X-Message-Number: 11922
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: for Bob Ettinger, re symbols
Date: Tue, 8 Jun 1999 23:46:58 +1000 (EST)

To Bob Ettinger:

Basically I was pointing out that to work the Sagan device for
communication could not begin with symbols. A chain of 3 dots is not a 
symbol in itself... Its meaning is what we make it. The same may be said
of attempts to show the result of addition or multiplication. We'd
have a device that ONLY used symbols if instead of dots to start off
arithmetic we had instead:

	1 + 0 = 1  1 + 1 = 2  1 + 2 = 3  1 + 3 = 4

and so on. And for elementary arithmetic, we still might get the point
through. But elementary arithmetic is only a simple beginning. I was
doubting that any structure of symbols as large as a whole language
could have a unique mapping onto the world.

As for the issue of whether or not we will have a "clean" language
in a relatively short time, I doubt that very much. Even if our abilities
are augmented and we're freed of all the ills that come now to flesh,
we'll still be human beings. And we'll still find ourselves misunder-
standing others. Sure, it may be at a higher level, but it will still
be there. That kind of misunderstanding is innate to language (and even
if we develop some kind of telepathy, we'll still have a kind of

Finally, I will agree that symbols are a much deeper notion that many
might believe. LITERALLY ANYTHING can be a symbol. To tell whether it
is used and seen as such, we need to look much more deeply into the
mind of the person using or seeing it. But the arbitrary character,
I believe, is essential to something being a symbol. I'd want to think
more on the issue before I said that it was also SUFFICIENT to be a

			Best and long long life,

				Thomas Donaldson

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