What’s in the head and not

I amuse myself on various forums; observing how the humans think. After all, the human race is gifted with a kind of thinking ability that has allowed them to split the atom and fathom quantum physics. They’ve even created quantum computers. So – you would think that this species is highly intelligent if you were an alien race looking down on them. But if you were such an alien, you’d be looking at the outputs of the whole species and subgroups who perform very well. What about those who don’t? To find out about those, you would need to infiltrate social media forums – as I do.

I got into an argy-bargy with some fool about whether dogs can understand human language.

Mr X goes: “Dogs definitely understand a large vocabulary – my retriever tells the difference between ‘football’ and ‘little ball’, ‘pink thing’ (sort of a pink monster), duck, (his favourite) and crocodile. He knows ‘breakfast’ and ‘dinner’,’biscuits’ ‘out’ and all the usual commands like ‘sit’, wait’, ‘off’ ‘down’ ‘fetch’ ‘stand still’ and ‘drop’. He knows the names of all family members, including my parents and his fellow doggy family members. If you were to say ‘ go see xxx’ he would go to find that person. Just off the top of my head I can think of about 25 – 30 words he demonstrably understands. I’m sure that would be higher if I really made a list.

Then CW goes: “Wrong. What your dog responds to and what dogs understand are different things. Understanding is different to association of patterns of words with responses leading to some sort of gain. If you are right then my computer understands more language than your dog! Yes. I talk to my computer and it obeys and responds to my questions.”

Then X offers a riposte: “I didn’t realise your computer could breathe, eat, worry, get excited – need I go on? My dog understands – he sees – he doesn’t respond to Algorithms. How do you think anyone learns when they are young – by eliciting some sort of benefit as a reward or negative result – so sorry – but you are wrong. And you don’t know my dog.

And then CW goes:

I didn’t realise your computer could breathe, eat, worry, get excited – need I go on?

Irrelevant. You are introducing new facts about your dog which you did not declare at the outset. I did not assume anything more than what you declared about your dog. None of the above in the rhetorical question are required for the ability to understand anything.

How do you think anyone learns when they are young – by eliciting some sort of benefit as a reward or negative result…

My computer does that.

My dog understands – he sees – he doesn’t respond to Algorithms

I don’t think you have the capacity to know whether or not your dog is responding to algorithms, unless you have a unique methodology open to scrutiny of other observers. I don’t need to know your dog to determine that the whole of your reasoning is wrong. All I need are the rules of logic and your words. I have both. Recommended reading – not for you – because you won’t: “Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies” by Bo Bennett. Screenshot taken in case you are affected by a particular ‘algorithm’ which then triggers another algorithm running in this forum.

The poor chap just does not understand what ‘to understand’ means.

He assumes that response patterns and learning means understanding. I’m not debating it, but neonates without language do that. Computers do it. Loads of animals can do that. My car does it – when I drive at 50mph I get around 100mpg. When I drive at 70mph I get around 45mpg. So Mr X would say – by his form of reasoning, that my car has learned that when driven gently it performs better, and that my car understands this.

Learning which at its most basic means a recording and replay of some response pattern, has zero to do with understanding. Machines can be programmed to learn. That doesn’t mean they understand what’s going on.

As this is not a lecture, I’ll explain what I think understanding anything means. But I’ll go no further.

Understanding is beyond response patterns. It means that the entity can identify what it has learned, can depart from a set of  learned response patterns. Understanding means not being a slave to to a pattern.

You take it or leave it! In fact bugger off right now!

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