Symbol grounding problem  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Symbol Grounding Problem is related to the problem of how words (symbols) get their meanings, and hence to the problem of what meaning itself really is. The problem of meaning is in turn related to the problem of consciousness, or how it is that mental states are meaningful. According to a widely held theory of cognition called "computationalism," cognition (i.e., thinking) is just a form of computation. But computation in turn is just formal symbol manipulation: symbols are manipulated according to rules that are based on the symbols' shapes, not their meanings. How are those symbols (e.g., the words in our heads) connected to the things they refer to? It cannot be through the mediation of an external interpreter's head, because that would lead to an infinite regress, just as looking up the meanings of words in a (unilingual) dictionary of a language that one does not understand would lead to an infinite regress. The symbols in an autonomous hybrid symbolic+sensorimotor system—a Turing-scale robot consisting of both a symbol system and a sensorimotor system that reliably connects its internal symbols to the external objects they refer to, so it can interact with them Turing-indistinguishably from the way a person does—would be grounded. But whether its symbols would have meaning rather than just grounding is something that even the robotic Turing Test—hence cognitive science itself—cannot determine, or explain.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Symbol grounding problem" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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