WIP work in progress 2018-09-01

ThinkingMan Rodinabacus



When I think, I use something I call my attention: …

I seem to be able to direct my attention to only one thing at a time. I have to deliberately switch my attention back and forth if I want to think about more than one thing. Often I am aware of other things going on around me while thinking. If I hear a loud noise, for example, I suspend what I am thinking of and re-direct my attention to the sound. So although I can only atttend to one thing at a time, my mind is obviously doing many things at once. We call this multiprocessing or multitasking. 

But sometimes I talk to myself. Whether reasoning out something more complex, or following more than one stream of thought, we become aware that there is more than one of us in here. How many?

Computers often run many programs simultaneously, sometimes on multiple processsors, sometimes sharing one processor. Some of these programs come and go - begin, work, then end - completed. Similarly, do we have multiple permanent selves in our head? Are our selves talking to each other? Allocated to different tasks and activities? Or perhaps some of our selves are temporary = beginning - coming in to existence, working , then ending - going out of existence - like computer programs? 

   … more to come . 2018-09-20 14:01:10 ...

Looking for Clues:
Closing the loop from Thinking to Talking to Computing

Our universe is full of processes - procedures: 

Some processes come from nature:
stars make atoms,
atoms make molecules,
molecules make cells 

Other processes come from us: 
children make sentences,
mothers bake cookies,
factories make cars. 

All of us can do some procedures: 
most children learn to talk, then some do math - or music.

Other procedures require more work and experience.
Starting about age 8 in my father’s machine shop after WWII, I swept floors,  
Then later built machines by learning from the experience of others. 

From there I went to physics and then computing. 

Thinking, Talking, Computing

Long ago, I worked on the first supercomputer.
At first I thought computers were for numbers,
Then I was given the task of writing a parser.

What’s a parser? I asked. 
Parsers recognize words, I was told.
And from there, the story leads into the deep space:
between thought and language.

There I keep encountering the question:
How can a two year old talk?

What we know about thinking, computing:

Nature assembles matter into concrete machines, things that we can touch: 
        atoms, molecules, compounds - - cars, trucks, planes - - trees, whales, us

Life also makes abstract machinesthat we cannot see and touch: 
We find those 
mainly in our heads and in our languages and computers, although we sometimes observe them in group behavior of plants, animals and humans.

Inside our heads are thoughts: 
abstract things often appearing as symbols, images, tokens or memes - making words, phrases, sentences, etc. Our thoughts often interact with each other and even, communicating through language, with the thoughts of others.

Click for full size image in new window

Sentences are thought structures:
- that we know how to build and recognize. How we learn this as children has been discussed for thousands of years. Kids 1 or 2 years old do this, but we don’t know how.
- Current thinking, led by Noam Chomsky, is that the language mechanism is not learned, but is innate in humans, developing in early childhood into particular languages, growing just like arms and legs.
- Other linguistic researchers, like  Dan Everett, think language was acquired gradually, beginning 1,500,000 years ago with 
homo erectus. 

Now we can build computers:
machines that manipulate symbols, as Ada pointed out, but not merely numbers -  also letters, words, sentences - now also even sounds and images.

These symbol manipulators - our heads and our computers - contain clues:  clues to thought.


Research - about Thinking, Talking, Computing

1 - A History of Computing

2 - What’s in the Box?

3 - Programming

4 - Thinking

5 - Talking

6 - Computing


© Gareth Harris 2018        -         Contact email:         -         see also: