[ExI] meaning & symbols

Spencer Campbell lacertilian at gmail.com
Wed Feb 3 00:16:42 UTC 2010

Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com>:
> In any case I do not believe there exists any such thing as a "sense symbol".
> Organisms with highly developed nervous systems create and ponder mental abstractions, aka symbols, about sense data and about other abstractions.
> Simple organisms on the order of, say, fleas have eyes and other sense organs, so it seems likely that they have awareness of sense data. But because they lack a well developed nervous system it seems very improbable to me that they can do much in the way of forming symbols to represent that data.

In the second paragraph I almost jumped on you again for misusing the
concept of abstraction, but then I noticed you said "and about other"
rather than "and other". You weren't saying that sense data are
abstractions, if I understand correctly. Nothing to disagree with

When we get to the third paragraph, however, it sounds as if you
believe that manking discovered symbols rather than invented them.
Here's the thing: the very idea of a symbol is, in and of itself, an
abstraction. I suspect it's possible to form a coherent model of the
mind (by today's standards) without ever mentioning symbols or
anything like them. It may not be a particularly elegant model, but it
would work as well as any other.

So, it's really just a matter of convenience to talk about symbols
instead of synapses. Fleas have synapses, if fewer than we do, so if
we wanted to we could easily say that they form and use symbols
(blood, not-blood) within their puny flea-minds. We wouldn't be wrong.

You're correct in saying that sense symbols do not exist, but only
insofar as there aren't any symbols which DO exist.

Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com>:
> I also do not believe any symbol of any kind can have "instrinsic meaning". Meaning always arises in the context of a conscious mind. X means Y only according to some conscious Z.

You're right, of course. It was a poor choice of words. I was trying
to convey Eric's theory, which I mostly agree with, in as lazy a
manner as possible.

All I meant by "intrinsic" meaning was that some symbols in the field
of all available within a given Z are meaningful irrespective of any
other symbols. Eric explains that this is so because they are invoked
directly by incoming sensory data: I see a dog, I think a dog symbol.
I have no control over whether or not this happens, except to avoid
looking at dogs. It's impossible to perceive, or even conceive, a
discrete object without simultaneously attaching a symbol to it. Or,
if you prefer, grounding a symbol on it.

(Assuming that we're considering information processing in terms of symbols.)

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