Against "meaning"

I think that there is a danger of allowing our anthropocentrism to bias the
discussion. I worry that the term 'meaning' carries too much of a
linguistic bias.
By this I mean that it is too attractive to use language as our archtypical
model when we talk about information.
Language is rather the special case, the most unusual communicative
adaptation to ever have evolved, and one that grows out of and depends on
informationa/semiotic capacities shared with other species and with biology
in general.
So I am happy to see efforts to bring in topics like music or natural signs
like thunderstorms and would also want to cast the net well beyond humans
to include animal calls, scent trails, and molecular signaling by hormones.
And it is why I am more attracted to Peirce and worried about the use of
Saussurean concepts.
Words and sentences can indeed provide meanings (as in Frege's Sinn -
"sense" - "intension") and may also provide reference (Frege's Bedeutung -
"reference" - "extension"), but I think that it is important to recognize
that not all signs fit this model. Moreover,

A sneeze is often interpreted as evidence about someone's state of health,
and a clap of thunder may indicate an approaching storm.
These can also be interpreted differently by my dog, but it is still
information about something, even though I would not say that they mean
something to that interpreter. Both of these phenomena can be said to
provide reference to something other than that sound itself, but when we
use such phrases as "it means you have a cold" or "that means that a storm
is approaching" we are using the term "means" somewhat metaphorically (most
often in place of the more accurate term "indicates").

And it is even more of a stretch to use this term with respect to pictures
or diagrams.
So no one would say the a specific feature like the ears in a caricatured
face mean something.
Though if the drawing is employed in a political cartoon e.g. with
exaggerated ears and the whole cartoon is assigned a meaning then perhaps
the exaggeration of this feature may become meaningful. And yet we would
probably agree that every line of the drawing provides information
contributing to that meaning.

So basically, I am advocating an effort to broaden our discussions and
recognize that the term information applies in diverse ways to many
different contexts. And because of this it is important to indicate the
framing, whether physical, formal, biological, phenomenological,
linguistic, etc.
For this reason, as I have suggested before, I would love to have a
conversation in which we try to agree about which different uses of the
information concept are appropriate for which contexts. The classic
syntax-semantics-pragmatics distinction introduced by Charles Morris has
often been cited in this respect, though it too is in my opinion too
limited to the linguistic paradigm, and may be misleading when applied more
broadly. I have suggested a parallel, less linguistic (and nested in Stan's
subsumption sense) way of making the division: i.e. into intrinsic,
referential, and normative analyses/properties of information.

Thus you can analyze intrinsic properties of an informing medium [e.g.
Shannon etc etc] irrespective of these other properties, but can't make
sense of referential properties [e.g. what something is about, conveys]
without considering intrinsic sign vehicle properties, and can't deal with
normative properties [e.g. use value, contribution to function,
significance, accuracy, truth] without also considering referential
properties [e.g. what it is about].

In this respect, I am also in agreement with those who have pointed out
that whenever we consider referential and normative properties we must also
recognize that these are not intrinsic and are interpretation-relative.
Nevertheless, these are legitimate and not merely subjective or
nonscientific properties, just not physically intrinsic. I am sympathetic
with those among us who want to restrict analysis to intrinsic properties
alone, and who defend the unimpeachable value that we have derived from the
formal foundations that Shannon's original analysis initiated, but this
should not be used to deny the legitimacy of attempting to develop a more
general theory of information that also attempts to discover formal
principles underlying these higher level properties implicit in the

I take this to be the intent behind Pedro's list. And I think it would be
worth asking for each of his points: Which information paradigm within this
hoierarchy does it assume?

— Terry
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