Sunday, July 23, 2006

Symbols

Processing symbols is trivial. Every simple computer does it. All the time.

Processing meaning is difficult, though. Only humans seem to be able to do that.

Humans. Not people. For not all people are human. The distinction between people and humans can be drawn exactly along the lines spelled out above: many people merely process symbols. They are sub-human -- they are no more human than a dog or a bug is human.

From the outside, it can sometime appear as if a symbol-maipulation mechanism was actually processing meaning. Or vice versa. Drawing the distinction can at times be difficult, in particular when the object of investigation declines to cooperate.

A test has been devised to distinguish the two: the Turing test. There's many forms of the Turing test and no one single question or answer can decide it by itself. But there are obvious thrusts that a Turing test can take.

For instance, the questioner can probe in the direction of absolute certainty; knowing that denial of such constitutes a failure of a turing test.

Or, pursuant to the above, one merely need establish the value placed on symbols by the object in question: anybody who would pray to symbols or imbue symbols with any kind of import has already failed the Turing test right there. Anybody who gives a rats ass about a cross, a flag, a yin-yang or any such trinket is obviously processing symbols instead of meaning.

I'm mentioning all these obvious bits right now since of course anybody who cares one iota one way or the other about flag burning is certainly a mechanism. An automaton. A brainless, mindless symbol-manipulation machine.

A thing, not a human. A thing which is incapable of grasping meaning and thus instead clings to worthless symbols. Proclaims sybols valuable and worthy of protection.

And the more they insist that any one sybol is of any kind of value, the more vigorously they are railing against "desecration" of that symbol, the more emotional they get over the symbol, the farther away they are from self-awareness. From meaning. From the ability to see the distinction between a symbol and what it stands for. And, ultimately from the realization taht all symbols are completely meaningless - for that is, of course, what makes them symbols.

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