Tom, Quentin:

The idea that any string of symbols/ any action/ any apparently inert object 
can signify anything at all if appropriately interpreted is a recurrent one 
in list discussions. In much of the philosophical literature this seems to 
be either a problem to explain away or a self-evident absurdity with which 
to attack some competing theory if it can be shown to reduce to this - eg. 
see David Chalmer's paper, "Does a rock implement every finite state 
automaton?". One of the few positive treatments of the idea I am aware of is 
Greg Egan's "dust" theory as presented in his novel "Permutation City" 
(although of course this may just be a plot device rather than Egan's actual 
view), but if you do a Google search for Egan/Permutation City/dust even the 
reviewers who liked the book mostly hedge their praise by adding that, of 
course, the "dust" theory is nonsense. The conclusion has to be that either 
the theory really is nonsense, or else it's very frightening for anyone who 
wants to maintain even a modicum of mainstream conservatism in thinking 
about the world. Perhaps it is the ultimate expression of nihilism: not only 
does nothing have any meaning, but also everything and nothing have every 
meaning, debasing the very idea of "meaning".

My take on the idea is this. It is the case that any symbol string etc. has 
any and every meaning, but as Tom suggests, "defining meaning ultimately 
requires a person". So the vibration of the atoms in my desk maps onto the 
works of Shakespeare - who can deny it? - but this is a rather empty claim, 
because for us to know the mapping rules would entail a knowledge of (at 
least) the works of Shakespeare in some recognisable language in the first 
place. The vibration of atoms in my desk also maps onto any arbitrary 
computation, including a conscious computation (assuming that such a thing 
is possible), given appropriate mapping rules. Again the claim rings hollow 
for us, because to know the rules governing the mapping would entail a 
knowledge of (at least) the details of the computation in some already 
understood language, whether at the lowest level (machine code) or the 
highest (the final human interface). However, in the case of a conscious 
program there is a difference, which perhaps suggests a definition of 
consciousness: it provides its own audience and its own meaning. If the 
works of Shakespeare vibrating in my desk are not recognised as such by 
someone who understands these things they are no more than noise; but the 
conscious beings vibrating in my desk, although completely cut off from our 
own physical universe, nevertheless have their own internal lives, possibly 
but not necessarily solipsistic. It is a small step from there to see that 
the physical connection (the desk, in this case) is actually superfluous, 
and all possible worlds (including all possible conscious beings) exist by 
virtue of the Platonic existence of numbers. Explaining why we find 
ourselves in the present orderly universe rather than one of the infinite 
other possibilities is then problematic, and is the subject of the posts of 
others on this list with a better facility with mathematics than I have.

Stathis Papaioannou

>I don't know from your wink at the end whether you are half-serious or
>But just in case (and Bruno can do better than I can on this), I think
>I can correctly appeal to Peano's distinction between mathematical and
>linguistic paradox.  The meaning of the symbols is defined at a higher
>level than the encoding itself.  Your statement turns on the word
>"chosen", which is a verb. This goes back to my other post in this
>thread that, in order to keep from going into an infinite regress of
>meaninglessness, defining meaning ultimately requires a person.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Quentin Anciaux <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
>Sent: Mon, 3 Apr 2006 19:02:14 +0200
>Subject: Re: The Riemann Zeta Pythagorean TOE
>Le Lundi 3 Avril 2006 18:55, [EMAIL PROTECTED] a écrit :
> > GWTW = "01001010110 ... binary("Frankly, my dear,...") ...
>Depending on the chosen encoding scheme, the binary representation
>could be
>any finite binary string, even this '0' or '1', in this case all the
>information is in fact contained in the encoding scheme (which itself
>course can be represented as a binary string using another encoding
>and this ad infinitum ;)

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