The Slave and the Figs

At the beginning of his Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992), Umberto Eco tells the following story:
At the beginning of his Mercury; Or, the Secret and Swift Messenger (1641), John Wilkins tells the following story:
How strange a thing this Art of Writing did seem at its first Invention, we may guess by the late discovered Americans, who were amazed to see Men converse with Books, and could scarce make themselves to believe that a Paper could speak...

There is a pretty Relation to this Purpose, concerning an Indian Slave; who being sent by his Master with a Basket of Figs and a Letter, did by the Way eat up a great Part of his Carriage, conveying the Remainder unto the Person to whom he was directed; who when he had read the Letter, and not finding the Quantity of Figs answerable to what was spoken of, he accuses the Slave of eating them, telling him what the Letter said against him. But the Indian (notwithstanding this Proof) did confidently abjure the Fact, cursing the Paper, as being a false and lying Witness.

After this, being sent again with the like Carriage, and a Letter expressing the just Number of Figs, that were to be delivered, he did again, according to his former Practice, devour a great Part of them by the Way; but before he meddled with any, (to prevent all following Accusations) he first took the Letter, and hid that under a great Stone, assuring himself, that if it did not see him eating the Figs, it could never tell of him; but being now more strongly accused than before, he confesses the Fault, admiring the Divinity of the Paper, and for the future does promise his best Fidelity in every Employment.
The slave's naive belief in "the Divinity of the Paper" bears a rather obvious parallel to the AI enthusiast's belief in "the Divinity of the Logic Gate."

(If AI enthusiasts are consistent, anyone who questioned the slave's belief should be accused of the "Einstein's mother fallacy": attributing the knowledge contained on the paper to the person who wrote on it is exactly like attributing all of Einstein's knowledge to his mother!)


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