[ExI] Semiotics and Computability (was: The digital nature of brains)

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Thu Feb 4 11:15:11 UTC 2010

On 31 January 2010 14:07, Spencer Campbell <lacertilian at gmail.com> wrote:
> Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com>:
>>Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com>:
>>> A3: syntax is neither constitutive of nor sufficient for semantics.
>>> It's because of A3 that the man in the room cannot understand the symbols. I started the robot thread to discuss the addition of sense data on the mistaken belief that you had finally recognized the truth of that axiom. Do you recognize it now?
>> No, I assert the very opposite: that meaning is nothing but the
>> association of one input with another input. You posit that there is a
>> magical extra step, which is completely useless and undetectable by
>> any means.
> Crap! Now I'm doing it too. This whole discussion is just an absurdly
> complex feedback loop, neither positive nor negative. It will never
> get better and it will never end. Yet the subject matter is
> interesting, and I am helpless to resist.
> First, yes, I agree with Stathis's assertion that association of one
> input with another input, or with another output, or, generally, of
> one datum with another datum, is the very definition of meaning.
> Literally, "A means B". This is mathematically equivalent to, "A
> equals B". Smoke equals fire, therefore, if smoke is true or fire is
> true then both are true. This is very bad reasoning, and very human.
> Nevertheless, we can say that there is a semantic association between
> smoke and fire.
> Of course the definitions of semantics and syntax seem to have become
> deranged somewhere along the lines, so someone with a different
> interpretation of their meaning than I have may very well leap at the
> chance to rub my face in it here. This is a risk I am willing to take.
> So!
> To see a computer's idea of semantics one might look at file formats.
> An image can be represented in BMP or PNG format, but in either case
> it is the same image; both files have the same meaning, though the
> manner in which that meaning is represented differs radically, just as
> 10/12 differs from 5 * 6^-1.
> Another source might be desktop shortcuts. You double-click the icon
> for the terrible browser of your choice, and your computer takes this
> to mean instead that you are double-clicking an EXE file in a
> completely different place. Note that I could very naturally insert
> the word "mean" there, implying a semantic association.
> Neither of these are nearly so human a use of semantics, because the
> relationship in each case is literal, not causal. However, it is still
> semantics: an association between two pieces of information.
> Gordon has no beef with a machine that produces intelligent behavior
> through semantic processes, only with one that produces the same
> behavior through syntax alone.
> At this point, though, his argument becomes rather hazy to me. How can
> anything even resembling human intelligence be produced without
> semantic association?
> A common feature in Searle's thought experiments, and in Gordon's by
> extension, is that there is a very poor description of the exact
> process by which a conversational computer determines how to respond
> to any given statement. This is necessary to some extent, because if
> anyone could give a precise description of the program that passes the
> Turing test, well, they could just write it.
> In any case, there's just no excuse to describe that program with
> rules like: if I hear "What is a pig?" then I will say "A farm
> animal". Sure, some people give that response to that question some of
> the time. But if you ask it twice in a row to the same person, you
> will get dramatically different answers each time. It's a gross
> oversimplification, but I'm forced to admit that it is technically
> valid if one views it only as what will happen, from a very high-level
> perspective, if "What is a pig?" is the very next thing the Chinese
> Room is asked. A whole new lineup of rules like that would be have to
> be generated after each response. Not a very practical solution.
> Effective, but not efficient.
> However, it seems to me that even if we had the brute processing power
> to implement a system like that while keeping it realistically
> quick-witted, it would still be impossible to generate that rule
> without the program containing at least one semantic fact, namely,
> "pig = farm animal".
> The only part syntactical rules play in this scenario is to insert the
> word "a" at the beginning of the sentence. Syntax is concerned only
> with grammatical correctness. Using syntax alone, one might imagine
> that the answer would be "a noun": the place at which "pig" occurs in
> the sentence implies that the word must be a noun, and this is as
> close as a syntactical rule can come to showing similarity between two
> symbols. If the grammar in question doesn't explicitly provide
> categories for symbols, as in English, then not even this can be done,
> and a meaningful syntax-based response is completely impossible.
> I started on this message to point out that Stathis had completely
> missed the point of A3, but sure enough I ended up picking on Searle
> (and Gordon) as well.
> In the end, I would like to make the claim: syntax implies semantics,
> and semantics implies syntax. One cannot find either in isolation,
> except in the realm of one's imagination. Like so many other divisions
> imposed between natural (that is, non-imaginary) phenomena, this one
> is valid but false.

I'm not completely sure what you're saying in this post, but at some
point the string of symbol associations (A means B, B means C, C means
D...) is grounded in sensory input. Searle would say that there needs
to be an extra step whereby the symbol so grounded gains "meaning",
but this extra step is not only completely mysterious, it is also
completely superfluous, since every observable fact about the world
would be the same without it. It's like claiming that a subset of
humans have an extra dimension of meaning, meaning*, which is
mysterious and undetectable, but assuredly there making their lives

Stathis Papaioannou

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