Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The General Language of Reality

This yellowing paper back started something for me!

This post on Uncommon Descent piqued my interest: It is about the question of whether animals really have language and the first sentence of the post, probably written by Denise O’Leary, reads:
And you just know how desperate they are to get to “yes”
I think you will find that Denise O’Leary’s thought behind this sentence is likely to ruin run along these lines “Uh Oh, here we go again; materialists trying to blur the distinction between animals and humans in their efforts to spread Darwinist propaganda!,

I’m afraid I have to say that once again I find myself at odds with Denise. In my opinion it is very likely that animals do have language albeit at an elementary precursor stage. Why do I say this?

Well, that is a very long story which I hope to tell one day in full. Its beginnings go back at least to the time I started programming a simple word association network on a spectrum home computer with ideas taken from Edward De Bono’s book “The Mechanism of Mind”. This project, which I called project "X", got more and more complicated as I upgraded first to an Amiga500 and finally a Windows PC where I programmed the project in C++.  It was this project that actually prompted my rather amateurish foray into quantum theory and the private publishing of my book Gravity and Quantum non-linearity. To cut a long story short it was clear to me that the association game had a very general structure about it, so general that it even echoed aspects of quantum mechanical ideas. I actually allude to the project in these web items:

I have recently read the book “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes” by ex-Christian SIL missionary Daniel Everett. He challenges the ideas of Chomsky and proposes that there is not so much a language instinct as there is a general cognitive ability on which language runs. If my ideas are valid then I partly agree with Everett. Intelligence has an underlying general structure, so general that it is even reflected in quantum mechanics. Language arises out of this very general cognitive structure as a specialised application of it. However, having said that I suspect that the general “De Bono thinking surface” has to be tweaked by setting up its adjustable parameters so as to make it work well for a specialised job like complex  language and this is probably why the human brain has “Broca’s area”. But because language is rooted in such a general cognitive “machine” animals are likely to display a proto-language use. So, I probably position myself somewhere between Chomsky and Dennett. But more about this another time. For the moment I’ll leave you with the first paragraphs of an essay I started writing several years ago where I intended to go into more detail:

By 1987, the year my paper on probability was accepted, I had also been playing around with a word association program I had written in Basic on a Spectrum computer. My interest in association networks had found the beginnings of a theoretical base after reading Edward De Bono’s book “The Mechanism of Mind”. So, having got the probability issue behind me with a paper in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science I stood back for a bit and took stock. As I pondered the work I had done with probability and randomness I fancied I saw a connection between the latter and the ideas underlying the association network software I had written for my spectrum computer. Moreover, the association network seemed to be at least a faint of echo of the process of human thinking (as De Bono intended it). In particular it reflected somewhat the way thought flows from one conscious impression to the next. My mind at that time was alive with ideas of artificial intelligence and my work in probability had thrown some light on the subject. One day at the beginning of August 1987 I wrote some notes on AI, notes that started with the following rather grandiose lines:

“When developing a thinking machine we need to ask ourselves a question: What is a very general representation of reality?  What is the basic form of a notation that can be used to describe any situation? Once we have found this very general notation we can then start to construct a machine that models reality using it.”

The idea here was that if there is a very general representation of reality, so general that it applies to any situation, then this representation amounted to a universal way of thinking about things. Thus, if that representation is modeled on a machine then perhaps we would have in our hands a way to model thinking and intelligence. As for the answer to the question of the general representation to use, that seemed obvious to me: The association network formalism gave me that language, and the isomorphism that that formalism had with the models I was using to explore randomness and probability suggested to me that this formalism was the one to use.  Let me explain how this works.....

…perhaps another time! Since I last wrote the foregoing I think there has been a subtle shift in my thinking; The general language of reality is not so much a representation of reality as reality itself!

1 comment:

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