Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Semantics is a part of the mind-brain problem.

Although research on artificial natural language processing has made great progress, so far it is avoiding the most salient feature of language: Meaning of words. 

For sure, among some circles a call for taking the semantics seriously would stir (superficial) jeers. However, at the end of the day, the meaning of words is the most obvious thing to tackle if you want to take natural language seriously.

Phenomenologically speaking, meanings of words are instances of intentional qualia. As is true for qualia in general, statistical approach cannot uncover the fundamental aspects of the meaning of words.

Statistical learning has made great progress in recent years. Feats like GPT-2 are impressive. However, these statistical methods cannot tackle the semantic sides of language no matter how impressive their results might appear. 

Semantics is a part of the mind-brain problem. Technical separation of language processing from consciousness studies is good for a while, but it cannot be the ultimate route for understanding why and how we speak.

Related video:
Meaning of words and intentionality

Monday, March 23, 2020

The conundrum of the COVID-19 lottery.

One of the cognitive difficulties involved with COVID-19 is that the whole things is like a lottery.

You can take care and make necessary precautions, but it is always possible that you get the bug after all.

Once you are infected, you may be OK with only slight symptoms. On the other hand, you could proceed to severe symptoms, and even die.

Media reports suggest that the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions have the risk of developing severe symptoms. However, we also know that it can prove fatal for the young and healthy, too.

Governments all around the world are advising citizens to take extraordinary precautions, to the almost total halting of social and economic activities, with their own consequences. And yet, politicians including Boris Johnson repeatedly tell us that it is likely that a majority of the whole population would eventually affected.

It is the almost mystic cloud of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 that is making an adjustment to the disease so difficult. We would like to live sensibly, but it is not at all clear what being sensible entails in this case. That's the conundrum of the COVID-19 lottery. 

Related video.

Coronavirus is like a lottery.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Why officials find it hard to postpone the Tokyo Olympics.

So the torch relay is soon to start in Japan in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. However, as everybody is keenly aware, the atmosphere surrounding this sports event is dire, to say the least.

There are several elements why the officials in the organizing committee of Tokyo Olympics (most of them senior men, although the Mayor of Tokyo is a woman) are reluctant to admit that a postponement is now necessary.

One, the Japanese love the Olympics, perhaps much more than the average citizens in other parts of the world. The last Tokyo Olympics in 1964 coincided with the happy memories of the rapidly growing Japan after the turmoils of the second world war. That established a favourable associative memory nationwide.

Second, for many people Tokyo Olympics 2020 was the symbol of hope for a way out of the stagnant economy in recent years, sometimes referred to as the "lost decade(s)" in Japanese history. It was hoped that the economic impact of the Olympics and the waves of tourists from all over the world would provide the much-needed stimulus package for the ailing economy.

Three, there is a tendency in the Japanese culture that once something is started, there is a great momentum to pursue it to the end. Although this mindset has its merits, it can also backfire. It is increasingly doubtful whether the obstinacy to carry on with the preparations for the Olympics would turn out to be sensible.

All these parameters provide a potentially toxic cocktail of denial, disbelief, and wishful thinking in those involved in the Tokyo Olympics, especially among the senior officials, who cling to the dwindling possibility of the games going ahead with the problems of COVID-19 somehow miraculously solved.

Related Video

Feelings in Japan about the postponement of Tokyo Olympics