OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Rune Allno » Wed, 05 Oct 2005 15:39:12

Hi all.

A couple of days ago, I thought about thinking. No, I did not
evaluate whether it would be a good idea to start thinking
any time soon (although quite a few people would urge me
to do so), I was contemplating the process of "thinking" on
a more philosophical level.

Consider this:

The "average [Norwegian] human being" weighs in at some
75 kg while the "avreage brain" weighs in at some 1.5 kg,
so the brain represents on the order of 2% of the body mass.
I don't know the "average brain to body mass ratio" for
mammals, but assume it is 1% or so. With one or two exceptions,
the human has the largest brain to body mass ratio in the
world of mammels.

Based on this, one might postulate that the basis for the
human intelligence is the inproporsionally large brain.
While perhaps somewhat controversial today, this argument
has been presented in the scientific community in the past.

Next, let's see what "human intelligence" is all about.
As far as I can tell, the main difference between the
human an other mammals, is the ability to conduct abstract
thinking. One key factor to achieve this, is the spoken
language. People think in terms of words and sentences.
Writing down an argument is key to develop it, and formulating
an argument in words is fundamental to communicating an idea
to other people. Sure, visual ideas and communications play
an important part, but the spoken language is, as far as
I can tell, way more important for human life. A community of
people can get by very well without being able to draw or
ever see an image. They will be in severe trouble without
the ability to communicate through spoken language.

So, on the one hand the human being has an inproporsionally
large brain (some twice as big as it "ought" to be) an on the
other, the main gain from this ridiculously large and costly
brain is based on the ability to speak and treat spoken

Which at long last brings me to the point:

Assumming that the main part of the "excess brain" in the
human is spent on treating speech and language, it would
mean that on the order of 0.5 kg of brain tissue is spent
on processing language.

Based on that line of arguments, I find speech processing by
means of DSP a somewhat overwhelming task. Those "visions"
about an automatic translator tool included in the cell
phone SW seem a bit far fetched, to be diplomatic.

Or am I just lost? On second thought, no need to answer
that one...


OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Roman Rumi » Wed, 05 Oct 2005 18:22:32


Rune Allnor napisa?a):

think, we can say that DSP plays I/O preprocessor role in speech
processing (convert acoustic signal to words and vice versa), and for
such a task 0.5 kg is too much (the ears are "intelligent sensors").
The main task is speech understanding and "thouths processing" using
words or sentences as a basic data elements. Large memory and high
performance, parallel processor is a basic requirement, but who knows ... ?


Roman Rumian


OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Stan Pawlu » Wed, 05 Oct 2005 20:32:32

Speech recognition is one of those things that have been "around the
corner" for almost all of my career of nearly 25 years. There's been
progress but the promised revolution hasn't happened yet. I wish
Kurzweil would just shut up.

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Jim Thoma » Wed, 05 Oct 2005 22:38:39

I have read that language may be the key to human memory too. People
are pretty much unable to remember the time before they could speak.
Most people's earliest memories are from when they were two or three
years old - about the time they gained the ability to communicate via

Perhaps codifying memories in the form of language is more efficient?

Jim Thomas Principal Applications Engineer Bittware, Inc
XXXX@XXXXX.COM http://www.yqcomputer.com/ (603) 226-0404 x536
Getting an inch of snow is like winning ten cents in the lottery - Calvin

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Martin Eis » Wed, 05 Oct 2005 23:38:11

Language is certainly our most versatile mode of communication, and
very effective at the same time. It is also heavily interlocked with
our elaborate social behavior that probably takes a sizable part of
those excess 500 g. I think that due to this, it tends to overshadow
in people's minds the huge import of vision to human cognition.
Looking at evolutionary history, visual processing is much older; and
it too benefits from our present abstractive faculties just like our
ancestors' vocal and sign communication have. So maybe the
conceptualizing powers that make us special have less to do with
language per se but imbue all of mind's workings?

That idea rather fits your view of mechanical speech processing as
"overwhelming" as it implies that to approach human ability there, a
machine would also need to get close to a number of other
superficially unrelated aspects of the human mind. In fact, this
stance is not uncommon among cognition researchers.

I think you will like this piece:


In the Wacky Protestor's return, he hijacks the popular
children's TV show, "Mr. Funky's Wild Time", and uses it
to control the hearts and minds of every child watching.
-- http://www.yqcomputer.com/

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Jon Harri » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 01:44:42

A recent article I read in National Geographic stated that the part of the brain
responsible for "long term memory" didn't develop until age 2-3 and listed this
as the reason for our earliest memories being at that age. But perhaps this is
related to language development?

I was thinking about this recently in the context of my ~2.25 year-old daughter.
She spoke quite early, being able to say dozens of words clearly even a year
ago. Last Halloween, we used to recite to her a poem about 5 pumpkins, and she
would fill in missing words when we paused. She became quite good at it to
where she could fill words from every line. Since it is October, I tried this
again just a few days ago but she didn't seem to remember any of the words! So
while she had language skills, it appears that the poem was in her short-term
memory but didn't make it into her long-term memory. FWIW.

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Jerry Avin » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 02:08:06

When little Izzy, age 11 months, returned home after three grueling
weeks of recovery from having been gutted, she remembered it well. On
being placed in her own crib, she smiled her most endearing, sighed (I
like to think with contentment), and promptly slept. She remembered home.

Engineering is the art of making what you want from things you can get.

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Jerry Avin » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 02:13:06

une Allnor wrote:



How large is an orangutan's brain? Speech may assist thought, but it is
not thought's essence. Zookeepers found an orangutan family (father,
mother, child, and infant) out of their cage one morning and in the
outdoor exercise yard adjacent to it. The zookeeper in charge was
admonished for not having locked up properly. It happened again, after
the director verified that the cage had been locked. A TV camera was set
up to catch the culprit. It turned out to be the male orangutan*. He
carried a wire shaped to fit his gum under his upper lip. After the park
shut for the night, he fashioned it into a lockpick, opened the gate,
restored its horseshoe shape, and put it back in its "pocket". No speech
involved, but no lack of intelligence either. (Should we really cage
such creatures?)

Pretty solid theory has it that large brains evolve in part to master
the complexities of communal interactions, including the nuances of
deception. Dolphins provide an exotic example. General processing power
is flexible and can be applied to activities not involved in its
genesis. Dolphins seem to have a rich language.

Hearing has been around for a long time. It was well enough established
before speech developed to make the development useful, but our speech
centers are now separate from hearing in general. (The mechanics of
speech generation entailed physical changes, also. Precious brain space
is sacrificed to make room for a larger vocal cavity that protrudes
upward. At about the age of two, the larynx descends, making it no
longer possible to drink and breathe simultaneously. This further
increases the size of the vocal cavity but also increases the risk of
choking. Nursing infants don't need to pause for breath. None of my four
children ever had a coughing fit while nursing.)

Human speech processing seems to be divided into identifiable parts.
1) Sounds are classified as phonemes according to a "map" or look-up
table. (Computer scientists weren't the first to do tokenizing.)
2) Phonemes are assembled to form words.
3) The words' meanings are checked for "reasonableness". This process
resolves homonyms and may cause earlier steps to be repeated.
4) Individual meanings are assembled into concepts which both add to the
context and depend on it. (Context influences meaning and resolves
pronouns and elisions.)

It is now possible for computers to achieve steps 1 and 2 with modest
success. As far as I know, 3 and 4 are a long way off. Step 5 might be
translation to another language. I believe that what seems like partial
success in that area is illusory because it is mechanical. We will have
good translation when text can be abstracted to concept and context
which can then be expressed in any language "known" to the translator.


P.S. I attended a talk in chip design given by a foreigner who spoke
deceptively good English. He referred several times to "resistor" in a
context where it made no sense. With close attention, I noticed a slight
oddity in how the 's' was pronounced in the accented second syllable.
There seemed to be a hint of 'd' in front of it. That and more context
cleared it up. He was saying "register", oddly pronouncing the 'g', and
accenting the wrong syllable. For claims of machine speech recognition,
I resistor a complaint.
* In the language of the Celebes, "orang" means "man" and

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Martin Eis » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 05:14:48

On the other hand, here's a pretty interesting argument that language
compositionality is what binds together the basic faculties we share
with many other animals. The file is big, about 6 MB.
http://www.yqcomputer.com/ ~lds/pdfs/spelke2003.pdf

Be the change you're trying to create.
--Mahatma Gandhi

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Rune Allno » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 21:32:47

erry Avins wrote:

That the kind of stories that made insert a caveat about brain
size being a good measure for intelligence. There is more to it
than just size.

The might well have. I did ponder that, too, during my insomnia.
Dolphins are rumoured to be eable to use their sonar to detect
and classify various objects in their environment. That capacity
reqires an ability to both modulate emitted sound and intepret
returns. Which in turn are the basic requirements to develop

Food for thought in the sonar community.

Well, yes. Hearing is part of the basic toolkit, at least what
mammals are concerned. I once saw an argument of the location of
the sense centra in the brain can serve as a clue to when they
were developed, the closer to the spinal cord the longer time
they have been in the brain.

In that context, the sense of smell is one of the oldest, as the
center for "smell processing" apparently is located at the joint
between the brain and the spinal cord. Which might explain why
certain scents just "kick off" a reaction of some kind, be it
perfume, rotten food or whatever.

So much is based on association and context. Imagine you watch two
people meeting, and one shouts "Dick!" to the other. It may be two
friends expressing their joy of meeting after a long separation,
it may also be an obscenity. One just does not know from the
observed situation alone. Well, a human would be able to choose
between the above two interpretations based on body language and
intonation, but I would like to see the computer that has that

I attended an in-house rehersal of a presentation that was to be
given at a conference. The talker consistently said "angel" where
she meant "angle". She was very happy about giving that presentation
in-house before going public...



OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Rune Allno » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 21:46:59

Don't get me wrong: I don't say that the different concepts are
not interrelated. I, too, have done my fair share of visual
thinking. Not quite as much as the guy who wrote the article
in the link, though, I can't say that the words I hear are turned
into visual representations in my mind. But higher dimensional
vector spaces and DSP algorithms are certainly very visual
concepts in my mind.

I am just saying that what separates humans from the remaining
animals, is language. Other species have very basic oral
communications like screams and grunts representing stuff
like "danger imminent, take cover", "me horny, mate now",
"you are trespassing my territory, get lost", "kids, come here"
and so on. We are the only species that is capable of
representing ideas of 314-dimensional complex-valued vector
spaces intersected by a 6-manifold. As far as I can
tell, spoken language is the basis for that capacity.

Sure, other species have better eyesight than us, both in the
dark and at a distance. Other species detect fainter smells
than us. Other species are stronger than us. Other species are
better protected agains the environment than us.

But we teach our kids how keep the camp safe at night.
How to dress for the cold. How to cooperate to catch that beer.
How to check if the food they eat is good. Spoken language is
the key to all that. Diagrams, photos and video help out,
but we would not be able to use any of those, whithout the
spoken language.


OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Jerry Avin » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 22:24:30


You -- or somebody else -- resolved the error from context and spelling.
I can imagine a computer doing that under very special circumstances and
we would not be surprised if any particular human did not. Maybe we're
closer than I had been willing to believe.

Engineering is the art of making what you want from things you can get.

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Rune Allno » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 22:42:00

The talker had spelled the word correctly in the slides. She just
pronounced it wrong. It happens all the time, when dealing with
foreign languages.


OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Gordon San » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 22:46:09

On 2005-10-05 10:24:30 -0300, Jerry Avins < XXXX@XXXXX.COM > said:

A long time ago a colleague told the story of going to a conference
where the speaker was going on about miserable functions. He knew about
band limited and a few other classes of functions but this was a new one
for him.

He eventually solved the riddle as they were measurable functions.
Both too abstract and too heavy of an accent.

OT: Some thoughts abouth thinking

Post by Jerry Avin » Thu, 06 Oct 2005 23:53:10

I had a native-born full professor of circuit analysis at Rutgers -- too
long ago for it to matter who -- who spoke of "casual" circuits when he
meant "causal". Nothing could sway him. And think of all those who
insist that "nucular" is correct because it's derived from "nuculus".

Engineering is the art of making what you want from things you can get.