[ExI] Meaningless Symbols.

Eric Messick eric at m056832107.syzygy.com
Thu Jan 14 01:50:56 UTC 2010

Gordon writes:
>Here's the classic one-line program:
>print "Hello World"
>It takes the form
><syntactic rule><string>
>Do you think the system understands the string?

Of course not.

If there is any understanding here, it is of the word "print".

The interpreter maps the word "print" into an external action, and as
a result ends up making the string visible.  The CPU/RAM, etc.. in the
machine (the hardware) has no understanding of "print".  That
understanding (such as it is) is encoded in the software running on
the computer.

Your understanding of the word "print" is not inherent in your brain,
just as it isn't in the CPU.  When you were born, you had the capacity
to learn English, including the word "print", but you could have been
taught Chinese instead.

That teaching changed the neural interconnections in your brain,
changing the way it reacts to English words, just as the interpreter
program changes the way the computer hardware reacts to programming
constructs like "print".

Your understanding is encoded in those interconnections.

Understanding cannot be encoded in a single neuron, just as it cannot
be encoded in a single transistor.  It is the system of
interconnections which learns to understand.

That system of interconnections can be treated as data, and can be
manipulated by programs using purely syntactic rules.


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