Do humans actually understand speech?

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Or are they just programmed to act like they do? Today's SMBC asks (and answers) the analogous question about emotions:

The clinching argument:


  1. Charles Antaki said,

    May 29, 2016 @ 5:15 am

    Nice, but surely a non-sequitur? That humans feel emotions only in some cases hardly clinches the argument that they don't feel emotions (but pretend to). Some ≠ not any.

    Nevertheless a topical commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.

  2. S Frankel said,

    May 29, 2016 @ 10:09 am

    It spoils a joke to explain it, but sometimes there's no choice.

    The comics, which I much enjoyed, are a take-off on discussions about whether machines can feel emotions, even in principle. This question is rarely considered from the machines' point of view.

  3. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 29, 2016 @ 10:53 am

    The claim in panel 2 seems dubious. Why would anyone design a robot to experience emotional states "just for the sake of having them" if they served no social purpose? In what sense can the robot be said to feel those emotions if they play no role in decision-making?

    [(myl) For an answer in the area of human linguistic communication, check out John Searle's Chinese Room argument.]

  4. Curt Welch said,

    May 29, 2016 @ 11:24 am

    Gregory Kusnick said,

    "The claim in panel 2 seems dubious."

    Of course it's dubious. It's a joke about people being stupid. But in this comic, the stupid people are played by stupid robots to make it into a joke. See "they're made of meat" for another twist on the same idea.

    Who's every heard of comments on a comics? Seems to spoil the fun of it all. :)

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 29, 2016 @ 6:46 pm

    Apparently Randall Munroe and his readers have heard of it, and seem to think it adds to the fun.

    For me, jokes are funnier when they make contact with reality in some way. Satire aimed at straw men loses its punch.

  6. Terry Hunt said,

    May 31, 2016 @ 11:11 am

    Several of the Webcomics I read (including, for example: Widdershins, Skin Horse, Gunnerkrigg Court, User Friendly, Everblue, Kevin and Kell) feature extended reader (and writer) comments sections below every strip. Sometimes obscure jokes are explained, but the discussions range much more widely than that.

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