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Re: Infons

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Posted by Harvey on March 24, 2002 01:11:28 UTC

Hi Paul,

After I posted a response to Dick I saw your response here. As I said to Dick, I think the term 'infon' might be closing in on the idea that Dick has in mind. This also preserves the notion that information is meaningful since I can maintain that infons are anchored to situations (via inference) and this is why information is inherently meaningful.

On the other hand, I still have problems accepting the notion of infons as a correct approach since I am not convinced that our sense of meaning and experience with the world is obtained in such an atomistic manner. As I mentioned to Dick, holism might have a lot more say in terms of how we experience the world and come to acquire meaning of our sense impressions.

***First of all, I claim that 'meaning' can have no meaning without having meaning TO someone or something. To paraphrase a line in the definition from the web site Harv gave us, "pure unqualified meaning is an unwarranted abstraction".***

I would agree. The question is how we attribute meaning with the given relations apparent to us in the world. Do we acquire meaning from holistic experiences or through an atomistic accumulation of infons or something else entirely.

***That leaves information which has no meaning --which Dick has named 'tiggles' [infons?] -- and this seems to match Shannon's definition of that which reduces uncertainty. Of course, his definition raises the question of whether 'certainty' and 'uncertainty' have any meaning outside the context of some sentience which can be certain or uncertain. I don't think so.***

Well, the reason I became a little concerned about using information theory is that it is a mathematical approach to analyzing communication and is not a philosophical theory. I've started to comb some of the philosophical approaches using information theory (hence the paper by Israel and Perry). There's a great deal on the subject and too much for me to digest (I feel like I'm just being thrown into the discussion on information). Although, I do have some limited knowledge about the philosophical discussion going on about a theory of meaning, so I can hopefully comment about where I am skeptical about Dick's approach.

***First, the light from stars contains simply tiggles. The information in that light was not encoded at the source by human minds. But, -- human minds have devised theories that predict the spectra produced by various elements, and by using those theories, the information contained in the starlight [infons] can be "decoded" according to the theory to "mean" the presence of certain elements in the star.***

This is the reductionist view. Extreme reductionism would have it that atoms are composed of nucleons and electrons (leptons), nucleons composed of quarks, and eventually quarks and leptons being composed of something even more basic - perhaps fundamental (let's say it is strings). Things like minds, thoughts, consciousness, meaning, etc would all be composites of strings and string theory would be fundamental to any theory that explains how minds, thoughts, consciousness, meaning, etc is all possible. Perhaps in this view infons and strings will eventually be seen as equivalent.

I'm not so sure that view is correct. I don't know if the world is composed solely of strings or infons. Maybe there are mathematical principles to the universe that exist that influence the behavior of strings that are not inherent in string behavior. Maybe there are mental principles to the mind that exist that influence our experience that is not reduced to infons? This is my hope, but I do not know that answer.

***I think another way of looking at this distinction between the two types of information is that [infons] are analog, and meaningful information is digital. (I made this observation with you, Dick, more than a year ago in private communication. You didn't agree with me then and we never did discuss it enough to get it straightened out. Maybe we can pick up and finish that discussion here.)***

If you subscribe to an infon theory (which strikes me as an atomist theory of how meaning is imputed to the mind), then I think your analogy has some validity. That is, Israel's and Perry's situation theory, for example, mentioned that compounded infons are anchored to situations (or types of situations). They weren't that descriptive in this account, but it seems to me that anchoring an infon to a situation is a 'digitizing' process where meaning is imputed to infons. Just a thought.

Paul, as always I look forward to your other responses.

Warm regards, Harv

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