Dear Terry and colleagues,

I agree that one should not confuse communication with the substance of communication (e.g., life in bio-semiotics). It seems useful to me to distinguish between several concepts of "communication".

1. Shannon's (1948) definitions in "The Mathematical Theory of Communication". Information is communicated, but is yet meaningfree. These notions of information and communication are counter-intuitive (Weaver, 1949). However, they provide us with means for the measurement, such as bits of information. The meaning of the communication is provided by the system of reference (Theil, 1972); in other words, by the specification of "what is comunicated?" For example, if money is communicated (redistributed), the system of reference is a transaction system. If molecules are communicated, life can be generated (Maturana).

2. Information as "a difference which makes a difference" (Bateson, 1973; McKay, 1969). A difference can only make a difference for a receiving system that provides meaning to the system. In my opinion, one should in this case talk about "meaningful information" and "meaningful communication" as different from the Shannon-type information (based on probability distributions). In this case, we don't have a clear instrument for the measurement. For this reason, I have a preference for the definitions under 1.

3. Interhuman communication is of a different order because it involves intentionality and language. The discourses under 1. and 2. are interhuman communication systems. (One has to distinguish levels and should not impose our intuitive notion of communication on the processes under study.) In my opinion, interhuman communication involves both communication of information and possibilities of sharing meaning.

The Shannon-type information shares with physics the notion of entropy. However, physical entropy is dimensioned (Joule/Kelvin; S = k(B) H), whereas probabilistic entropy is dimensionless (H). Classical physics, for example, is based on the communication of momenta and energy because these two quantities have to be conserved. In the 17th century, it was common to use the word "communication" in this context (Leibniz).


------ Original Message ------
From: "Terrence W. DEACON" <>
To: "fis" <>
Cc: "Pedro C. Marijuan" <>; "Loet Leydesdorff" <>
Sent: 11/17/2017 6:34:18 PM
Subject: Re: [Fis] some notes

On communication:

"Communication" needs to be more carefully distinguished from mere
transfer of physical differences from location to location and time to
time. Indeed, any physical transfer of physical differences in this
respect can be utilized to communicate, and all communication requires
this physical foundation. But there is an important hierarchic
distinction that we need to consider. Simply collapsing our concept of
'communication' to its physical substrate (and ignoring the process of
interpretation) has the consequence of treating nearly all physical
processes as communication and failing to distinguish those that
additionally convey something we might call representational content.

Thus while internet communication and signals transferred between
computers do indeed play an essential role in human communication, we
only have to imagine a science fiction story in which all human
interpreters suddenly disappear but our computers nevertheless
continue to exchange signals, to realize that those signals are not
"communicating" anything. At that point they would only be physically
modifying one another, not communicating, except in a sort of
metaphoric sense. This sort of process would not be fundamentally
different from solar radiation modifying atoms in the upper atmosphere
or any other similar causal process. It would be odd to say that the
sun is thereby communicating anything to the atmosphere.

So, while I recognize that there are many methodological contexts in
which it makes little difference whether or not we ignore this
semiotic aspect, as many others have also hinted, this is merely to
bracket from consideration what really distinguishes physical transfer
of causal influence from communication. Remember that this was a
methodological strategy that even Shannon was quick to acknowledge in
the first lines of his classic paper. We should endeavor to always be
as careful.

— Terry
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