I completely agree that there is an important distinction between the
communication between attached beams and the semantic communication between
agents. Like you, I have long been interested in the evolution of biological
signaling systems. My dissertation research included explorations of the
potential meaning attached to courtship displays by a damselfish species. In
the decades since I did that work, my view of communication has broadened.
Semantics is context dependent and is manifested internally by the agents
(perception), which makes it very hard to study empirically. The best I could
do, and I think this may be a general limitation, was to model the hypothetical
semantic content of a signal, naively predict how the perceiver ‘should’
respond to the hypothetically encoded meaning, and judge whether the empirical
data fit my model of the system. Note that I did my dissertation research at a
time when the leading idea was that all signals were deceptive devices for
maximizing personal fitness (e.g., Krebs and Davies, 1984). My observational
and experimental work on this system led me to think more deeply about the
evolution of signaling systems, and I proposed the following:
* individuals assess all of the information they perceive, some of which
represents signals expressed by other individuals
* far more information about individuals can be useful than the information
‘packaged’ in a signal
* individuals signal to other individuals in unconventional ways, in
addition to conventional ways (evolved signaling systems)
* evolved, codified kinds of signals generally started as one of those
unconventional kinds of signals that conferred fitness gains for both the
signaler and the perceiver, on average
* such useful signals tend to persist and they have an opportunity for
adaptive fine-tuning, morphological integration (e.g., a color patch used for
display), and amplification
* I think these become the classical animal signaling systems we are so
So, for me, codified semantic signals are embedded in, and deeply connected to,
a sea of information about other individuals. Such signals may be anywhere
along a spectrum from simple information transfer (similar to the beams) to
semantically-based language. Semantics is a fascinating and important target
of study, but I think limiting our terminology to that domain misleadingly
suggests that it is more disconnected from less formalized modes of
communication than it really is. I also think it suggests that semantic
communication is more disconnected from the universal physico-chemical laws
than it really is. I prefer to think of semantic communication as a subset of
all communication, and I see value in understanding the information transfer
between connected beams as sharing some fundamental similarities to semantic
On Feb 14, 2018, at 3:05 PM, Christophe Menant
Unconsciously I take communications as related to meaning generation.
But, as you say, we could use the word for the two beams attached to each other
with bolts and that ‘communicate’ relatively to the strength of the building.
The difference may be in the purpose of the communication, in the constraint
justifying its being.
The ‘communication’ between the two beams is about maintaining them together,
satisfying physical laws (that exist everywhere). It comes from the decision of
the architect who is constrained to get a building that stands up. The
constraint is with the architect, not with the beams that only obey physical
In the case of living entities the constraints are locally present in the
organisms (‘stay alive’). The constraint is not in the environment of the
organism. And the constraint addresses more than physico-chemical laws.
If there is meaning generation for constraint satisfaction in the case of
organisms, it is difficult to talk the same for the two beams.
This introduces the locality of constraints as a key subject in the evolution
of our universe. It is an event that emerged from the a-biotic universe
populated with physico-chemical laws valid everywhere.
Another subject interesting to many of us....
All the best
De : Guy A Hoelzer <hoel...@unr.edu<mailto:hoel...@unr.edu>>
Envoyé : mardi 13 février 2018 18:18
À : Foundations of Information Science Information Science
Cc : Terry Deacon; Christophe Menant
Objet : Re: [Fis] The unification of the theories of information based on the
I want to pick on Christophe’s post to make a general plea about FIS posting.
This is not a comment on meaning generation by agents. Christophe wrote:
"Keeping in mind that communications exist only because agents need to manage
meanings for given purposes”.
This seems to imply that we have such confidence that this premise is correct
that it is safe to assume it is true. However, the word “communication” is
sometimes used in ways that do not comport with this premise. For example, it
can be said that in the building of a structure, two beams that are attached to
each other with bolts are “communicating” with each other. This certainly fits
my notion of communication, although there are no “agents” or “meanings” here.
Energy (e.g., movement) can be transferred from one beam to the next, which
represents “communication” to me. I would personally define communication as
the transfer of information, and I prefer to define “information” without any
reference to “meaning”. If the claim above had been written as a contingency
(e.g., “If we assume that communications exist…”), then I could embrace the
rest of Christophe’s post.
I think the effectiveness of our FIS posts is diminished by presuming everybody
shares our particular perspectives on these concepts. It leads us to talk past
each other to a degree; so I hope we can remain open to the correctness or
utility of alternative perspectives that have been frequently voiced within FIS
and use contingent language to establish the premises of our FIS posts.
On Feb 13, 2018, at 5:19 AM, Christophe Menant
Dear Terry and FISers,
It looks indeed reasonable to position the term 'language' as ‘simply referring
to the necessity of a shared medium of communication’. Keeping in mind that
communications exist only because agents need to manage meanings for given
And the concept of agent can be an entry point for a ‘general theory of
information’ as it does not make distinctions.
The Peircean triadic approach is also an available framework (but with, alas, a
limited development of the Interpreter).
I choose to use agents capable of meaning generation, having some compatibility
with the Peircean approach and with the Biosemiotics
All the best
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