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

Gordon Swobe gordon.swobe at gmail.com
Thu Apr 13 23:39:20 UTC 2023

As I tried to explain the first time, mostly you writing here about the
problem of universals and particulars, something philosophers have debated
since Plato. This does not change the fact that when you say a word, you
mean something by it, and that when your listener hears it, he understands
to mean something.

Ideally those referents are exactly identical in your mind and your
listener’s mind. In actual practice they can differ slightly, but usually
the basic meaning is conveyed.

What matters here is that the word means something to both you and to your
listener because you both have access to these referents that correspond to
the words.

Language models have no access to any referents. They have access only to
the word-symbols in the texts on which they are trained. From the LLM’s
perspective, they are empty, meaningless symbols.

GPT-4 “understands” this and is perfectly “honest” about it. Unlike you, it
is not throwing logic and reason to the wind in a desperate attempt to
fabricate conscious understanding where it does not exist.


On Thu, Apr 13, 2023 at 5:19 PM Giovanni Santostasi <gsantostasi at gmail.com>

> Gordon,
> Let me try to explain one more time why there are referents or at
> least why they are not really what gives meaning to language.
> I think the common understanding of referent is that certain words
> (not all for sure, and this is an important point) refer or point to
> certain objects in the real world. For example, when I say apple I
> mean this particular fruit that has a given shape, size and color. The
> idea then is that meaning than can be constructed because we know what
> I'm talking about with somebody else when I refer to the word apple,
> that is a real object in real life.
> But this idea is completely naive and in fact, wrong in its conclusion
> to what gives meaning to language.
> Let's start with what I refer to really when I talk about an apple.
> There are 7500 cultivars of apples according to wiki. By the way, I
> had to google explicitly apple fruit because if you just google apple,
> the company called logo comes up that is already a demonstration that
> your naive idea of referent is indeed naive. If referent were so
> important or necessary for language why this confusion about apple the
> fruit or Apple the company?
> How could you distinguish between the 2? Well in a google search you
> can do referring to a general concept like fruit. But what fruit
> refers to? There 1000s of fruits and some people do not consider or
> know that a tomato is actually a fruit, so when they think about fruit
> they don't think about tomatoes but I do, why referents do not help
> here? Going back to the apple, what type of apple? A yellow one, a
> green one, a mature one? If the referent was this particular sure
> thing why an apple can be small or large, different colors and shapes?
> It has also pointed out several times by me and others that certain
> words we use in the language have no real referents in physical
> reality like love, thinking, dragon and so on. Where are the referents
> here? I have given examples of how one can use completely abstracts
> symbols to build a language and you ignore these examples. You
> stubbornly say some stuff like "we use referents to give meaning to
> language" when it has been shown it not the case. Simply because it is
> something you think it is important to distinguish as from the
> machines. Did you ask GPT-4 to draw you an apple? It can be done using
> symbols.
> Giovanni

> On Thu, Apr 13, 2023 at 3:16 PM Gordon Swobe <gordon.swobe at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > On Thu, Apr 13, 2023 at 3:46 PM Giovanni Santostasi <
> gsantostasi at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >> I think my analogy is completely relevant. Science is not supposed to
> reproduce perfectly the territory, it is not a limitation but a feature. I
> went into detail about why it is so.
> >> Can you please address this and explain why I'm wrong?
> >
> >
> > Honestly, Gio, I do not find conversations with you to be very
> productive. I think you would say up is down and white is black if it would
> support your zealous belief that language models have consciousness.
> >
> > You lost me when you disagreed with my very simple argument that words
> have referents. That words have referents is hardly even an argument. It is
> more like an observation. When you say a word, you mean something, and that
> something that you mean is the referent. It is what gives the word meaning
> in your own mind. It could be an object that you perceive or imagine, or it
> could be an abstract idea. It is whatever the word stands for.
> >
> > In any case, Nagel is perfectly well aware of how science is useful for
> giving us objective explanations of the objective world.
> >
> > > If you don't like what science does and it is then invent your own
> epistemology,
> >
> > Hardly my own idea, the "explanatory gap" (usually used in reference to
> Nagel) is more or less another way of saying "the hard problem of
> consciousness" (usually used in reference to David Chalmers). Roger Penrose
> has a similar idea as do many other philosophers of mind and science who
> have looked at the problem of explaining how minds have subjective
> conscious experience.
> >
> > -gts
> >
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