[ExI] Meaningless Symbols.

Eric Messick eric at m056832107.syzygy.com
Fri Jan 15 18:23:13 UTC 2010

Gordon writes:
>Less easy to see is that your computer calculates the answers to
> mathematical questions without understanding the meanings of the
> numbers.

My computer certainly doesn't understand the beauty of clouds clinging
to a mountainside, even if I'm using it to process a photograph of
those clouds.

My computer does understand numbers, though.

That understanding is hardwired into adder circuits in the CPU.

The fact that it comes up with the correct answers for the following:

  0 + 0 = 0
  1 + 1 = 2

indicates that it understands the fundamental difference between the
numbers zero and one.

The essential zeroness and oneness are captured in the behavior of
addition.  The syntax of those two statements above is identical, but
the fact that the first and last symbols in the first line must be the
same results from the zeroness of the first symbol.

I think what you keep coming back to is the concept of "qualia".

You say that simulated water doesn't get your computer wet.  Well,
that's just blindingly obvious, but I think what you're really
concerned with is where the wetness quale is.

When you talk of "symbol grounding", you are asking about the qualia
for those symbols.

When you talk of the neural correlates of consciousness, you're asking
what qualia are built out of.

When you assert that syntax can never create semantics, you're really
asserting that syntax cannot create qualia.

Does this sound right to you?

Well, I'd like to assert that qualia are symbols, just like the other
symbols that your brain manipulates.  The redness quale may not be the
same symbol as the word red, but they're closely associated.  You can
say "I am seeing red" when the redness quale symbol is active.

There's nothing particularly mysterious about qualia symbols.  When
red light hits your retina, a pattern of neural firing occurs in your
brain, part of which represents the red quale symbol.

Just like other symbols in your brain, qualia can be represented as
data and moved to other substrates.

We don't yet know how the brain encodes these symbols, but we can be
fairly confident that that encoding is represented by the synaptic
connections between neurons, and not by ATP molecules in mitochondria.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list