Dear FIS colleagues,
Herewith the comments received from Terry several weeks ago. As I said
yesterday, the idea is to properly conclude that session, not to restart
the discussion. Of course, scholarly comments are always welcome, but
conclusively and not looking for argumentative rounds. Remember that in
less than ten days we will have a new session on info science and library
science. best --Pedro

Retrospective comments on the January 2015 FIS discussion*

Terrence Deacon (

During the bulk of my career since the early 1980s I studied brain
organization with a particular focus on its role in the production and
interpretation of communication in vertebrate animals and humans. One
core target of these studies was to understand the neurological
changes that led to the evolution of the human language capacity and
why it is so anomalous in the context of the other diverse
communication systems that have evolved. This work was largely
conducted using standard lab-based neuroscience tools—from axonal
tracer techniques, to fetal neural transplantation, to MRI imaging,
and more—and studying a diverse array of animal brains. Besides
evolutionary and developmental neuroscience, this path led me to
explore ethology, linguistics, semiotic theories, information theories
and the philosophical issues that these research areas touched upon.
Indeed, my first co-authored book was not on neuroscience but on the
design of the early Apple desktop computers. So I came at the issues
explored in my FIS essay from this diverse background. This has led me
to pose what may be more basic questions than are usually considered,
and to reconsider even the most unquestioned assumptions about the
nature of information and the origins of its semiotic properties.

I am aware that many who are following this discussion have a
career-long interest in some aspect of human communication or
computation. In these realms many researchers —including many of
you— have provided sophisticated analytical tools and quite extensive
theories for describing these processes. Though it may at first seem
as though I am questioning the validity of some of this (now accepted)
body of theory, for the most part I too find this adequate for the
specific pragmatic issues usually considered. The essay I posted did
not critique any existing theory. It rather explored some assumptions
that most theories take for granted and need not address.

I believe, however, that there remain a handful of issues that have
been set aside and taken as givens that need to be reconsidered. For
the most part, these assumptions don't demand to be unpacked in order
to produce useful descriptions of communicative and information
processes at the machine or interpersonal level. Among these givens is
the question of what is minimally necessary for a system or process to
be interpretive, in the sense of being able to utilize present
intrinsic physical properties of things to refer to absent or
displaced properties or phenomena. This research question is ignorable
when it is possible to assume human or even animal interpreters as
part of the system one is analyzing. At some point, however, it
becomes relevant to not only be more explicit about what is being
assumed, but also to explain how this interpretive capacity could
possibly originate in a universe where direct contiguity of causal
influence is the rule. Although, this may appear to some readers as a
question that is merely of philosophical concern, I believe that
failure to consider it will impede progress in exploring some of the
most pressing scientific issues of our time, including both the nature
an origins of living and mental processes, and possibly even quantum

In this respect, my exposition was not in any respect critical of other
approaches but was rather an effort to solicit collaboration in digging
into issues that have —for legitimate pragmatic reasons— not been a
significant focus of most current theoretical analysis. I understand why
some readers felt that the whole approach was peripheral to their current
interests. Or who thought that I was re-opening debates that had long-ago
been set aside. Or who just thought that I was working at the wrong level,
on the conviction that the answer to such questions lies in other realms, e.g. quantum theories or panpsychic philosophies. To those of you who fell
into these categories, I beg your indulgence.

The issues involved are not merely of philosophical interest. They are of
critical relevance to understanding biological and neurological information.
So if there are any readers of this forum who are interested in the issue of the whether reference and significance are physically explainable irrespective
of human subjective observation, and who have been quietly reflecting on my
proposals, I would be happy to carry on an email dialogue outside of
this forum.

For the rest, thank you for your time, and the opportunity to present
these ideas.

Sincerely, Terrence Deacon (

Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley

Pedro C. Marijuán
Grupo de Bioinformación / Bioinformation Group
Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud
Centro de Investigación Biomédica de Aragón (CIBA)
Avda. San Juan Bosco, 13, planta X
50009 Zaragoza, Spain
Tfno. +34 976 71 3526 (& 6818)

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