@Writing and Representation

03 Jan 2023 08:06 - 17 Dec 2023 11:27
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    • Abstract
      • This paper collects several notes I've written over the last year in an attempt to work through my dissatisfactions with the ideas about representation I was taught in school. Among these ideas are the notion of a 'world model'; the notion of representations having 'content' independent of the identity, location, attitudes, or activities of any agent; and the notion that a representation is the sort of thing you might implement with datastructures and pointers. Here I begin developing an alternative view of representation whose prototype is a set of instructions written in English on a sheet of paper you're holding in your hand while pursuing some ordinarily complicated concrete project in the everyday world. Figuring out what the markings on this paper are talking about is a fresh problem in every next setting, and solving this problem takes work. Several detailed stories about representation use in everyday activities-such as assembling a sofa from a kit, being taught to fold origami cranes, following stories across pages of a newspaper, filling a photocopier with toner, and keeping count when running laps-illustrate this view. Finally, I address the seeming tension between necessity of interpreting one's representations in every next setting and the idea that everyday life is fundamentally routine.
    • Quotes
      • The notion of symbolic representation is near to the hearts of most everyone in artificial intelligence. Indeed, within the technologically informed human sciences, cognition is almost universally understood to involve, in some fashion or another, the manipulation of assemblages of symbols called representations. The vast majority of this research assumes symbolic representations to have certain properties: they are
        • objects (neither events nor processes),
        • passive (not possessing any sort of agency themselves, though cfBirnbaum),
        • static (not apt to undergo any reconfiguration, decay, or effacement, except through an outside process or a destructive act of some agent),
        • structured (composed of discrete, indivisible elements whose arrangement is significant in some fashion),
        • visible (can be inspected without thereby being modified), and
        • portable (capable of being transported to anyone or anything that might use them without thereby being altered or degraded).
      • ...Although the cognitivist understands symbolic representations as abstract mental entities, observe that all of these properties are shared by texts written on pieces of paper. Indeed, words like 'structured,' 'inspected,' 'modified,' 'transported,' and 'altered' must be interpreted metaphorically, by extension from similar operations performed on physical materials such as paper, in order to apply to abstractions inside of computers.