Re: Algorithms

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Sun Jun 02 1996 - 15:16:32 BST

> From: Watkins Jonathan <>
> Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 11:58:07 GMT
> What Is An Algorithm?
> An algorithm is a set of mechanical instuctions which, when carried out
> exactly, will give the desired result. An algorithm is merely a set of
> rules which when follwed will give the desired goal.

You've just said the same thing twice in a row...

> The instuctions
> given in the algorithm don't have to be understood. The symbols used
> can be totally arbitary.

The shapes of the symbols must be arbitrary, and the rules must be based
on manipulating those arbitrary shapes. The shapes must not resemble or
be physically (causally) connected with what they refer to; the
manipulation must be based on shape alone. The shape manipulation is the
syntax; what the symbols can be interpreted as meaning is the semantics.
An algorithm is syntactic only.

> An algorithm can be given to anyone and
> anything and as long as the algorithm is followed exactly the desired
> result will be achieved.

Third repetition of the same thing.

> A equasion used to calculate odds for race
> horses could be given given in an algorithm. As long as you followed
> the algorithm exactly for each horse you would have comparable odds.
> This example could be done by humans or machines. Indeed because
> algorithms are mechanical and therefore mindless anything that can
> follow the instructions can use algorithms.

> Algorithms are important
> in the study of explaining the mind because they can be used to explain
> the mind.

I didn't get much information from that last sentence.

> It could be argued that the mind uses algorithms to work.
> This would work as an explanation as we would no longer have to use the
> homunculus to explain the mind. We can instead argue that the mind in
> functioning follows a complex set of algorithms.

Fine, but you will have to re-read what you write more carefully, and
make sure your sentences all convey new information. For a higher mark
you need to connect this to other themes in the course -- not by just
naming them, mind you, but kid-sib style, show what role algorithms play
in the imagery debate, or the symbol grounding problem, or the Chinese Room,
Pinker's critique, Pylyshyn's critique, etc.; your choice. But don't
just name-drp; show clearly that the concept you have here is related
to other concepts you've learnt, and how.

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