At 06:30 PM 3/13/2007, Robin Faichney wrote:
I'm new to this list, so I will give a brief description of my
background, then a brief account of my understanding of information,
in the hope of eliciting some comments.
I have a BA (Hons) in philosophy and psychology and obtained an MSc in
information technology in 1986. I worked in academic research first in
computing then computer modelling in environmental economics. I left
academia in 1998 to start my own computer maintenance business, but
health problems over the last 2-3 years have obstructed that, and I
have instead been pursuing my long-standing interest in philosophy of
mind. Although I've only recently had much time to devote to such
studies, my ideas have been developing over the last 25-30 years, and
even 3 years ago, I had several tens of thousands of words, though
none of it had ever been published (or even submitted).
I have only quite recently become aware of the new field of philosophy
of information, but I've given a great deal of thought to the place of
information in phil of mind, and have come to some quite firm
conclusions, on which I'd like to get some feedback. I have already
submitted a conference paper abstract but it hasn't yet been accepted
so I guess I could retract it if you people manage to convince me
there's a serious error of some sort. What follows is almost identical
to the abstract.
In this paper I combine and extend some ideas of Daniel Dennett with
one from Wittgenstein and another from physics. Dennett introduced the
concepts of the physical, design and intentional stances (1987), and
has suggested (with John Haugeland) that âsome concept of INFORMATION
could serve eventually to unify mind, matter, and meaning in a single
theory.â (Dennett and Haugeland, 1987, emphasis in the original)
The most Wittgensteinian approach to intentionality is, in my opinion, in
Situations and Attitudes by Jon Barwise and John Perry. I think it is flawed,
as it does not properly incorporate standard logic (this is a problem that
Jerry Fodor harps on, a bit excessively perhaps, and to the wrong effect,
but basically he is right). I come more from a Peircean direction, which takes
standard logic much more seriously in his account of meaning. There is an
attempt to criticise and integrate the various positions, including formal
pragmatics in Pragmatist Pragmatics, Collier and Talmont-Kaminski,
Philosophica 75 (2006), available on my website. You might find it
interesting, as it uses information as a central primitive. I find Dennett's
stances too nominalist for my taste. Dennett might now too, under the
influence of my colleague and coauthor Don Ross. There is a book
coming out from Oxford before too long, Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics
Naturalised by JAMES LADYMAN and DON ROSS with David Spurrett and
John Collier that takes a more realist position on some of Dennett's work.
It also give an information-theoretic structural realism that does away
with objects as fundamental metaphysical entities. I can send you a
preprint if you like.
There is a nice, accessible account of Barwise and Perry in Keith Devlin,
Information and Logic.
The concept of physical information is now very well established. The famous
bet between physicists Stephen Hawking and John Preskill that Hawking conceded
heâd lost in July 2004 concerned whether physical information is conserved in
black holes. (Preskill, 2004) Physical information is basically material form.
The concept derives from C.E. Shannonâs information theory (1948) and has no
semantic component. When this concept is taken to its logical conclusion, an
energy flow becomes an information flow and an object becomes its own
description. The crucial distinction is between form and substance. Dennettâs
physical stance could be renamed the âsubstantial stance,â while I introduce an
additional stance to account for information, called the âformal stance,â in
which we attend to form rather than substance.
The book mentioned above talks about the material and formal modes, which
dates back to the early logical empricists (but I would argue it can be found
in Hertz's philosophy of science -- thanks to Howard Pattee for that). On energy
flow being information flow, see my Causation is the Transfer of Information, also
on my website. I am revising it now to incorporate Barwise and Seligman, Information
Flow. My approach is a special case of their formalism restricted to dynamical
classes and particulars (types and tokens). After the restriction, the rest of my
view follows trivially from their formalism. Incidentally, I don't think that Shannon's
theory is general enough to do the job you require, but I won't go into the reasons
now, since they would require a rather extended development.
You can find my website below, or by goolgling John Collier complexity.
The common concept of information is intentional. Intentional information is
encoded in physical information, being decoded (and re-encoded) in use. This
is consistent with the Wittgensteinian concept of meaning as use in context (or
in a âlanguage gameâ (1972)), where the context is the key.
Quite. John Perry developed this nicely in his Presidential Address to Western
Division of the American Philosophical Association. He also has a related article
in Philip Hanson (ed) Information, Language and Cognition: Vancouver Studies in
Cognitive Science, Vol. 1 (University of Oxford Press, 1990) with David Isreal.
Thus the colour of
an apple is encoded in the characteristics of the light entering the eye of an
observer, where a tree or a fruit bowl and the pre-existing concept of âappleâ
or âfruitâ contribute to the context, and further analysis might indicate
probable degree of ripeness. Human communications involve additional levels of
en/decoding and complexity but the same principle of intentional information
encoded in physical information obtains. Brains encode intentional information
too, provided that we adopt the formal stance and the intentional stance
towards them. (The intentional stance actually implies the formal stance, as
only information can be intentional.)
In order to make this out properly, I think you need more than just an intentional
stance, which seems to me like a deus ex machina in this context. I reccommend
To adopt Dennettâs intentional stance toward an object is to suppose that the
object encodes intentional information. To adopt his design stance is to view
something as the product of an intentional information process.
I think Dennett makes the order the opposite of what you say. I think there are
good reasons for doing it, basically because functionality comes prior to
intentionality, both logically and historically.
Though the physical stance is very natural and practical in many contexts, the
formal stance is superior in a certain sense: information is all that our senses
convey, we do not experience matter directly, it can be considered a theoretical
entity (or set of entities).
Quite, which is why we pretty much dispense with matter except as
structure in Every Thing Must Go.
A mind is a user or processor of intentional information.
I am not sure what this means. I can parse it grammatically,
but not logically.
Matter is a
theoretical entity extrapolated from physical information. Meaning is
intentional information (though multiple levels of en/decoding might
be involved), and consciousness is the use or processing of
intentional information. Thus Dennettâs prediction is fulfilled.
Well, we (Ladyman, Ross, Spurrett, Collier) think it will be!
Incidentally, I basically agree with Stan Salthe's remarks on
your post, modulo what I say here, as well.
Professor John Collier [EMAIL PROTECTED]
Philosophy and Ethics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041 South Africa
T: +27 (31) 260 3248 / 260 2292 F: +27 (31) 260 3031
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