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[ontolog-forum] The Symbol Grounding Problem

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Rich Cooper" <metasemantics@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 24 May 2015 09:55:12 -0700
Message-id: <085e01d09642$6767d3d0$36377b70$@com>

This new thread is intended to consider the symbol grounding problem in symbolic systems.


PG wrote:

Another problem for the symbolic approach is highlighted by Harnad.14 He asks the

following questions: “How can the semantic interpretation of a formal symbol system be

made intrinsic to the system, rather than just parasitic on the meanings in our heads? How

can the meanings of the meaningless symbol tokens, manipulated solely on the basis of their

(arbitrary) shapes, be grounded in anything but other meaningless symbols?” This problem

he calls the symbol grounding problem. He says: “But the problem of connecting up with the

world in the right way is virtually coextensive with the problem of cognition itself.” The

symbol grounding problem can be argued to be an artifact of the symbolic position. In the

same vein, Stewart says:

“[…] since linguistic symbols emerge from the precursors of the semiotic signals of animal

communication, they always already have meaning, even before they acquire the status of

symbols. On this view, formal symbols devoid of meaning are derivative, being obtained by

positively divesting previously meaningful symbols of their significance. Quite concretely, this

process occurred historically in the course of the history of axiomatic mathematics from Euclid to

Hilbert. >From this point of view, the “symbol-grounding problem” of computation cognitive

science looks rather bizarre and somewhat perverse: why go to all the bother of divesting “natural symbols” of their meaning, and then desperately trying to put it back, when it would seem so simple to leave them as they are!”15


That question, "why ... divest ... symbols of their meaning, and then ... try to put it back ... why not leave the [signals as bound to their original biological meaning]?" is a very good one to consider. 


We divest MOST signals of their biological meaning, in order to have more generalized use of symbols, and to use a vocabulary of signals that is more fit for our modern lifestyle, lived far from the bushes in which they originated. 



Rich Cooper,

Rich Cooper,


Chief Technology Officer,

MetaSemantics Corporation

MetaSemantics AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com

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