[ExI] Meaningless Symbols

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Mon Jan 11 02:55:16 UTC 2010

2010/1/11 Ben Zaiboc <bbenzai at yahoo.com>:

> The meaning of 'two metres to the left' is tied up with signals that represent activating whatever movement system you use (legs, wheels etc.), feedback from that system, confirmatory signals from sensory systems such as differences of visual signals (that picture on the wall is now nearer for instance (as defined by such things as a change in its apparent size)), adjustments in your environment maps, etc, etc., that all fall into the appropriate category.
> Whether this information is produced by a 'real body' in the 'real world' or a virtual body in a virtual world makes absolutely no difference (after all, we may well be simulations in a simulated world ourselves. Some people think this is highly likely).  I imagine it would lead to a pretty precise meaning for whatever internal signal, state or symbol is used for "two metres to the left".
> Once such a concept is established in the system in question, it can be available for use in different contexts, such as imagining someone else moving two metres to their left, recognising that an object is two metres to your left, etc.
> It seems to me that in a system of sufficient complexity, with appropriate senses and actuators, 'two metres to the left' is jam-packed with meaning.

If we find an intelligent robot as sole survivor of a civilisation
completely destroyed when their sun went nova, we can eventually work
out what its internal symbols mean by interacting with it. If instead
we find a computer that implements a virtual environment with
conscious observers, but has no I/O devices, then it is impossible
even in principle for us to work out what's going on. And this doesn't
just apply to computers: the same would be true if we found a
biological brain without sensors or effectors, but still dreaming away
in its locked in state. The point is, there is no way to step outside
of syntactical relationships between symbols and ascribe absolute
meaning. It's syntax all the way down.

Stathis Papaioannou

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