Re: transmission

From: William Benzon (
Date: Wed 21 May 2003 - 22:56:48 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Re: transmission"

    on 5/19/03 2:13 PM, at wrote:

    > . . . word strings can be
    > unique. If Jack wrote down on a piece of paper, or simply said (same
    > example, different action encoding mode and recipient perceptual path)
    > "I love you and want to marry you, Jill, and your father, holding what I
    > hope and pray will be our engagement ring, is waiting to board the bus
    > at the next stop. When he gets on, will you grant me the supreme
    > honor of agreeing to be my wife?", the chances that that particular
    > message (sign string) had ever been presented to her before, or that
    > she had made that association on her own, is practically nil. As it is
    > with many sentences that occur in common text or discourse.
    > Definitely, information has been transmitted and received.

    All you've done is taken an example of a fairly ordinary conversation and said "that's information transmission." You don't really know how it happens, but you want to talk about it as transmission and, I assume, replication, and mutation and all that good stuff that's fairly well-understood in biology. Well, you can do that, but the fact that the biologists understand what they're talking about doesn't change the fact that linguists and philosophers and psychologists don't understand Jack's proposal & Jill's response in any satisfying detail. I can't explain what's going on there, Noam Chomsky can't, Steven Pinker can't, Terrance Deacon can't, nor can anyone else that I know of.

    Applying a biological analogy to human culture and communication does not magically transfer biology's explanatory efficacy to psychology. It gives the illusion of understanding but not the power. It's a con.


    So, explain to me, step-by-step, how the transmission takes place, from Jack's brain to Jill's. At each step demonstrate that the process of transmission is like that involved when, for example, we scan a photograph into a computer file, or when we transmit that file from one computer to another and then reproduce the image in a recognizable, if not exact, form. You might, for example, decide the process has these steps:

    1. Idea in Jack's head > words in Jack's head. 2. Words in Jack's head > words written on paper. 3. Paper in Jack's hand > paper in Jill's hand. 4. Words written on paper > to words in Jill's head. 5. Words in Jill's head > idea in Jill's head.

    I'll concede step three. You can propose a different set of steps if you wish, though you'll have to give reasons for it. But you cannot propose a different sense of transmission. The sense of transmission that I specified is one that we understand in a very rich way. And that's what I'm after, understanding.

    You might want to begin by providing an account of the photographic example. Then you could augment and modify it to cover the human example, thus:

    1. photograph > computer file. 2. file in computer A > file in computer B. 3. computer file > printed image.


    FWIW, I plan to make one more major post in my current interruption of normal activities on this list -- a reply to Keith's post about the before and after images of a brain that's learned a phone number. After that I'm pretty much out of here for awhile. I may make a few minor posts here and there, though a really splendid post might make me change my mind.

    William L. Benzon
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