Re: RS

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 15 May 2006 - 18:55:08 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: RS"

    Robin writes:

    > Physical information is basically just any and all form/structure, and it
    > is a very powerful concept. The usual concept of information is actually
    > intentional information, and all intentional info is encoded in physical

    The problem with equating information with structure is that the word
    "information" no longer has meaning, i.e., it carries no information. Why not simply drop this term and refer to structure instead?

    The traditional meaning of information includes representation. Yet there's no representation within a physical structure itself but only in the mind's interpretation of that structure. We can say representational information is encoded in a structure, but the structure doesn't know that. A structure is simply a structure, no more and no less. Only in the mind of the interpreter does it encode information.

    "Meaning" is not a physically meaningful concept. At no point has anyone ever located meaning in a physical system, nestled among matter, energy, space, field, force, pressure, momentum, etc. No meaning or representation. Yet these concepts become attached to physics when we use the term
    "information" in regard to physical processes. Because we traditionally associate information with representation, we assume that physical information contains representation as well. The physical existence of representation never has to be demonstrated, instead being smuggled in through the back door. This isn't so much science as a trick of the mind.

    Derek writes:

    > At 22:19 09/05/2006, you wrote:
    > >A theory of memetics that finds memes in the minds of birds
    > >is also unconvincing, as it attempts to explain phenomena that can
    > >be handled from a strictly biological standpoint.
    > It's _my_ job to argue for genetic determinism on this list, Ted, not
    yours ;)
    > Actually, there is quite a lot of evidence that birdsong, at least in
    > the species where it has been examined most closely, is cultural. So
    > it can't really be handled from a strictly biological standpoint.

    I regard culture, from bacterial to primate, as a biological phenomenon. What's not biological is what stems from reflective consciousness, what we might call "noological." This is not to say that all biological culture is genetically determined, any more than all bodily traits are genetically determined. Biology is primarily about memory, be it holistic (based on form) or genetic (based on storage of physical structure, a.k.a.

    Kate writes:

    > Well, thank you for the vote of confidence in the book. I think that
    > we're going to continue to disagree about representational systems,
    > because I remain quite comfortable with the idea of their being physical.
    > But I think that you raise a good point about music. You're right, of
    > course: it is totally counterintuitive to say that musica doesn't come
    > across when heard. I transcribe simple pieces for my son all the time,
    > on the basis of my retained memory of hearing them in the past, not of
    > seeing their scores. Had I seen and memorised the written music then
    > I'd be able to replicate it for him. As it is, what he gets is an
    > approximation of the tune he wants, which he can play in C major with
    > his thumbs centred on the piano's middle C. But nonetheless he does get
    > the basics of the tune.
    > So now I am puzzling about this. One option is that music as hummed,
    > sung or played must also be an RS, just as language can be either spoken
    > or written. But I'm not entirely comfortable with this account, because
    > when I hum a note, e.g. middle C, it does not feel intuitively as if I
    > am representing information /about/ middle C. It feels like what I'm
    > humming simply /is/ Middle C.

    Yes, because music is not a representational system but an aesthetic system. While a piece of music can represent many things, such as beauty or "the cool" or any number of emotions, that's not really the point. It's not what a song means but where it belongs in our aesthetic system that's important. What makes a set of sounds "music" is that it functions in the context of an AS, just as what makes another set of sounds "words" is how it functions in the context of a linguistic RS.

    When you hum a song for your son, you're passing on an AS meme. When you transcribe it and present it in the form of musical notation, you're passing on an RS meme (assuming your son understands musical notation). So we have two kinds of meme here, one involving music itself, the other involving a way of representing it.

    > Another option - which I'm tending towards - is that played/sung music
    > is not representational at all. It is behavioural - by which I mean
    > it's just something that we do, not something that we say. When I copy
    > the tune you have just played or sung, I am imitating your behaviour -
    > it's no different from when I copy your way of rolling out pastry or the
    > way you wear your baseball cap. There are of course different levels of
    > imitation, and on this view the imitation of a tune is on pretty much
    > the same level as the imitation of clapping or waving.

    It would be very difficult to imitate a tune if you don't even know what a tune is. Only in the context of a shared, auditory AS does it become memetic transmission and not mere imitation.

    > Strictly
    > speaking we don't really need memetics to account for it, although it is
    > part of a bigger picture in which there are also more complex elements
    > for which memetics is a useful explanation. I think that memetics does
    > leave room for elements of human culture that are non-memetic (in the
    > sense of being just low-level behavioural imitation).

    I can't overstate the importance of your distinction between memetics and mimesis-- meme and mime-- on the basis of RS, though I do contend that sometimes it's not an RS but an AS.

    > Non-representational things in which there is no distinction between
    > information and its effects because they're not 'about' anything, they
    > just /are/.

    A set of sounds "just is." A piece of music is such only in the context of an AS. In other words, you don't need representation to be more than just is.

    > And maybe there are elements of baseball games that are like this too.
    > I mean that even I could probably try to copy how a bat is swung or a
    > ball is caught/thrown. But I wouldn't do it with any level of
    > understanding. I'd be pretty much a bluetit pecking at the milk. But
    > in order to start to understand what was going on, information has to
    > come in from somewhere. And at this point I still want to maintain that
    > observers bring it into the game rather than getting it from the game.
    > For one thing, I don't think that the reproduction is as predictable as
    > Richard suggests. I personally could watch almost any sport for as long
    > as you'd like me to, without gaining any inkling of the rules (or the
    > point). Hence Richard's comment about how most people have never read
    > the rule book - people's interpretation of what's going on will vary,
    > even when they play the game. Any similarity between their
    > understanding of the rules, and the rules as written in the rule book,
    > comes from what they bring to the game and reconstruct for themselves,
    > rather than from the game itself.
    > Now, we humans are so good at doing this - at reconstructing and
    > inferring - that in a sense it doesn't matter whether we call it 'real'
    > replication or not. Much of the same information gets across, whatever
    > the mechanism. Where I maintain that it /does/ matter, is at the level
    > of a theoretical analysis of what's going on here. Because unless you
    > keep the replicator-phenotype distinction sharp then memetics will
    > I think.

    Well, you've certainly got me thinking. I think in baseball, the replicator-phenotype distinction holds. The baseball meme manifests in the behavior of players and the emotion of fans. But when it comes to pure idea, the distinction breaks down. Is there a phenotypic manifestation of the belief that the earth revolves around the sun? Well, if you're building a spaceship to Mars, this belief will make a difference, but in terms of our day to day terrestrial existence, it simply doesn't matter whether you know that the sun doesn't really rise and set. Such knowledge has no effect on how we live or feel. So I think a meme can stand on its own as a replicator without need for phenotypic accompaniment.


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