Symbol Grounding is an Empirical Problem: Neural Nets are Just a Candidate Component

Harnad, Stevan (1993) Symbol Grounding is an Empirical Problem: Neural Nets are Just a Candidate Component.

Full text available as:



"Symbol Grounding" is beginning to mean too many things to too many people. My own construal has always been simple: Cognition cannot be just computation, because computation is just the systematically interpretable manipulation of meaningless symbols, whereas the meanings of my thoughts don't depend on their interpretability or interpretation by someone else. On pain of infinite regress, then, symbol meanings must be grounded in something other than just their interpretability if they are to be candidates for what is going on in our heads. Neural nets may be one way to ground the names of concrete objects and events in the capacity to categorize them (by learning the invariants in their sensorimotor projections). These grounded elementary symbols could then be combined into symbol strings expressing propositions about more abstract categories. Grounding does not equal meaning, however, and does not solve any philosophical problems.

Item Type:Other
Keywords:symbol grounding, neural nets, Turing test
Subjects:Computer Science > Artificial Intelligence
Computer Science > Dynamical Systems
Computer Science > Neural Nets
Psychology > Perceptual Cognitive Psychology
Philosophy > Philosophy of Mind
ID Code:1588
Deposited By:Harnad, Stevan
Deposited On:18 Jun 2001
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:54

References in Article

Select the SEEK icon to attempt to find the referenced article. If it does not appear to be in cogprints you will be forwarded to the paracite service. Poorly formated references will probably not work.

Dietrich, E. (1993) The Ubiquity of Computation. Think 2: 27-30.

Christiansen, M. & Chater, N. (1992) Connectionism, Learning and Meaning. Connectionism 4: 227 - 252.

Fodor, J. & Pylyshyn, Z. (1988) Connectionism and cognitive architecture: A critical analysis. Cognition 28: 3 - 71.

Harnad, S. (1982) Metaphor and mental duality. In: Language, mind and brain" . (T. Simon & R. Scholes, eds., Hillsdale NJ:

Erlbaum), 189 - 211.

Harnad, S. (1987) The induction and representation of categories. In: Harnad, S. (1987) (ed.) Categorical Perception: The

Groundwork of Cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Harnad, S. (1989) Minds, Machines and Searle. Journal of Theoretical and Experimental Artificial Intelligence 1: 5-25.

Harnad, S. (1990a) The Symbol Grounding Problem. Physica D 42: 335-346.

Harnad, S. (1990b) Symbols and Nets: Cooperation vs. Competition. Review of: S. Pinker and J. Mehler (Eds.) (1988)

"Connections and Symbols" Connection Science 2: 257-260.

Harnad, S. (1991) Other bodies, Other minds: A machine incarnation of an old philosophical problem. Minds and Machines 1:


Harnad, S. (1992a) Connecting Object to Symbol in Modeling Cognition. In: A. Clarke and R. Lutz (Eds) Connectionism in

Context. Springer Verlag.

Harnad, S. (1992b) The Turing Test Is Not A Trick: Turing Indistinguishability Is A Scientific Criterion. SIGART Bulletin 3(4)

(October) 9 - 10.

Harnad, S. (1993a) Grounding Symbols in the Analog World with Neural Nets. Think 2: 12 - 78 (Special Issue on

"Connectionism versus Symbolism" D.M.W. Powers & P.A. Flach, eds.).

Harnad, S. (1993b) The Origin of Words: A Psychophysical Hypothesis In Durham, W & Velichkovsky B (Eds.) Muenster:

Nodus Pub.

Harnad, S. (1994) Computation is Just Interpretable Symbol Manipulation: Cognition Isn't. Minds and Machines (Special Issue

on "What Is Computation?", forthcoming)

Harnad, S., Hanson, S.J. & Lubin, J. (1991) Categorical Perception and the Evolution of Supervised Learning in Neural Nets. In:

Working Papers of the AAAI Spring Symposium on Machine Learning of Natural Language and Ontology (DW Powers & L

Reeker, Eds.) pp. 65-74. Presented at Symposium on Symbol Grounding: Problems and Practice, Stanford University, March


Hayes, P., Harnad, S., Perlis, D. & Block, N. (1992) Virtual Symposium on Virtual Mind. Minds and Machines 2: 217-238.


Repository Staff Only: item control page