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Society of Mind

21.7 generalizing with pronomes

From every moment to the next, a person's state of mind is involved with various objects, topics, goals, and scripts. When you hear the words of the sentence, Put the apple in the pail, somehow this causes the subjects of apple, pail and putting in to occupy your mind. Later we'll speculate about how these become assigned to appropriate roles. Here, to make the story short, let's just assume that at a certain point the language-agency interprets the verb put to activate a certain Trans-frame and to assign the apple-neme to the Object pronome of that Trans-frame. The automatic finding machine described earlier then assigns the apple's location to the Origin pronome. Similarly, the pail's location is assigned to the Destination pronome. (As for the Instrument pronome, this is assigned to the listener's hand by default.) Now each entity on the listener's mind is represented by one or another pronome assignment. We're almost done, except that in order to actually perform the imagined action, we need some kind of control process to activate the proper agencies in the proper sequence!

Activate apple-neme, Look-for, and Move. Then activate Grasp. Activate pail-neme, Look-for, and Move. Then activate Ungrasp.

This suggests a way to learn a skill. The first few times you try to do something new, you must experiment to find which agents to activate, and at what times, and for how long. Later, you can prepare a script that will do the job more quickly and easily by accumulating memories of which agent-activations were successful, together with memories of which polynemes were assigned to various pronomes at those moments. For example, if you were to play back the Trans-script shown above, your arm would find and put a second apple in that pail — without invoking any higher-level agencies at all! However, this script has a dreadful limitation: it will work only to put apples into pails. What if you later wished to put a block into a box or a spoon into a bowl? We could do that by dividing the process into two scripts: a pronome-assignment script and an action script.

Assignment Script: Assign the apple-neme to the Origin pronome. Assign the pail-neme to the Destination pronome.

Action Script: Activate Origin. Then turn on Look-for, Move, and Grasp. Activate Destination. Then turn on Look-for, Move, and Ungrasp.

Now notice that the action script never actually mentions the apple or pail at all but refers only to the pronomes that represent them. Thus the same action script will serve as well for putting a block into a box as for putting an apple into a pail!