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

Giovanni Santostasi gsantostasi at gmail.com
Wed Apr 5 21:33:44 UTC 2023

A possum probably has some low-level ability to abstract to things like
good to eat, not good to eat, dangerous, and not dangerous which is a form
of primitive language. As I said I don't disagree that from an evolutionary
point of view making contact with the real world is essential for survival.
What is amazing is that the skills we developed to survive eventually led
us to things that do not seem at first sight useful for survival like the
abstractions we do in language.

Abstracting and generalizing using words is actually the opposite process
of "grounding", it is going away from making direct contact with the world.
Eventually, this process was still very good in terms of our survival
because it led to better communication in hunting, social bonding,
storytelling, art, transmitting information and knowledge to other
generations and so on that are the basis for civilization and our dominion
over the natural world.

But it was actually the ability of language to go beyond physical referents
that made it so powerful, basically the opposite of what Gordon continues
to claim.
Probably a mind that starts from abstraction would never have evolved in
the physical world but given we have freed ourselves (at least partially)
from needing a physical world to refer to for meaning and communication we
can program machines to start from abstraction and build meaning from that.

You can bootstrap meaning from almost nothing at all, exactly as you do
with the null set in mathematics.
In a previous post, I showed how GPT-4 suggested how you could do that
using only 0s and 1s (it was about an example of communication between
beings in 2 different dimensions that do not even share physics laws).


On Wed, Apr 5, 2023 at 2:17 PM William Flynn Wallace via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

> If a possum did not have the abstract idea of an apple, then only the
> first apple he saw would be regarded as an apple.  All animals abstract and
> generalize.   bill w
> On Wed, Apr 5, 2023 at 3:05 PM Giovanni Santostasi via extropy-chat <
> extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:
>> Gordon,
>> In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, it is the exact opposite of what
>> you say. Referents are not just not necessary for the language but because
>> of language we can actually make the association between abstract ideas in
>> our head and the object in the external world. We can associate a physical
>> apple with an apple because we are able to abstract in the first place that
>> is what is the real essence of language. Abstraction is the ability to
>> extract essential properties of an event, object, or another abstract idea
>> beyond the immediate physical characteristics of the object of abstraction.
>> This is what we do when we see 1 apple and say 1 or 1 apple and 1 orange
>> and say 2.
>> I would say that language allows to actually recognize objects in the
>> world as objects in a given category or give them names or qualities. You
>> can still perceive an apple as something, you can smell it and taste it and
>> maybe a lower animal can associate an apple with something good to eat but
>> it would not be able to do the association with a given word or idea
>> because it cannot do the abstraction to a general concept of an apple. That
>> is what language is about, that is the opposite of what you claim. Without
>> language (creating abstract ideas and generalization in our head) there is
>> no object to refer to, not the other way around.
>> Giovanni
>> On Wed, Apr 5, 2023 at 12:29 PM Giovanni Santostasi <
>> gsantostasi at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> Gordon,
>>> 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 brain).
>>> 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.
>>> Giovanni
>>> 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
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