Re: Mindless Thought Experiments

From: Stathis Papaioannou (
Date: Sun Mar 02 2008 - 17:09:35 MST

On 03/03/2008, Krekoski Ross <> wrote:
> I dispute the can opener argument. You make the assumption that all of the
> 'signal' is contained inside the packaging, i.e. that all meaning of the
> email is external to the email itself, and dependant upon cultural context.
> But an extreme construal of that position implies that there is no objective
> meaning, and that a completely random string of letters, or, non-trivially,
> a string of 10,000 identical characters could, in some language express the
> same thing. This is an extreme position, and most serious logicians, even on
> the extreme externalist end of the spectrum would concede that a signal has
> an internal logic. The position is somewhat akin to saying that if I create
> a sequence such as:
> -.-.--.---.-----.--------. etc
> that an alien intelligence could not possibly interpret it as a fibonacci
> sequence, since of course, all the meaning is contextually dependant.

You would be relying on an evolved intelligence having at least some
similarity with human intelligence, not an unreasonable assumption.
But there is no reason why the written language of an alien species
might not be, for example, based on the radioactive decay pattern of a
sacred stone, in which case to us a message would look completely

Similarly, an alien computer could seem to us completely rando. There
need not even be a causal connection between the subcomponents of a
computation. A virtual environment in which you experience Monday
could be run on computer A, and then Tuesday run on (completely
different) computer B in the Andromeda galaxy a billion years later at
one billionth speed. As far as you're concerned, you experience Monday
followed by Tuesday. You could be in a simulation in which every
second of experience is implemented on different hardware, at
different rates, different physical locations, in no particular
sequence, and you would have no way of knowing it. The shorter the
frames are, the more likely that a sequence of physical events
isomorphic to whatever hardware/software combination you specify
arises by chance.

Stathis Papaioannou

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