On truth (3): Does truth matter?

by Neil Rickert

To answer my title question, of course truth matters.  But how and why does it matter?  That’s what I want to examine.

In the previous post in this series, I already discussed photographs.  As mentioned there, we do not question the truth of a photograph that we take ourselves.  We might, however, question the truth of one that somebody gives us.  The difference is that when we take the photograph ourselves, we know that the expected correspondence between reality and photographic representation was followed by virtue of us taking the photograph in the normal way and not doctoring the image.

What this suggests, is that truth is not needed by a solitary agent who is forming his own representations.  This, roughly speaking, is why perception seems so reliable.  Your pet cat or dog probably does not need to be concerned about truth.  That is to say, truth is needed mainly for social discourse.

Here’s an example to illustrate the point.  John wants to buy a window shade for his den.  So he takes out a ruler and measures the window width as 90 inches, which he writes down on his notepad.  As it happens, John was careless.  He had picked up a meter ruler, and the width of the window was actually 90 cm.  John now heads to the hardware store to purchase a shade.  He takes that same ruler with him, and measures a shade of about the right width (what he calls 90 inches), and buys that.  Returning home, the shade works out perfectly.

As we would normally describe it, the width John wrote down was not true.  Nevertheless the shade fitted well.  In writing down the width, John used a very non-standard correspondence between the world (the actual window width) and his representation.  But, because he used that same non-standard correspondence when interpreting the representation, the shade that he purchased was a good fit.

What matters is consistency between the correspondence that is followed when forming a representation, and the correspondence that is used when interpreting that representation.  As long as we maintain that consistency, there is no need for concern about truth.

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24 Responses to “On truth (3): Does truth matter?”

  1. Hi,

    I’d have thought truth was still important for animals – a typical example being the notion that false positives are a possible evolutionary beneficial adaptation: we (human animals) are so concerned with a correct/truthful correspondence when identifying snakes that we’re prepared (in behavioural terms) to accept benign falsehoods in lieu of harmful truths.

    I would agree that consistency is important. From one point of view it allows prediction – complete uncertainty and the inability to observe natural laws (in the intuitive sense) seems quite a risky business. On the other hand, religions have demonstrated that numerous incompatible systems that are at least to some extent individually internally consistent find consistency to be of far greater interest than truth.

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  2. When we take actions, we tend to accompany what we are doing with inner speech. Are we really making truth based decisions on that inner speech, then applying that to decide on our actions? Or are we deciding on the actions independently of the inner speech, and the inner speech is just coming along for the ride?

    I think it’s the latter. I doubt that most animals have anything like inner speech. I think they are making pragmatic decisions on behavior, rather than truth based decisions on propositions.

    If we are designing a robot, then we would probably be using truth based decision in the design. But that’s because we would be designing them on the basis of how we understand the world. I’m suggesting that we are often misled by our own experience, and by the dominance of language thinking in culture.

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  3. Hi Neil,

    “When we take actions, we tend to accompany what we are doing with inner speech.” – While I’m reading this with a cup of tea nearby I automatically pick up the cup of tea and drink, without any language at all, but my coordinating brain is relying on representative truths of its map of where the cup, hand mouth are. There’s so little conscious interaction that in doing this I’ve often picked up the cup to drink only to find it empty because I’d already drank it dry – and on such occasions my brain’s unconscious claim of truth, that there is tea to drink, is wrong.

    “I think they are making pragmatic decisions on behavior…” – But still based on logical truth based decision, even if, in our terms, unconscious ones. One of points made against real and conscious free-will is that our decisions, our logical truth testing decision, emerge from unconscious behaviour in the brain.

    I agree though that we are often mislead by the dominance of language. I also think we are overly dominated by the use of thinking: empiricism, thought v experience.

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    • You might have misunderstood my point. Of course things can be explained as if judgments of truth were used. What I was questioning, was the concept of truth.

      While I’m reading this with a cup of tea nearby I automatically pick up the cup of tea and drink, without any language at all, but my coordinating brain is relying on representative truths of its map of where the cup, hand mouth are.

      I’m not a representationalist. That is, my view of perception is more along the lines of Gibson’s direct perception. But, of course, even direct perception is using information and information is representational.

      Is the brain forming a representation, and then asking itself whether that representation is true or whether an alternative should be used? If it is not doing that, I don’t see that it is dependent on a concept of truth. My view of drinking tea would be that the brain is determining whether the cup is close enough to the lips, and is generating muscle contractions as needed, so as to bring it close enough. The brain never needs to assert a proposition, and never needs to determine whether a proposition is true. It just uses feedback appropriately. Moreover, how my brain represents distance between cup and lips might be quite different from how your brain represents distance between cup and lips. There’s no need for a uniform public standard, so no need for “truth” as a measure of conformance to a public standard.

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  4. “But, of course, even direct perception is using information and information is representational”

    That’s why I don’t see that we have any choice to work with representations. direct realism seems an unnecessary additional concept.

    “Is the brain forming a representation, and then asking itself whether that representation is true or whether an alternative should be used?” – This is anthropomorphising brain activity when there is no need. The brain just ‘works’, does its thing.

    “I don’t see that it is dependent on a concept of truth” – If you want to fluff up the concept of truth. But true/false, on/off, yes/no, is at the heart of measurement. And any feedback mechanism must measure, or else it won’t work as a control system.

    If the motor system was just an activator then your arm could go out and the cup could go anywhere. The concept of ‘is it the cup at the lips or not?’, while expressed here in everyday language that does imply a truth value as an answer may seem more than is going on automatically; but sure enough, stripped down to the non-language, informational, measurement of feedback and comparison with current data has to be going on.

    “The brain never needs to assert a proposition” – A language proposition, no, but a set-point, yes. One set-point is when the lips detect proximity; and another may be peripheral visual clues, say while I’m reading over the top of the cup as it is being lifted. Multiple feedback mechanisms are likely to be in play in some complex way; but at any point in the process, logic decisions are being made.

    “and never needs to determine whether a proposition is true” – I think it must, as explained above, otherwise, if we allow some random progress towards the mouth, the cup might end up being jammed down my throat, if there is no test, such as (in language terms), ‘is it the cup at the lips or not?’.

    “It just uses feedback appropriately.” – what does that consist of, if not using measurement, comparison, success/fail, yes/no. true/false?

    “Moreover, how my brain represents distance between cup and lips might be quite different from how your brain represents distance between cup and lips.” – Perhaps more so, than say in the case of comparing how two robots represent measurement, because our individual brains have different historical experiences, biological development, plasticity changes, and so on. But in principle I see no reason to suppose the any significant difference. We’re using the same type of neurons, and even the same rough distribution of neurotransmitter use throughout the brain. There’s not enough difference in substance to warrant holding the position that they are significantly different.

    “There’s no need for a uniform public standard, so no need for “truth” as a measure of conformance to a public standard.”

    This seems to conflate general social statistical standards of vague assessment with the specifics of logic. Your statement seems appropriate with, say, when a bunch of people are trying to assess the truth of what George Bush told them about Iraq – they all have different information available and their brains will interpret his words as true of not as some vague representation of their assessment. But that doesn’t disuade me from the idea that in each of their brains there is more precise logic going on, at various levels. This may be down to something specific, such as does a particular protein fold or not, and so inhibit the release of a neurotransmitter or not at a particular synapse; does the cumulative emission of neurotransmitters at a particular point trigger an action potential in the next neuron, or not; does this neuron amount to the final weighting of fired transmitters that triggers a flush of activity that makes the brain owner say, “Yeah, that sounds true to me. He’s convinced me.” But even then, all the time, this now accepted thought is already being re-affirmed by concurrent logical activity throughout the brain that’s now causing the brain to justify it’s expression of belief, “OK, so what he said is true; now here’s why.”

    This is an over simplistic representation of course. But in principle there’s no reason to suppose anything other than dynamic matter in action all the way down; and dynamic matter in action is a system in changing states; and states are identifiable by being distinct information; and distinction information can be represented ultimately by logic.

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    • But true/false, on/off, yes/no, is at the heart of measurement.

      No, it isn’t.

      “Moreover, how my brain represents distance between cup and lips might be quite different from how your brain represents distance between cup and lips.” – Perhaps more so, than say in the case of comparing how two robots represent measurement, because our individual brains have different historical experiences, biological development, plasticity changes, and so on. But in principle I see no reason to suppose the any significant difference. We’re using the same type of neurons, and even the same rough distribution of neurotransmitter use throughout the brain. There’s not enough difference in substance to warrant holding the position that they are significantly different.

      You are assuming a strong biological determinism. I am not, and I cannot find any basis for it. As best I can tell, there is not nearly enough DNA in the genome for that.

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  5. “No it isn’t”

    OK, so what do you think the relationship is between measurement and logic? Measurement requires that we are able to make a distinction between values. The simplest distinction is a logical one, often represented as 0/1. Can you explain measurement in different terms?

    Can you expand on what you mean specifically by ‘biological determinism’.

    Most of what I’ve expressed in several comments has been in terms of determinism, but only for the purposes of simplifying the discussion. Non-determinism doesn’t really change my comment above. Quantum events, for example, whether they are truly ‘random’ (whatever that means) or turn out to based on some lower level causal determinism, doesn’t really change the comment.

    “As best I can tell, there is not nearly enough DNA in the genome for that.”

    For what? I’m not sure what you’re expecting of DNA here. I was specifically saying that from whatever similarity exists between our DNA there is still plenty of environmental differences, which play out to cause more significant internal differences, to be able to account for behavioural differences that cover the vast range of human variety. But even so, there’s no reason, scientific or philosophical, to assume (and you’re doing the assuming here on this point) that there is anything wildly different in our subjective experiences.

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    • OK, so what do you think the relationship is between measurement and logic?

      Logic is solipsistic, measurement is ampliative.

      Measurement requires that we are able to make a distinction between values.

      No. Measurement provides the values that between which one can subsequently make distinctions. Measurement requires discrimination the physical world. But values are abstractions, not part of the physical world. Logic deals only with abstractions.

      Can you expand on what you mean specifically by ‘biological determinism’.

      Let’s put that in context. I had said “how my brain represents distance between cup and lips might be quite different from how your brain represents distance between cup and lips.” And, while admitting a little variation, you mostly disagree with that.

      So what’s the basis for how my brain represents that distance? One possibility, is that the details are specified in the DNA, which I referred to a “biological determinism”, though perhaps “genetic determinism” would have been more appropriate. Another possibility is that we make it up as we go along. And if we make it up as we go along, then we should expect it to be different in different people.

      My view is the second, that we make it up as we go along. That is, the developing child invents and refines ways of getting along, and such things as representing distance would be part of what is invented and refined. Your response seemed to imply that you are assuming genetic determinism for that.

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  6. Could you expand on why you think logic is solopsitic? Do you just mean abstract?

    Well yes, logic as an abstraction used to transpose data from one domain to another. But so what? Since we have no real inclination what unltimate reality is all our measurements are abstract too. Measurements are no more that logic in some specified domain. But any one measurement doesn’t stand alone as some absolute. It is only useful itsleft when compared relative to some other measurement. Measurement itself is the very act of comparing – whether its a metal rod of a frequency of oscillation or whatever.

    “Measurement provides the values that between which one can subsequently make distinctions.”

    Logic both as the data itself, 0/1, or the processing of it, in operations of comparison on it, are at the heart of measurement. Making distinctions, comparisons.

    “Measurement requires discrimination the physical world.”

    Yes, and the basic discrimination is binary.

    “Your response seemed to imply that you are assuming genetic determinism for that.”

    No. I’m not sure what gave that impression. I agree that we make it up as we go along, but not as much in the immediate sense that you imply. If this were the case there would be no common areas of brain processing found in different people. For example, the stuff that Broca’s does in my brain might be placed in an entirely different location in everyone elses brain. But it isn’t. All human brains appear to be consstucted and operate in pretty much the same way. Even humans and many non-human anomals hae areas that behave remarkably similarly. There is just no evidence to suggest that people have significant different subjective experiences. There will be some obvious differences. Some conditions, such as synesthesia, will cause experiences in one brain that someone lacking that condition will not experience; and someone without depression will see the world differently than someone with it. But these are specific differences in subjective experience related to specific differences in brain states, so you would expect those differences.

    Look at the development of the eye in all humans; or the heart; or the limbs. Other than superficial differences that all follow pretty much the same pattern. Why not the brain? Well, it does too. So why assume its functioning should be significantly different in different people?

    The implications of adaptive learning would be that from early development, people in a similar physical and cultural environment will tend to have similar brain development. That people in different language cultures do actually ‘see’ things quite differently, while showing that differences do occur, is in fact supporting the notion that those in the same cultural and language environment are having very similar subjective experiences.

    Beyond these vague notions of psychological effects described in terms of behaviour we will have to wait for far more detailed neuroscience to demonstrate the real extent of similarity or difference in subjective experiences. Of course some people claim we will never have access to such measurements – but that’s just an argument from incredulity. There’s never any real explanation as to why such measurements are not possible.

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    • Could you expand on why you think logic is solopsitic? Do you just mean abstract?

      Doing logic is independent of reality. Inferences are based on form, not content, so whether the statements in the deduction are about reality is irrelevant to the inference.

      No, it's not just "abstract". We use abstractions in other ways that are dependent on reality.

      Since we have no real inclination what unltimate reality is all our measurements are abstract too. Measurements are no more that logic in some specified domain.

      Sorry, but that sure seems completely wrong.

      “Measurement requires discrimination the physical world.”

      Yes, and the basic discrimination is binary.

      Vote counters who had to deal with hanging chads in the 2000 Florida presidential election did not seem to find it binary.

      I agree that we make it up as we go along, but not as much in the immediate sense that you imply. If this were the case there would be no common areas of brain processing found in different people. For example, the stuff that Broca’s does in my brain might be placed in an entirely different location in everyone elses brain.

      Count me as skeptical of that inference. The way we represent information vocally, is very different from the way that Chinese people represent information vocally (big language difference). Yet you won’t find a lot of difference in brain structure.

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  7. “Doing logic is independent of reality”

    In what way is ‘doing’ anything independent of reality? What do you mean by reality in this sense? We often wonder about the correspondence between the outer physical world, which we might name ‘reality’, and our internal representation of it, as a means of talking about the internal correspondence to the external existence of objects, but that doesn’t mean they are two different realms: one of ‘real’ stuff, and one of Platonic forms.

    “Inferences are based on form”

    But even the very concept, ‘form’, is just some arrangement of real stuff in our heads that triggers a real ‘feeling’ that we understanding it; but that real feeling itself is just biology in action.

    There’s no reason to think that anything is independent of reality. Our abstract representations go on in our heads, but, without any evidence to the contrary, this is still made of the same stuff. Having some complex brain state that represents in some way something else outside our heads is merely the construction of a correspondence.

    “Vote counters who had to deal with hanging chads in the 2000 Florida presidential election did not seem to find it binary.”

    Sorry, but this is a really trivial example. Chads are just tears in paper that weren’t precise enough. There was still plenty of digital distinction available that simply wasn’t accounted for. Here’s a digital equivelent. A voting machine generates 8-bit binary values, which we can look at in decimal. Define 200-255 as a chad cut, and 0-55 as a chad un-cut. They run the voting process, but the programmer slipped up, some values pop out as 122, 301, … This is all that has happened with the chads. Your chad example doesn’t refute my contention that the basic point of measure is binary.

    All science measurement is based on defining error limits. Some examples. To measure the the power of a circuit in terms of voltage and current the voltage and current will be measure +/- some %, and this will be used to determine the expected error in power result. Statistical measurements in social sciences always include error eveluations of some sort, some assessment of the uncertainties. Even classical physics is based on statistical evaluations: the voltage measurements above usually have their errors based on the precision of the instruments doing the measuring, but at an even deeper level it’s still statistical – measuring electric current doesn’t usually amount to measruing the flow of individual charge carriers, electrons. Pressure in a tyre is the statistical measure of the combined force per unit area of all the jiggling atoms of gas inside.

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    • In what way is ‘doing’ anything independent of reality?

      You are making this hard.

      The same deductive inference could be made by somebody who has been in solitary confinement in a prison for all of his life. The presence of the world is not relevant to the inferences. If there were immaterial ghosts who had no experience on earth, they could make the same logical deductions.

      All science measurement is based on defining error limits.

      There is so much confusion about measurement there and elsewhere in your comments, that I don’t know how to unravel it. So I won’t try. I will, however, take it as a hint that perhaps there is widespread misunderstanding of measurement. Many of the mistakes of philosophy might be due to the same kind of misunderstanding.

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  8. “Sorry, but that sure seems completely wrong.”

    Can you explain why? What is your conception of ‘abstract’? For that matter, what’s your conception of what ‘concepts’ are?

    Remember, what science appears to tell us is that there is some sort of reality that existed before we humans did. It also tells us that we are just more of that reality that happens to be formed in some particular way out of the same stuff. There is no evidence of anything else – no minds, no spiritual world, nothing else.

    Some of that stuff, our brains, has the behaviour of self-examination, and that leaves us with the habit of forming patterns in our brains, out of real neurons, real chemicals, real atoms. What we see when we think is just the reult of real physical brain stuff in action. There is nothing to suppose that our thoughts, our very concepts, are anything more than patterns in brains. When we ‘imagine’ abstract ideas like ‘forms’, ‘logic’, that’s one part of the brain recognising patterns in the brain. These ‘concepts’, ‘forms’, ‘abstractions’ don’t exist anywhere in some mystical realm.

    It’s only because we, as individuals, and as a species with a developed culture, that we have grown, as individuals, to accept this primacy of thought that imagines it has access to some abstract world of ‘forms’, ‘principles’, ‘concepts’. All they really are are patterns of matter in brains. This is more obvious when we transform these patterns to a representation in the outside – to books, for example. Books are nothing more than molecules of ink arranged in specific patterns on paper. The only sense in which those words have ‘meaning’ is in that there is a correpondence between what the writer had in his mind and what the reader can take from the ink patterns – and we know that isn’t as reliable as we would expect. It relies on driving into the brains of the young a regular flow of pattern forming – that learning you mentionsed elsewhere.

    That learning process is a process of manipulating a brain to recognise patterns. This is more obvious with physical learning, such as the piano or violin, where even the nervous system that extends to the fingers has to become familiar with the patterns of movement. To this extent the conscious use of concepts transforms into a musician ‘feeling’ the music – the established patterns of sensory and motor control and become so well formed that the automaton of the unconscious brain seems to take control. While you are typing from thoughts in your mind, what is doing the fast typing on the keys while you are forming the ideas as you type? This is a dynamic behaviour of an automaton.

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    • What is your conception of ‘abstract’? For that matter, what’s your conception of what ‘concepts’ are?

      At least to a first approximation, abstract things are useful fictions that we invent so as to facilitate discussion.

      If we had to talk about computers in terms of the electrical currents and voltages, rather than in terms of the abstract binary digits, it would be impossibly complex. The use of abstraction allows considerable simplification.

      Concept, roughly speaking, are the building blocks of our descriptions of the world.

      It’s only because we, as individuals, and as a species with a developed culture, that we have grown, as individuals, to accept this primacy of thought that imagines it has access to some abstract world of ‘forms’, ‘principles’, ‘concepts’.</blockquote.
      I actually take behavior as primary, and speech as communication about behavior. However, philosophy and religion are both infested with the idea of the primacy of thought.

      That learning process is a process of manipulating a brain to recognise patterns.

      That’s the conventional wisdom. I used to believe that. But I have been forced to conclude that it is mistaken.

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  9. “The way we represent information vocally, is very different from the way that Chinese people represent information vocally (big language difference). Yet you won’t find a lot of difference in brain structure.”

    Yes, but you’re seeing the wrong difference. Try this link. The point is that all things being as equal as possible, same culture, same gender, similar background, average brains with no specific differences, then there is no reason to suppose a great difference between subjective experiences. Humans, through educational systems, go to a lot of effort to try to make sure we do understand ideas with as much common ground as possible.

    When a person joins a new group of friends and has little in common it takes some time to attune oneself to the group, for their brain to acquire the habits, the patterns, of the group.

    Take two close friends who like dogs and who through close association have similar views on dogs. One is traumatically attacked and acquires a fear of big dogs. The two friends now have a difference in subjective experience when they meet a big dog because their brains are now significantly different in responding to big dogs.

    So, for common experiences that we all share, the more common and similar the experiences, and the more similar the brains, the more we should expect our subjective experiences to be similar. Why wouldn’t we expact that?

    Getting back now to our original disagreement, about the experience of bringing a cup to the lips. It’s such a common physical action that is related to habits of motor action that have been with our species for so long that I don’t see any justification in thinking they are not processed in the same way by everyone.

    This is not a claim that putting a cup to the lips is in our DNA. But it is a claim that our DNA produces biological systems, which when applied to the task of putting a cup to the lips, all pretty much use the same solution. And just to avoid any trivialisation of differences, I can adapt to drinking from a small cup using two hands, as is done in some asian cultures, or even a large bowl cup of morning coffee as the French do. The point is, that for any particular behaviour, when humans learn it in a consistent environment their brains will tend towards the same solution. And at the detailed level of any automatic (i.e. non-conscious) motor behaviour the brain will be using feedback techniques that in turn rely on measurement, and in turn on logic.

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    • The point is that all things being as equal as possible, same culture, same gender, similar background, average brains with no specific differences, then there is no reason to suppose a great difference between subjective experiences.

      There’s also no reason to suppose a great deal of similarity.

      There’s no way that I can compare my experience with your experience. So talk of similarity or difference is meaningless. We can compare descriptions, but we have no standard for describing experience that would allow us to infer similarity of experience from similarity of description. Being part of a common culture more or less requires that our descriptions of experience be similar. But that leaves us with no way of comparing experience.

      Getting back now to our original disagreement, about the experience of bringing a cup to the lips.

      My comment was not about experience. It was about how the distance between cup and lip is represented internally. Unfortunately, with your confused view of measurement, it is probably hard for you to see that they could be different.

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  10. “At least to a first approximation, abstract things are useful fictions that we invent so as to facilitate discussion.”

    That’s already at too high a level. Abstract ideas occur in human brains. But how are they implemented in those brains?

    I agree abstraction allows simplification. But how it is instantiated in the brain is the issue at hand.

    Let’s take software. A piece of software is only ever an abstraction in a human mind. There is nothing you can touch that is a Microsoft Word program. When you buy it on disk you are actually taking with you a disk with some pattern on it. Look at the pattern on the disk and you see pits in a CD. You do not see nebulous software. When you install it onto a PC there is real energy transfer, from the CD reader, through the system, into magnetic patterns on the hard drive. Other than wear and tear and any decay loss of fidelity on the disk through laser action is entirely incidental – the disk pattern largely remains. Software has not been transferred. It has been copied – re-represented. When it’s loaded into PC memory and run, it’s just bit states in the memory. Programs are data; data is information; information is distinction in phsyical state.

    Abstractions are our software. They don’t exist in any physical sense other than they are patterns. They are patterns in the brain, not matter how permanent, like long term memory, or how transient, like short term memory or even non-memorised flashes across areas of the brain.

    “Concept, roughly speaking, are the building blocks of our descriptions of the world.”

    But I’m asking what the building blocks of concepts are. Where are they? Can you hold one? Or are they fleeting brain content? If I have the concept of a car, and I draw that car on paper, and show that paper to someone, and they recognise the patter as representing a car, their brin will likely construct, immediately, a concept of a car. At no time did that concept exist on the paper. Only a representation of it existed. If the otehr person did not share the concept of car, had they never seen one, our classical ‘jungle native’ ignorant of all technology, then, they would only see lines on the paper – and might even mistake the paper for some kind of leaf or some object they are familar with.

    “That’s the conventional wisdom. I used to believe that. But I have been forced to conclude that it is mistaken. [That learning process is a process of manipulating a brain to recognise patterns.]”

    What forces you to conclude that?

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    • That’s already at too high a level. Abstract ideas occur in human brains. But how are they implemented in those brains?

      “Implemented” is a designers term. It isn’t really applicable to evolved systems. Abstract ideas are not very much different from non-abstract ideas, as far as the brain involvement is concerned. An explanation would depend on giving my complete theory of cognition, but you are not ready to even contemplate that at present.

      But I’m asking what the building blocks of concepts are.

      Concepts are atomic. They don’t have building blocks. And they are abstract, so that’s back to the problem of explaining abstract. Really, they are behavioral. We won’t find them directly in the brain, because behavior is not done by having a list of behaviors with subroutines for each. We don’t work the same way as a robot would.

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  11. “My comment was not about experience. It was about how the distance between cup and lip is represented internally. Unfortunately, with your confused view of measurement, it is probably hard for you to see that they could be different.”

    Drinking from a cup isn’t an experience? It’s something we do. We experience it as we do it each time we do it. Learning to ride a bike relies on the repetition of experience. Once a task is learned it may get subsumed into the subconscious, but the brain bits doing the work are still largely the same – the sensory and motor areas.

    The views I’ve expressed on measurement and its relation to information and the physical world, particularly regarding the physical world of the brain as an information processing system, a measuring system, seems entirely consistent with these sources:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measurement#Definitions_and_theories

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information-semantic/

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  12. “The presence of the world is not relevant to the inferences.”

    I think you’ll find it is. Inferencing is a process of infering one thing from something else. That’s a logical operation: IF x THEN y

    But that type of operation isn’t restricted to inference in language. It’s the same sort of operation used in comparisons of any kind.

    “If there were immaterial ghosts who had no experience on earth, they could make the same logical deductions.”

    What? How? Logical deductions are part of a process. A process requires energy – thermodynamics and all that. I think most of science and philosophy relies on the requirement for a physical basis for information content and processing. Objections to Maxwell’s demon take this route. Some philosophers do say there can be data without material existence (so I’ve read, but I don’t know which ones). But if they question that requirement then one can just continue their questioning into whther there’s any material reality at the base of it all anyway, or if there’s any data, anything to have inferences about or anything to do the inferring.

    Anyway, all instances of data processing, including the process of inferring, do seem to need energy and a material stage on which it can happen. Do you have any evidence to the contrary? Any evidence of ghosts for that matter?

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  13. ” “Implemented” is a designers term. It isn’t really applicable to evolved systems.”

    It’s only a designer’s term when used in the sense you suggest by designers. You’re taking anthropomorphic language literally. Try ‘instantiated’ then; or ‘applied’, …, so many of our words are are like that.

    How about “Abstract ideas occur in human brains. But do they consist of in those brains?”

    “An explanation would depend on giving my complete theory of cognition, but you are not ready to even contemplate that at present.”

    “An explanation would depend on giving my complete theory of cognition, but you are not ready to even contemplate that at present.”

    Well, you’ve come this far, you could try.

    “Concepts are atomic.”

    A concept that contains several other concepts as components isn’t atomic. The concept of ‘car’, for example. Or ‘justice’. We may be used to using them atomically, because we have what we think is a common understanding; until we realise there is no atomic common understanding. Apparently ‘measurement’ isn’t an atomic concept. I doubt humans have any atomic concepts, since all concious cognition is so complex that all concepts rely on others.

    “Really, they are behavioral.”

    yes I agree. They are part of the behaviour of brains. When you think about a brain behaving in having a concept flit through it, what do you think is happening physically in that brain? Do you think there is something happening apart from physical events? Are you really a dualist?

    “We won’t find them directly in the brain”

    How do you know that? There have been many correlates of conscious thought found so far, even with current crude instruments such as fMRI scanners – crude in the sense that it can get down only to localised blood flow rather than details behaviour of neurons. Direct electrical stimulation of a single neuron can cause it to fire, which in turn triggers others and so stimulates specific complex concepts, such as the hearing of a familiar tune. What reason is there to think concepts are not the behaviour of the brain, or brain areas, or brain networks. Are you a dualist?

    “We don’t work the same way as a robot would.”

    Doesn’t that then depend on your complex (non-atomic) concept of a robot, or on how the robot was made to work?

    “You are misconstruing what I said.”

    or are you misconstruing or misunderstanding what I said? Or is that these concepts are not atomic?

    OK, I’ll skip that question, and perhaps you can answer the point itself:

    “It was about how the distance between cup and lip is represented internally.” – It’s something we do. We experience it as we do it each time we do it. Learning to ride a bike relies on the repetition of experience. Once a task is learned it may get subsumed into the subconscious, but the brain bits doing the work are still largely the same – the sensory and motor areas.

    And, based on the two links I gave, can you show where my confusion is regarding measurement?

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    • A concept that contains several other concepts as components isn’t atomic. The concept of ‘car’, for example.

      We use the word “concept” in several different senses. When you talk of “the concept of car” you are really talking of the idea of a car.

      When I say that concepts are atomic (indivisible), I am thinking of concepts such as force, space, time, color. I am thinking of them as the basic elements in our descriptions. You are thinking about what they refer to in the real world. So there’s a bit of miscommunication there.

      “We won’t find them directly in the brain”

      How do you know that?

      It’s a bit like the fact that you won’t find numbers in your computer (apart from the serial number on the label). You will only find electrical signals. We treat those as numbers, but there is nothing about the electrical signals that makes them numbers. What makes them numbers is how we humans use them.

      “We don’t work the same way as a robot would.”

      Doesn’t that then depend on your complex (non-atomic) concept of a robot, or on how the robot was made to work?

      I intended “robot” to refer to the kind of robots that are built today. Obviously, I don’t know what will be built 100 years from now.

      “You are misconstruing what I said.”

      or are you misconstruing or misunderstanding what I said? Or is that these concepts are not atomic?

      OK, I’ll skip that question, and perhaps you can answer the point itself:

      “It was about how the distance between cup and lip is represented internally.” – It’s something we do. We experience it as we do it each time we do it. Learning to ride a bike relies on the repetition of experience. Once a task is learned it may get subsumed into the subconscious, but the brain bits doing the work are still largely the same – the sensory and motor areas.

      My original comment was about how distance between cup and lip is represented internally. In one of your earlier replies, you misconstrued that as being about the experience of moving cup to lip. The two are presumably related, but they are far from the same thing.

      As for: “Learning to ride a bike relies on the repetition of experience.” – sure, but that is a gross oversimplification.

      And, based on the two links I gave, can you show where my confusion is regarding measurement?

      Those links are pretty much useless. It seems that measurement a poor understanding of measurement is widespread.

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