Posts Tagged ‘Thought’

Juxtaposition of words where meaning eludes thought

June 29, 2020

The ability to think is genetic. Thinking, though, requires some inbuilt logic. Therefore logic must precede thought but where did that logic come from? Perhaps it emerges with thought. Humans are not unique as a species in being able to think.

Thought gives rise to meanings. The capability for language is genetic. The need to communicate meanings leads to the invention of languages. (“Language” is discovered but “languages” are invented). Many animals have some form of language. Humans are unique as a species in having written language and in being able to record language. (But animals do make use of some media which humans cannot: scent, ultrasound ..).

And when we meet our nearest aliens who “speak” to each other in bursts of X-rays we should not assume that they are backward because they don’t speak English.

It would seem that the capability for thought and language ability are both genetic and must exist simultaneously. It is not that either thought or language ability are a consequence of the other, but we must distinguish between the ability to have language and specific languages. It may well be that language ability and thinking ability only can appear together. The sequence is from thought to meaning to expressions of meaning using an invented language as a tool. However humans are also unique in the feedback loop between language and thought which raises thinking to heights not seen in any other species.

We invent words to express meanings. We invent grammars as rules to combine words to enable more complex meanings and to give precision in communication. There are many meanings for which we do not yet have words. But the languages and the words we invent are capable of expressing many more meanings than our thought can grasp.

We can juxtapose words and comply with grammar, but they give meanings which tantalizingly elude thought.



No sentience without sapience

June 26, 2014

There was a great deal of publicity last week but I am not very convinced that the computer program Eugene Goostman actually passed the Turing test. But whether it did or not, I got to wondering how to distinguish sapience from sentience.

I find that I tend to use “sapience” to imply the capability for thought while I take “sentience” to be a quality of consciousness of self. Which of course leaves rather diffuse and undefined what precisely “thought” involves and what “consciousness of self” consists of. But is sapience linked to sentience? Can one have one without the other? Or does the quality of being conscious only become possible once thought exists?

Rene Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) should perhaps be modified to be Cogito ergo, ego ut sit (I think therefore I may be). “I think therefore I am” requires a pre-conception of individuality, of the “I”. To be aware of the “I”, to be conscious of oneself and to be able to articulate that consciousness would suggest that thought is already present before consciousness of self can come into play. Clearly my computer “thinks” in a fashion, as do many animals – in their fashion. But while some minimum capability for thought may be necessary for consciousness, it is also clearly not sufficient. A certain level of sapience may be necessary for sentience but sapience does not necessarily lead to sentience. Some other attribute or quality is required for a thinking entity to be said to have the level of consciousness necessary for sentience.

The Turing test is, I think, a test of reaching a particular level of sapience but it is not a test of sentience. But I also think that there is a scale of sapience. All  “artifical intelligences” show varying levels of applying “thought” and could be said to be sapient to some degree. Sapience would seem therefore to be on a continuous scale. Many animals and birds also exhibit some level of thought and clearly exhibit different degrees of sapience. But chimpanzees and gorillas and dolphins and even elephants seem to recognise themselves in a mirror while monkeys do not. They would seem to have different levels of self-consciousness and – it would seem – different levels of sentience. I take gorillas and chimpanzees and maybe elephants to be sentient – just – but not dogs or cats. Is there then a scale of sentience which is constrained (or enabled) by, and depends upon, an entity’s position on a scale of sapience?  I suspect that whatever it is I intuitively consider to be sentient depends upon a combination of sapience and the level of consciousness of self of an entity.

Therefore my tentative definitions / conclusions become

  1. Entities may be “alive” or “inert”.
  2. Only some entities are sapient to any significant degree but sapience is independent of being alive.
  3. There is no sentience without sapience.
  4. Only some “living”, sapient entities are sentient.
  5. Sentience is a composite quality and – I propose – depends on the level of sapience and the level of consciousness exhibited by an entity.


sapience and sentience

sapience and sentience

Ahmadinejad does not like Paul !

July 29, 2010

I had expected that Paul, after his World Cup exploits would enjoy a peaceful retirement. Poor chap.

Unfortunately he has been taken to represent all that is reprehensible in modern culture by no less an authority than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Poor chap!

The Daily Telegraph reports that Ahmadinejad claims that the octopus is a symbol of decadence and decay among “his enemies”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacks Octopus Paul

Considering that octopuses only have a 4 year life span let us hope he does not have to face any fatwas or assassination attempts. He deserves a peaceful retirement with a surfeit of mussels – preferably 5 times a day.

A Russian bookmaker is offering the Sea Life Center in Oberhausen, Germany 100,000 euros ($129,800) for the octopus. Given that the Sea Life Center recently turned down offers from Spain to buy Paul, it’s unlikely he’ll be moving anytime soon.

Global Warming: “The science is terrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.”

July 10, 2010

Anthony Watts has a post revisiting the late Michael Crichton‘s 2003 lecture at Caltech which I had not seen before.

A lucid and eloquent exposition which I reproduce below. Reading it now in 2010 it is still fresh, applicable and apposite. It should be required reading for any young scientist of the dangers of religion or politics masquerading as science.

“Aliens Cause Global Warming”

A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming.

Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be avery good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

But let’s look at how it came to pass.


Unknown Unknowns and the World Cup

June 28, 2010

After yesterdays glaring blunders by the referees, linesmen and 4th referees, first when England were denied a goal which every TV viewer around the world could see had crossed the goal-line and second when Argentina were awarded a goal when every TV viewer could see that Tevez was off-side, it is now going to be difficult for FIFA to resist bringing in the use of technology to assist referees’ decisions. It occurred to me that even though the final results seemed justified by the rest of the play, we cannot know what the impact of the correct decisions would have been. If England had been awarded their goal they would have started the second half level and in a different frame of mind. If Argentina’s goal had been disallowed and Mexico had scored first the players’ attitudes and the play could have changed in a fundamental way.

FIFA’s attitude to the use of technology borders on faith in a bygone age which no longer exists.

Like the proverbial ostriches – they do not wish to know what they do not know.

Thinking about what might have been, I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conference at NATO HQ, Brussels  on June 6th, 2002., when as U.S. Secretary of Defence he said:

“The message is that there are no “knowns.” There are thing we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns”.

There is actually a compelling music to the words but this quotation is often mocked especially by opponents of the US invasion of Iraq. I have quoted it disparagingly myself in discussions and presentations about the dangers of forecasting.

But of course what he said is rather profound. (more…)

The Ten Cannots by Boetcker (1916)

June 17, 2010
Seen on JoNova

  1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
  3. You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
  4. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  5. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
  6. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
  7. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
  9. You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
  10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

William John Henry Boetcker (1873 – 1962) was an American religious leader and influential public speaker.

From Wikipedia:

Born in Hamburg, Germany, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister soon after his arrival in the United States. As a young adult. Rev. Boetcker was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania and ordained in Brooklyn, New York. He quickly gained attention as an eloquent motivational speaker.  Rev. Boetcker is perhaps best remembered for his authorship of a pamphlet entitled The Ten Cannots. Originally published in 1916, it is often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln.

PowerPoint and Decision making don’t mix

May 1, 2010

An excellent example of the dangers of PowerPoint presentations.

If PPT presentations could be somehow restricted for information briefings or as illustrations for a lecture but avoided as the basis for decision making it would be a giant step forward.

PowerPoint slides discourage thought.

An excellent essay about the dangers by Thomas Hammes.

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