X-Message-Number: 21618
Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 10:32:47 EDT
Subject: symbolism

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Thomas Donaldson has said that brains are unlike computers, in that computers 
only manipulate symbols. Mike Perry has said that, according to prevailing 
views of quantum theory, everything at the basic level operates digitally and 
therefore symbolically. While recognizing the difficulty of doing justice to 
any arguments--Thomas', Mike's, or mine--in extreme brevity, I'll make 
another attempt to clarify.

As to Thomas:

Brains do operate symbolically in cognitive tasks, in the sense that external 
reality, sampled by the sensory system, is represented by signals (symbols) 
in the brain. We never have any direct contact with the environment; 
everything we "perceive" about the outside is an internal construct.

That symbols alone ("syntax without semantics") can be meaningful is not 
completely absurd. Certainly any small collection of symbols is capable of 
many interpretations; but, as I have said before, there have been claims, not 
easily dismissed, that an artificial language could be created which would 
allow of only one interpretation, capable of being understood, without any 
Rosetta Stone, by an intelligent alien. In other words, it might be possible, 
in principle, to write down a string of zeros and ones that would convey one 
and only one message--a message of any complexity and subtlety--to any 
intelligent being who had previously had an opportunity to learn the language 
(learn it, remember, without a teacher and without a key of any kind).

As to Mike:

The putative digital character of elementary processes is irrelevant, I 
think. For example, even if mass and charge are quantized, they are still two 
different things. Space is still different from time, etc.

There may be a temptation to confuse digitizability with isomorphism. 
Certainly, if everything is digital, then isomorphisms are more readily come 
by--but that does not affect the basic problem, namely, that the upmorphist 
tenet is only a conjecture, with nothing going for it (as far as I can see) 
except (at least at one level) a kind of elegance.

If my guess about qualia is right, or even close, then the upmorphist view is 
not only unproven, but untenable. A quale, once more, may be a kind of 
standing wave in the brain, binding space and time. Certainly it could be 
described, hence an extreme upmorphist might claim it within bounds--but I 
don't know of a single person who holds the most extreme view, namely, that 
(say) a written description of a system and its evolution in time "is" the 

Robert Ettinger


 Content-Type: text/html; charset="US-ASCII"


Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=21618