Symbol grounding: A bridge from artificial life to artificial intelligence

Brain and Cognition 34 (1):48-71 (1997)
This paper develops a bridge from AL issues about the symbol–matter relation to AI issues about symbol-grounding by focusing on the concepts of formality and syntactic interpretability. Using the DNA triplet-amino acid specification relation as a paradigm, it is argued that syntactic properties can be grounded as high-level features of the non-syntactic interactions in a physical dynamical system. This argu- ment provides the basis for a rebuttal of John Searle’s recent assertion that syntax is observer-relative (1990, 1992). But the argument as developed also challenges the classic symbol-processing theory of mind against which Searle is arguing, as well as the strong AL thesis that life is realizable in a purely computational medium. Finally, it provides a new line of support for the autonomous systems approach in AL and AI (Varela & Bourgine 1992a, 1992b). © 1997 Academic Press
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