The central questions confronting artificial intelligence and cognitive science revolve around the nature of meaning and of mind. Minds are presumed to be the processors of mental content, where that content has the capacity to influence our speech and other behavior. The hard part is figuring out how that is done. Mental states must exercise causal powers that sometimes have the effect of bringing about other mental states (which take the form of shifts from one mental state to another as forms of thought transition) and sometimes have the effect of bringing about physical actions (which occur within a context that includes our beliefs, motives, ethics, abilities, and capabilities). Whether our actions are successful tends to depend upon whether things are as we take them to be (whether our beliefs are true) and the extent to which we have been successful in thinking things through (whether our actions are appropriate).
This volume brings together a collection of interesting studies that address the kinds of questions raised by this general conception and attempt to answer them. One of the underlying issues is how mental states themselves can stand for other things, such as objects and their properties in the world. This has sometimes been called ‘the symbol grounding problem,” because it concerns the “ground,” or basis, that connects mental states to objects and properties in the world. But it is better viewed as “the sign grounding problem,” insofar as Charles Peirce explained the distinction between icons (as signs that resemble what they stand for), indices (as signs that are causes or effects of what they stand for) and symbols (as signs that are merely habitually associated with what they stand for). The grounding problem applies across the board for different kinds of signs, but Peirce pointed to the general direction in which its solution lies.