Dear all,

Is it useful to think of the quantitative and qualitative as different 
descriptions of the same thing. Even the pseudoscience describes something - 
even if it is merely the ego of its inventor... But it may yet be a relevant 
additional description.

This short interview with David Bohm expresses this idea of multiple 
description beautifully:

It's worth noting that a Bohmian concept of information would see it inherent 
in our process of deliberation about information's nature. There is a 
difference between such a dialogical account and what I think is being 
attempted here.

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: "Joseph Brenner" <>
Sent: ‎18/‎11/‎2017 14:28
To: "Terrence W. DEACON" <>; "fis" <>
Subject: Re: [Fis] some notes: Precise Qualitative Terms

Dear All,
Terry's phrase deserves at least the attention, if not the agreement of all of 
us. In my view, qualitative terms belong in science if they follow some sort of 
logic. There are risks, of fraud and pseudo-science, but these risks cannot be 
avoided in reality by relying on mathematics alone.
Two comments, one negative and one positive:
How is it that despite the risk most of us are able to recognize pseudo-science 
when we see it?
In the sciences indicated by Terry, are not abductions  to the best 
explanations and implications to process dynamics doing some of the necessary 
There seems to be no alternative to living partly with uncertainty, then, at 
all levels, and this is not congenial to some people. The existence of this 
non-congeniality is an example of the science I am talking about.
Best wishes,
----- Original Message ----- 
From: Terrence W. DEACON 
To: fis 
Sent: Saturday, November 18, 2017 5:38 AM
Subject: Re: [Fis] some notes

If the definition of science requires quantification and mathematical 
representation then most of biology won't qualify, including molecular and 
cellular biology, physiology, psychology, and neuroscience. Physics envy has 
long ago been abandoned by most working scientists in these fields. This is not 
to say that just any sort of theorizing qualifies, nor can we be sure that 
today's non-quantifiable science won't someday be susceptible to precise 
empirically testable mathematical modeling—even semiotic analyses may someday 
be made mathematically precise—but being empirically testable, even if just in 
precise qualitative terms, is pretty close to being a core defining attribute.

On Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 9:34 AM, Terrence W. DEACON <> wrote:

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


Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley

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