clever neuron in his frontal lobe understands Russian and recites
Pushkin while squirting its neurotransmitters, but that has nothing to
do with the man understanding Russian, since it does not in any way
impact on the operation of his language centre; and conversely, the
clever Russian-speaking neuron does not necessarily have any idea what
the man is up nor any knowledge of English or Chinese.

Stathis Papaioannou

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