May 15, 2016
As cognitive agents, we inform ourselves about the world and we use that information to control our behavior. We also report information to others, as I am doing in this blog post. This post is part of a series on my own philosophy. It will mainly be about the meaning of the word “information” as I use it when discussing cognition.
I shall be using “information” to refer to what is often called Shannon Information, after the work of Claude Shannon. The term “Shannon Information” has come to mean information in the form of a structured sequence of symbols, such as a natural language sentence or a data transmission stream on the Internet. Shannon’s own research was not limited to the use of transmission in discrete units (such as words or bits), but its main use is with discrete units.
Shannon information is often criticized as being an entirely syntactic view of information. Shannon was concerned with communication, with getting the stream of discrete symbols from the source to the destination. His theory is not concerned with issues of meaning or semantics.
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October 26, 2014
I’ve had a copy of Dembski’s new book for a little more than a week. That has been enough time for me to read it in preparation for this review.
The title itself is strange, at least to me. It is a title that suggests that this is a book on religion. It isn’t, though it does not completely avoid religious ideas. The more complete title is “Being as Communion; A Metaphysics of Information.” And that suggests that it is a book about information. To some extent it is, though it also comes across as a diatribe against materialist metaphysics.
Dembski begins this book with:
What does the world look like if the fundamental stuff of reality is not matter but information? That is the question animating this book. We live in an information age. Yet we also live in an overwhelmingly materialist age in which the things that seem to us most solid and inspire the most confidence are material. Information itself therefore tends to be conceived in material terms, as a property of matter. But what if information cannot be reduced to matter? To turn the tables even more sharply, what if matter itself is an expression of information?
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March 28, 2014
In prior posts (here and here), I have illustrated representational methods and direct methods. The illustrations were from science, because that is more public so easier to demonstrate the contrast. I believe that they illustrate well enough, the distinction between direct and indirect perception. Both aim to provide the same sort of information about the world. The method is different, though perhaps the differences are small enough to be confusing.
The primary distinction here is that direct perception is simpler and more direct, and does not rely on computation or inference. This is why I see direct perception as more likely to be what has evolved, and thus a more likely candidate for explaining human perception.
One way of seeing the distinction is to look at it in terms of categorization. Here, I use “categorization” to refer to the dividing up of the world into parts (or categories). This comes from the old idea (from Plato?) of carving the world at its seams, though the seams might actually be man-made.
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February 4, 2014
Vincent Torley, who posts under the handle “vjtorley” at Uncommon Descent, has a longish post on Intelligent Design and related topics:
I encourage you to read the full post by vjtorley. Here, I want to give my reaction to only some of the issues that he raises. I’ll note that his post grows out of an online discussion with theologian James McGrath, and is a followup to an earlier thread about that discussion.
Torley says, of McGrath:
As far as I can tell, Dr. McGrath doesn’t necessarily think God created the laws of Nature; nor does he believe in miracles. As might be expected, he doesn’t believe in the Divinity of Christ.
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October 28, 2013
Recently, Massimo Pigliucci hosted a discussion of the computational theory of mind on his Rational Speaking podcast, with an accompanying post on his blog:
That blog post has a link to the podcast. I listened to that podcast this morning, and will comment on it in this post.
I have been clear that I am skeptical of computationalism. And Pigliucci is equally clear that he, too, is a skeptic. But I don’t plan to repeat those earlier posts here.
What surprised me about the discussion, was that O’Brien emphasized analog computation. Perhaps O’Brien is conceding that there might be problems with computationalism in the form of digital computation.
I remember, perhaps around 15 years ago, somebody argued for analog computation rather than digital computation. This was in a usenet post, and possibly the poster was Stefan Harnad. I remember, at the time, that my response was something like:
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June 2, 2013
In an earlier post in this series, I wrote:
In short, it is the problem of knowledge that needs to be explained, rather than the problem of experience.
So today I will begin discussing the question of knowledge.
My starting point is a kind of empiricism. That is to say, I take the view that we acquire knowledge through experience. Or, said differently, knowledge is not inherited. The empiricism of John Locke seems in about the right direction, though of course Locke left much unexplained. Locke talked about ideas, and I take that to be about the same as what we mean when we talk of concepts. The question of knowledge, for Locke appears to be one of how we acquire our ideas or concepts.
By the time we get to Hume, the discussion has changed. Empiricism, to Hume, seems to be a question of how we decide which statements are true. Now that’s a huge change. You cannot even have a statement until you have the necessary concepts. So an account of how we decide which statements are true will fall far short of explaining how we acquire concepts. My version of empiricism is closer to that of Locke than to that of Hume.
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May 26, 2013
I don’t much like the word “qualia”. I don’t find it useful. People who use that word (and its singular form “quale”) hope to be able to discuss questions about conscious experience. In this post, I’ll try to address those topics without the assumptions that seem to be built into use of “qualia.”
I’ll start with a review of earlier posts in this series.
- Experience: I have identified this with internal activity of homeostatic processes, such as are commonly found in biological systems. In particular, I have identified “experience” (with the scare quotes) with internal event to which the system reacts, so can be said to be reactively aware. How we become conscious, and not merely reactively aware, I take to be related to our ability to have thoughts. I expect to discuss thought in a future post.
- Information: I have suggested that an organism acquires information about the world, and represents this information as internal events of which the organism is reactively aware. This reactive awareness of represented information mediates the organisms awareness or consciousness of the external world. Perhaps one could think of information as being represented by biochemical events or by neural events. I prefer to not be that specific, because I am discussing principles rather than implementation details. AI proponents will want to consider whether computational events could be used instead of neural events.
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May 16, 2013
Philosophers often use the word “phenomena” to refer to appearances. Here is some text quoted from Wikipedia:
In modern philosophical use, the term ‘phenomena’ has come to mean what is experienced as given. In Immanuel Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (1770), Kant theorizes that the human mind is restricted to the logical world and thus can only interpret and understand occurrences according to their physical appearances. He wrote that humans could infer only as much as their senses allowed, but not experience the actual object itself. Thus, the term phenomenon refers to any incident deserving of inquiry and investigation, especially events that are particularly unusual or of distinctive importance. According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, “Modern philosophers have used ‘phenomenon’ to designate what is apprehended before judgment is applied.”
Kant’s point of view appears to have been that our investigation of the world begins with appearances, or phenomena. What Kant saw as noumena, or the world in itself, was not accessible to us. We would have to make do with phenomena.
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March 11, 2013
Epistemology is a core area within philosophy. It is concerned with questions of knowledge, information, description and truth. And it is part of what I would like to see turned upside down. That is to say, the way that I see questions of knowledge, information, description and truth is very different from what we find in the traditional literature.
Epistemology from a design stance
As mentioned in my earlier “upside down” post, I see traditional philosophy as based on a design stance, while I would prefer a more evolutionary stance. So let’s start by looking at how the design stance seems to work.
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December 2, 2012
This continues my discussion of how science works, a topic that I introduced in a recent post. The “HSW” in the title of this post is intended to indicate that. My plan, for this post, is to describe how I look at Newton’s laws. I won’t be discussing his law of gravity here, mostly to keep this post reasonably short. I might post on that at a future time.
A note on history
I am not an historian. My primary concern is with how the science works, rather than with how it was discovered. If you think that I have said something about history, then you have misunderstood. Some of what I am discussing here might actually be due to Galileo or to other scientists.
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