GPT as Syntactic Shadow-Puppetry

Pondering whether there is something non-arbitrary to pin down in the notion of “intelligence” (or “cognition”) is reminiscent of what philosophers tried (unsuccessfully) to do with the notion of “knowing” (or “cognizing”):

BELIEF: Do I know (cognize) that “the cat is on the mat” if I simply believe the cat is on the mat? 

No, the cat really has to be on the mat.

TRUE BELIEF: So do I know (cognize) that “the cat is on the mat” if I believe the cat is on the mat and the cat is really on the mat?

No, I could be believing that it’s true for the wrong reasons, or by luck.

JUSTIFIED TRUE BELIEF: So do I know (cognize) that “the cat is on the mat” if I believe the cat is on the mat and the cat is really on the mat and I believe it because I have photographic evidence, or a mathematical proof that it’s on the mat?

No, the evidence could be unreliable or wrong, or the proof could be wrong or irrelevant.

VALID, JUSTIFIED, TRUE BELIEF: So do I know (cognize) that “the cat is on the mat” if I believe the cat is on the mat and the cat is really on the mat and I believe it because I have photographic evidence, or a mathematical proof that it’s on the mat, and neither the evidence nor the proof is unreliable or wrong, or otherwise invalid?.

How do I know the justification is valid?

So the notion of “knowledge” is in the end circular.

“Intelligence” (and “cognition”) has this affliction, and Shlomi Sher’s notion that we can always make it break down in GPT is also true of human intelligence: they’re both somehow built on sand.

Probably a more realistic notion of “knowledge” (or “cognition,” or “intelligence”) is that they are not only circular (i.e., auto-parasitic, like the words and their definition in a dictionary), but that also approximate. Approximation can be tightened as much as you like, but it’s still not exact or exhaustive. A dictionary cannot be infinite. A picture (or object) is always worth more than 1000++ words describing it. 

Ok, so set aside words and verbal (and digital) “knowledge” and “intelligence”: Cannonverbal knowledge and intelligence do any better? Of course, there’s one thing nonverbal knowledge can do, and that’s to ground verbal knowledge by connecting the words in a speaker’s head to their referents in the world through sensorimotor “know-how.”

But that’s still just know-how. Knowing that the cat is on the mat is not just knowing how to find out whether the cat is on the mat. That’s just empty operationalism. Is there anything else to “knowledge” or “intelligence”?

Well, yes, but that doesn’t help either: Back to belief. What is it to believe that the cat is on the mat? Besides all the failed attempts to upgrade it to “knowing” that the cat is on the mat, which proved circular and approximate, even when grounded by sensorimotor means, it also feels like something to believe something. 

But that’s no solution either. The state of feeling something, whether a belief or a bee-sting, is, no doubt, a brain state. Humans and nonhuman animals have those states; computers and GPTs and robots GPT robots (so far) don’t.

But what if they the artificial ones eventually did feel? What would that tell us about what “knowledge” or “intelligence” really are – besides FELT, GROUNDED, VALID, JUSTIFIED, TRUE VERBAL BELIEF AND SENSORIMOTOR KNOWHOW? (“FGVJTVBSK”)

That said, GPT is a non-starter, being just algorithm-tuned statistical figure-completions and extrapolations derived from on an enormous ungrounded verbal corpus produced by human FGVJTVBSKs. A surprisingly rich database/algorithm combination of the structure of verbal discourse. That consists of the shape of the shadows of “knowledge,” “cognition,” “intelligence” — and, for that matter, “meaning” – that are reflected in the words and word-combinations produced by countless human FGVJTVBSKs. And they’re not even analog shadows…

A Whimper

I have of late 
lost all my faith 
in “taste” of either savor: 
or aesthete. 
Darwin’s “proximal 
is  just 
the Siren’s Song 
from the start 
the genes and memes 
of our superior 
to pummel this promontory 
for all but the insensate 
a land of waste.

12 Points on Confusing Virtual Reality with Reality

Comments on: Bibeau-Delisle, A., & Brassard FRS, G. (2021). Probability and consequences of living inside a computer simulationProceedings of the Royal Society A477(2247), 20200658.

  1. What is Computation? it is the manipulation of arbitrarily shaped formal symbols in accordance with symbol-manipulation rules, algorithms, that operate only on the (arbitrary) shape of the symbols, not their meaning.
  2. Interpretatabililty. The only computations of interest, though, are the ones that can be given a coherent interpretation.
  3. Hardware-Independence. The hardware that executes the computation is irrelevant. The symbol manipulations have to be executed physically, so there does have to be hardware that executes it, but the physics of the hardware is irrelevant to the interpretability of the software it is executing. It’s just symbol-manipulations. It could have been done with pencil and paper.
  4. What is the Weak Church/Turing Thesis? That what mathematicians are doing is computation: formal symbol manipulation, executable by a Turing machine – finite-state hardware that can read, write, advance tape, change state or halt.
  5. What is Simulation? It is computation that is interpretable as modelling properties of the real world: size, shape, movement, temperature, dynamics, etc. But it’s still only computation: coherently interpretable manipulation of symbols
  6. What is the Strong Church/Turing Thesis? That computation can simulate (i.e., model) just about anything in the world to as close an approximation as desired (if you can find the right algorithm). It is possible to simulate a real rocket as well as the physical environment of a real rocket. If the simulation is a close enough approximation to the properties of a real rocket and its environment, it can be manipulated computationally to design and test new, improved rocket designs. If the improved design works in the simulation, then it can be used as the blueprint for designing a real rocket that applies the new design in the real world, with real material, and it works.
  7. What is Reality? It is the real world of objects we can see and measure.
  8. What is Virtual Reality (VR)? Devices that can stimulate (fool) the human senses by transmitting the output of simulations of real objects to virtual-reality gloves and goggles. For example, VR can transmit the output of the simulation of an ice cube, melting, to gloves and goggles that make you feel you are seeing and feeling an ice cube. melting. But there is no ice-cube and no melting; just symbol manipulations interpretable as an ice-cube, melting.
  9. What is Certainly Truee (rather than just highly probably true on all available evidence)? only what is provably true in formal mathematics. Provable means necessarily true, on pain of contradiction with formal premises (axioms). Everything else that is true is not provably true (hence not necessarily true), just probably true.
  10.  What is illusion? Whatever fools the senses. There is no way to be certain that what our senses and measuring instruments tell us is true (because it cannot be proved formally to be necessarily true, on pain of contradiction). But almost-certain on all the evidence is good enough, for both ordinary life and science.
  11. Being a Figment? To understand the difference between a sensory illusion and reality is perhaps the most basic insight that anyone can have: the difference between what I see and what is really there. “What I am seeing could be a figment of my imagination.” But to imagine that what is really there could be a computer simulation of which I myself am a part  (i.e., symbols manipulated by computer hardware, symbols that are interpretable as the reality I am seeing, as if I were in a VR) is to imagine that the figment could be the reality – which is simply incoherent, circular, self-referential nonsense.
  12.  Hermeneutics. Those who think this way have become lost in the “hermeneutic hall of mirrors,” mistaking symbols that are interpretable (by their real minds and real senses) as reflections of themselves — as being their real selves; mistaking the simulated ice-cube, for a “real” ice-cube.

Intelligence and Empathy

“A family of wild boars organized a cage breakout of 2 piglets, demonstrating high levels of intelligence and empathy”

The capture as well as the breeding of other sentient beings for human uses are imprisonment and slavery – involuntary – and contrary to the biological imperatives of the victims. It is anthropocentric arrogance and aggression to presume that humans have a natural (or divine) right to inflict this on other sentient beings (except in cases of vital [not commercial or hedonic] conflict of biological imperatives, such as between biologically obligate carnivores and their prey).

La capture ainsi que l’Ă©levage des autres ĂŞtres sentients pour les usages humains sont de l’emprisonnement et de l’esclavage — involontaires — Ă  l’encontre des impĂ©ratifs biologiques des victimes. C’est une arrogance et une agression anthropocentriques de prĂ©sumer que les humains ont un droit naturel (ou divin) d’infliger cela Ă  d’autres ĂŞtres sensibles (sauf en cas de conflit d’impĂ©ratifs biologiques [pas les intĂ©rĂŞts commerciaux ou hĂ©doniques], comme entre les carnivores biologiquement obligĂ©s et leurs proies).

*IF* plants HAD feelings, how WOULD this affect our advocacy for animals?

That plants do feel is about as improbable as it is that animals (including humans) do not feel. (The only real uncertainty is about the very lowest invertebrates and microbes, at the juncture with plants, and evidence suggests that the capacity to feel depends on having a nervous system, and the behavioral capacities the nervous system produces.)

Because animals feel, it is unethical (in fact, monstrous) to harm them, when we have a choice. We don’t need to eat animals to survive and be healthy, so there we have a choice.

Plants almost certainly do not feel, but even if they did feel, we would have no choice but to eat them (until we can synthesize them) because otherwise we die.

Critique of Bobier, Christopher (2021) What Would the Virtuous Person Eat? The Case for Virtuous Omnivorism. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

Critique of What Would the Virtuous Person Eat? The Case for Virtuous Omnivorism

1. Insects and oysters have a nervous system. They are sentient beings and they feel pain.

2. It is not necessary for human health to consume sentient beings — not mammals, birds, reptiles, or invertebrates.

3. It is plants (and microbes) that do not have a nervous system and hence do not feel.

4. What is wrong is to make sentient beings suffer or die other than out of conflict of vital (life-or-death) interest.

5. Morality concerns, among other things, not harming other sentient beings.

The rest of the proposal of Christopher Bobier is unfortunately mere casuistry.

To help the victims of plant agriculture  for human consumption, perhaps strive instead to develop an agriculture that is more ecological and more merciful to the sentient beings who are entangled in mass consumption by the human population.

Instead of fallacies like the call to consume some sentient victims so as to give further sentient victims the opportunity to become victims, it might be more virtuous to consider reducing the rate of growth in the number of human consumers.

De la casuistique d’un «éthicien» concernant la « vertu»

1. Les insectes et les huitres ont un système nerveux. Ils sont des êtres sentients et ils ressentent la douleur.

2. Il n’est pas nĂ©cesaire Ă  la santĂ© humaine de consommer les ĂŞtres sentients — ni mammifère, ni oiseau, ni rĂ©ptile, ni invertĂ©brĂ©.

3. C’est les plantes (et les microbes) qui n’ont pas de système nerveux et donc ne ressentent pas.

4. Ce qui est mal, c’est de faire souffrir ou mourrir les ĂŞtres sentients sans nĂ©cessitĂ© vitale (conflit d’intĂ©rĂŞt de vie ou de mort).

5. La moralité concerne, entre autres, ne pas faire mal aux autres êtres sentients.

Le reste du propos de ce « scientifique » n’est que du casuistique. 

Pour aider aux victimes de l’agriculture des plantes aux fins de la consommation humaine, lutter peut-ĂŞtre plutĂ´t pour dĂ©velopper une agriculture plus Ă©cologique et plus misĂ©ricordieuse envers les ĂŞtres sentients qui sont empĂ©trĂ©s dans la consommation de masse par la population humaine. 

Au lieu de sophismes comme l’appel Ă  consommer des de victimes sentientes pour donner l’occasion Ă  davantage de victimes sentientes Ă  devenir victimes, il serait peut-ĂŞtre plus vertueux de songer Ă  rĂ©duire le taux de croissance du nombre de consommateurs humains…

World Happiness Report

The Hygge ladder

I think it would be more informative to ask people:

  1. whether they or their loved ones have any (a) mild, (b) moderate, or (c) grave illnesses
  2. whether they or their loved ones do not have enough to eat for the foreseeable future
  3. whether they or their loved ones do not have a place to live for the foreseeable future
  4. whether they  or their loved ones are not free, or in danger of harm

If their reply to 1-4 is no, then they should forget the 10-point Hygge ladder and count themselves as happy (and consider helping those sentient beings whose reply to 1-4 is not no).

What Matters

she is my inner pig, 

the one I consult 

to ask 

whether whatever happens to be troubling me 

at the time

(a paper rejected, a grant application denied, a personal disappointment)


She has just arrived at Fearman’s 

at the end of days of transport,

her first glimpse of light, 

thirsty, frightened, 

after the brief eternity

of her 6-month lifetime, 


in the misery and horror 

of those bolted, shuttered, 

cramped, suffocating,


cylindroid tubes we keep noticing 

in what we had imagined

was an innocent pastoral countryside. 

Now she is 45 minutes 

before being brutally thrust into the CO2 chamber, 

and then the foul sabre

that will sever her larynx,

and the drop

into the scalding water

to disinfect her sullied flesh,

to make it worthy

of our plates and palates.

Her answer is always the same.

No, it does not matter.

None of that matters.

Save me.

My Inner Pig