[ExI] GPT-4 on its inability to solve the symbol grounding problem

Giovanni Santostasi gsantostasi at gmail.com
Wed Apr 5 19:29:19 UTC 2023

you say: By referents, I mean the things and ideas outside of language to
which words point. If you hold an apple in your hand and say "this is an
apple," the apple is the referent that gives your word "apple" meaning.

Absolutely not. This is not how language works.
It takes a long time for a child, that is strongly wired to learn language,
to understand what you mean when you point to them an apple and say
"apple". It also requires a certain level of brain development. Teaching
children colors is even more difficult and requires more time. The
difficulty is exactly the opposite of what you are saying is the essence
and importance of having referents. It is all in the ABSTRACTION that is
needed to actually make the association.

This has been pointed out to you many times (also to Brent with its
insistence on quality of redness nonsense). It takes time to make the
association between what an adult calls an apple and what a child sees.

What is the essence of an apple? It is being round? Being a round eatable
object (so different from a round ball)? What about an orange? That is
another round eatable object, but it is not an apple because... What about
an apple in a picture vs a real apple? What about our dog called Apple? You
understand what I'm trying to express. It is not as easy as you think to
associate the apple with an object because it is a complex process that has
basically almost nothing to do with the referent itself. The referent plays
very little role and it is not at all what gives language meaning and
power. It is all in the ABSTRACTIONS, all the relationships at higher
levels (in fact statistical ones that we calculate approximately in our

This is why we can give meaning to things that are abstract in the first
place like love or meaning itself.
This is why we can imagine dragons, flying pigs, and so on. This is why
languages can be bootstrapped from a single axiom or definition (even an
arbitrary one) as one does with the null set in mathematics.

I have looked for somebody writing a paper on how one can bootstrap an
entire language from something similar to the null set, it is probably
somewhere there but if not one day I will try it myself. But mathematics
derived from the null set is at least a counterexample to your statement
that language needs referents for meaning to emerge.

Also one has to be clever on how to use GPT-4 on these topics.
Instead of asking if it is conscious or understands language do tests to
see if it does.

One test I did was to ask to imagine a conversation between beings in
different dimensions that don't even share the same laws of physics let
alone common possible referents like chemical elements or things like rocks
or stars. It gave me a very interesting example of using a series of 0s and
1s in a given sequence to let the other entity know they understood similar
and different, following a sequence in time, yes, no, and so on. It was an
incredibly fascinating example because it shows how you could communicate
with another being with almost no referents in common and needing just a
few fundamental abstract ideas as different and similar that don't need any
rocks to be defined. One can see that once you establish, "I'm here", "I
understand", "Yes", "No", "same", and "different" one can little by little
build an entire language with basically no physical referents.
GPT-4 came up with that.

So you are simply wrong Gordon. You have an example above from GPT-4 that
shows referents may be useful for survival in biological beings like us but
they are completely unnecessary for language and meaning.
The case should be closed.

On Wed, Apr 5, 2023 at 7:20 AM BillK via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

> On Wed, 5 Apr 2023 at 14:20, spike jones via extropy-chat
> <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:
> >
> > From: extropy-chat <extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org> On Behalf
> Of Jason Resch via extropy-chat
> > >…This is a phenomenon we are all subject to and which we should all be
> aware of called cognitive dissonance. It can occur whenever our brains
> encounter information perceived as threatening to our existing beliefs
> …Jason
> >
> > Ja.  In our world today, we are in a culture war in which many of our
> most fundamental beliefs are being challenged.  Those with the most
> cognitive dissonance see offense in what looks like perfectly innocuous
> observations to those who have little if any cog-dis.  Thx Jason.
> >
> > spike
> > _______________________________________________
> No problem.   It just takes a bit of practice.  :)
> Quote:
> “Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe
> impossible things.'
> I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was
> your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've
> believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”
> ― Lewis Carroll
> ---------------
> BillK
> _______________________________________________
> extropy-chat mailing list
> extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org
> http://lists.extropy.org/mailman/listinfo.cgi/extropy-chat
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