Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

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Language, philosophy: language is a set of phonetic or written coded forms fixed at a time for the exchange of information or distinctions within a community whose members are able to recognize and interpret these forms as signs or symbols. In a wider sense, language is also a sign system, which can be processed by machines. See also communication, language rules, meaning, meaning change, information, signs, symbols, words, sentences, syntax, semantics, grammar, pragmatics, translation, interpretation, radical interpretation, indeterminacy.

Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Item Summary Meta data

Marvin Minsky on Language - Dictionary of Arguments

I 196
Language/thinking/Artificial Intelligence//Minsky: Language builds things in our minds. Yet words themselves can't be the substance of our thoughts. They have no meanings by themselves; they're only special sorts of marks or sounds. If we're to understand how language works, we must discard the usual view that words denote or represent, or designate; instead, their function is control: each word makes various agents change what various other agents do. If we want to understand how language works, we must never forget that our thinking-in-words reveals only a fragment of the mind's activity. >Intentions/Minsky.
I 197
For example, all English speakers learn that saying big brown dog is right, while brown big dog is somehow wrong. How do we learn which phrases are admissible? No language scientist even knows whether brains must learn this once or twice — first, for knowing what to say, and second, for knowing what to hear. Do we reuse the same machinery for both? Our conscious minds just cannot tell, since consciousness does not reveal how language works.
Thinking: We sometimes seem to think in words — and sometimes not. What do we think in when we aren't using words? And how do the agents that work with words communicate with those that don't?
[We make a theory with three levels]: The upper region contains agents that are concerned specifically with words. The lower region includes all the agencies that are affected by words. And in the center lie the agencies involved with how words engage our recollections, expectations, and other kinds of mental processes. There is also one peculiarity: the language-agency seems to have an unusual capacity to control its own memories.
I 198
Tradition: Many people have tried to explain language as though it were separate from the rest of psychology. Indeed, the study of language itself was often divided into smaller subjects, called by traditional names like >syntax, >grammar, and >semantics. But because there was no larger, coherent theory of thinking to which to attach those fragments, they tended to lose contact with one another and with reality. Once we assume that language and thought are different things, we're lost in trying to piece together what was never separate in the first place.
Artificial Intelligence/language: we'll introduce two kinds of agents that contribute to the power of words. The first kind, called polynemes, are involved with our long-term memories.
A polyneme is a type of K-line; it sends the same, simple signal to many different agencies: each of those agencies must learn, for itself, what to do when it receives that signal. When you hear the word apple, a certain polyneme is aroused, and the signal from this polyneme will put your Color agency into a state that represents redness. The same signal will set your Shape agency into a state that represents roundness, and so forth. (K-line: see >Terminology/Minsky)
Isonome: Each isonome controls a short-term memory in each of many agencies. For example, suppose we had just been talking about a certain apple, and then I said, Please put it in this pail. In this case, you would assume that the word it refers to the apple.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Minsky I
Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind New York 1985

Minsky II
Marvin Minsky
Semantic Information Processing Cambridge, MA 2003

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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-17
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