John K Clark (
Mon, 29 Jun 1998 21:29:42 -0700 (PDT)


>it's true that people don't require much knowledge at all as they go
>about their daily tasks.

I strongly disagree. People need a huge amount of knowledge to live, even
though most of it is hard to put into words, that's why it's been so
difficult to program an intelligent machine, it's definitions that are not
vital. Maybe definitions are handy in simple minded stuff like chess or
mathematics or formal logic, but not in profoundly intellectual astronomically
complex things like cleaning a house.

>We could get along quite well with a series of true beliefs
>(acquired, luckily, through false methods)

I've heard a wonderful story about this but I haven't checked so it may be
apocryphal, no matter it's still a good story. On November 7 1918 several
newspapers in Boston ran a erroneous story that the First World War had ended,
on the same day two men set sail in a small boat. They arrived in Bermuda on
November 12 1918 certain that the war was over. They had perfectly
respectable evidence, copies of the newspapers, and their belief was even
true (the war ended on Nov. 11) but was it knowledge? I'm not sure it
matters what it was because the war was definitely over and their belief was

>or simply with a series of beliefs that are practical in the sense
>that we can use them to manipulate the world but false in the sense
>that they don't accurately represent the world.

Making predictions and manipulating the world is the most we can hope for,
nobody has seen deep reality. Our brain just reacts to the electro-chemical
signals from nerves connected to a transducer called an eye. Our computers
react to the electronic signals from wires connected to a transducer called
an TV camera.

Our brain uses theories to explain these signals, so would intelligent
computers. Theories explain how some sense sensations relate to other sense
sensations. For example we receive information from our eyes, we interpret
that information as a rock moving at high speed and heading toward a large
plate glass window, we invent a theory that predicts that very soon we will
receive another sensation, this time from our ears, that we will describe as
the sound of breaking glass. Soon our prediction is confirmed so the theory
is successful, but we should remember that the sound of broken glass is not
broken glass, the look of broken glass is not broken glass, the feel of
broken glass is not broken glass. What "IS" broken glass? It must have stable
properties of some sort or I wouldn't be able to identify it as a "thing",
I don't know what those ultimate stable properties are, but I know what they
are not, they are not sense sensations. I have no idea what glass "IS".
The sad truth is, I can point to "things" but I don't know what a thing "IS"
and I 'm not even sure that I know what "IS" is, and an intelligent computer
would be in exactly the same boat I am.

>For those interested in acquiring knowledge, however, the
>definitions of concepts are extremely relevant.

Definitions should be consistent and are useful when communicating ideas with
other people but when it comes down to it, they're just words about words
that are defined by still more words and round and round we go. Examples are
far more important.

>The principle that we'll never discover anything more fundamental
>than information is only true if everything IS information.

Give me an example, I don't care how wild or exotic, of a way to prove that
there is something more fundamental than information.

>I think that it is more accurate to say that everything could
>PROVIDE information, while not everything IS information.

But nothing can provide anything but information.

>As far as skeptical challenges go, like the one you mentioned
>although I confess that I've never heard of it, I think that they
>can be explained away.

You are not a brain in a skull as you'd assumed you are a brain in a vat.
The day after you were born your brain was removed and placed in a artificial
nutriment bath. You have no sense organs but the parts of your brain that
would have received information from them now receive input from a vast
digital computer providing you with a virtual reality.

Actually now you're not even a brain in a vat, on your first birthday the
computer examined one particular neuron in your brain and because it had very
good information on how it operated it used nanotechnology to replace it with
an electronic neuron that behaved externally in exactly the same way,
the 10,000 other neurons connected to it saw nothing strange. When the
computer was satisfied that the neuron was working properly and received no
complaint from you that you were no longer you it got to work on another
neuron and then another. After one year all 10^11 neurons and the 10^14
synapses that connect them together were replaced with computer parts.
You and the entire universe are just information, a big software program.

Prove I'm wrong and you've proven there is something more fundamental than
information. But you can't.

>We often tend to speak of one computer communicating with another,
>or DNA communicating with cells via RNA. But this is all just

Metaphor? I seems just about as exact and concrete as things get. The cell
certainly acts like it understands what the nucleotide triplet CAU means,
it does things differently when it receives the message and that's what
information is supposed to do, we do the same thing. Don't take my word for
it, go to the laboratory and ask the cell what CAU means and it will always
tell you exactly the same thing, histidine

>One computer no more communicates with another than the lightning
>communicates with a tree when it cuts it in half.

The effects of lightning are not repeatable, sometimes it blasts the tree in
3 parts, sometimes 4, sometimes it sets the tree on fire, sometimes it does
nothing at all, on the other hand CAU always causes the cell to do the same
thing, add histidine to a protein sequence. There is no evidence lightning
has ever built something complex, there is plenty of evidence that life and
computers have. Also lightning has only one letter and a language needs at
least two, the genetic code has 4.

>To have a language one must have MEANING

Certainly. If I hand you a message that has meaning to you it will do
something to you, the message CAU means something to the ribosomes in a cell
making a protein and it does something to it.

>Both instances merely involve cause and effect, without any

I have nothing against cause and effect, the only alternative is randomness.

John K Clark

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