[ExI] The digital nature of brains

Ben Zaiboc bbenzai at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 6 12:41:15 UTC 2010

Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:

>>> True or false, Stathis:
>>> When a program running on a digital computer associates
>>> a sense-datum (say, an image of an object taken with its
>>> web-cam) with the appropriate word-symbol, the system
>>> running that program has now by virtue of that association
>>> grounded the word-symbol and now has understanding of the
>>> meaning of that word-symbol.
>> That depends entirely upon the nature of the program.

> I see. So then let us say programmer A writes a program that fails but that programmer B writes one that succeeds. 

Hang on, how would you know?  What test would you use to determine whether programmer B's program has understanding whereas A's hasn't?

> I do not care how the computer behaves. Does it have conscious 
> understanding of the meaning of the word by virtue of having 
> associated it with an image file of the object represented 
> by the word?

Well, if you disregard it's behaviour, how can you know what it's doing?  Whether or not it's having 'conscious understanding' must surely be reflected in its behaviour, and observing its behaviour is the only kind of test that can be done.  If you say "we don't need to look at behaviour, we can look at its structure instead", that presupposes that we know what kinds of structure do and don't give rise to conscious understanding, and as we are creating these systems to investigate this in the first place, we would be assuming the very thing we want to prove. There'd be no point in doing the experiment. That's not science.  It may be philosophy, but it's definitely not science.

Ben Zaiboc


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