February 2009

Seussian Symbol Grounding

When the photons from my futon
Find the focus of my eyes
They will kick my cones and rods,
Thus causing signals to arise.

I cannot span the spectrum
But my special cells respond
To their windows on the wavelengths
From the wondrous world beyond.

My cortex then combines the cues
And cottons on to patterns;
With fancy feature filtering
The futon form unflattens.

My nervous networks notice
Both the novel and mundane,
Matching models, melding motifs,
For my memories to retain.

In my Hebbian web of me-ness
Not one neuron stands alone:
Every concept gains its context
From connections that it's grown.

Yet my net of wet connections
Are not abstract facts that lack
Any impact, since they're cinched
To visceral states from bliss to wrack.

(As you may have guessed, this was part of a continuing discussion over at The Digital Cuttlefish.)

Symbol Grounding

The Chinese Room won't save your "soul"
Old Searle has dug himself a hole.
You see, a man within his room
Need not be produce of a womb
Since OCR and lines of code
Could lift that secretarial load.
The "understanding" must have been
Performed by Searle's adept machine.

Once you see Searle's dopey drone
Can lack a brain and flesh and bone
You'll see the Chinese Room's a joke
That shouldn't baffle clever folk.
Alas, the ruse has gained esteem
And thrives - a most persistent meme -
In those who can't complete their weaning
From outmoded views of meaning.

My symbol grounding doesn't mess
With idle infinite regress -
No turtles, turtles, all the way,
No eyes that other eyes survey.
But every part of how I think -
Every symbol, every link -
Finds routes to run to states all real:
The correlates of how I feel.

This was a comment I posted on The Digital Cuttlefish's Daniel Dennett's Darwin Day Delivery in response to another commenter.


I felt driven to compose a reply to The Digital Cuttlefish, but it's time consuming for slow writers like me.

Isn't it queer?
Are we but hosts?
Robots of robot machines
Rid of our ghosts?
Send in the memes.

What is it like
Knowing at all?
Zombily Bayesing our nerves --
Store, then recall.
Are they just memes?
Send in the memes.

Easy to claim, "Freedom evolves!"
Making the term we're defining the thing that it solves,
Nailing that feeling of agency down to its seat
Inside a blind
Theatre of meat.

Learning is fun.
Shall I explore?
Using the memeplex of science
I can learn more.
But would these be memes
Not shared with my teams?
Perhaps there's a flaw.

Memes can be rich:
Memes everywhere
Driving the dualist dreams
Into despair.
But we're more than memes
Though sometimes it seems
Non-memebots are rare.

(With apologies to Stephen Sondheim, Daniel Dennett and Sue Blackmore.)

Apple Ease of Use?

When a company releases an update to their terms and conditions, presented as a complete document of 17,835 words with no indication of which sections have been updated, or what definitions have changed, you know this company doesn't care if you read their contract.

That's 17,835 words of legally binding contract to be read. At an average reading speed of 200-250 words per minute, that's 1.2 to 1.5 hours, if you can stay awake. And this is supposedly just an update! How many words actually changed? What new conditions did they impose? What am I deemed to have committed to that I didn't commit to when I first signed up? I can't tell unless I read it all.

It's pretty clear that Apple don't expect iTunes users to read the terms and don't actually care. They know they have a big stick (lots of lawyers and lots of money), so they don't care that their approach to updated contracts is excessively burdensome to all of their users. They are, in effect, actively encouraging users to keep using iTunes without reading and understanding their contract. I'm not a lawyer, but it sounds to me like they've placed themselves on very shaky ground. Still, that probably doesn't worry them, because it would cost a user an arm and a leg to take any challenge to court.

Here endeth the rant.

Foot bath