Re: RS

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Tue 16 May 2006 - 09:13:35 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: RS"

    Dace wrote:
    > 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.
    I agree . . .
    > "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.
    . . . but I don't see why the physics-level description must always trump all others. So long as the letters exist on a page or screen, and there are people who can understand them, why doesn't it make sense to say that these letters represent information? Of course they lose that meaning when there are no human minds to interact with them, but that doesn't mean that they are 'meaningless' in the sense that an undiscovered boulder is meaningless.

    > Kate writes:
    >> 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.
    I'm not sure that we can talk about an AS as being the same sort of thing as an RS. I agree that music does not truly 'represent' emotions
    (only evoke them in us), and I also see what (I think) you mean by a piece of music functioning in a certain context - there are different genres and styles of music - but I don't think that there is quite the same relationship there, as between a representation and the system from which it derives its meaning. Little children can imitate tunes and rhythms without being taught any sort of 'system', whereas they need to learn the RS of musical notation before they can do anything with even a single note written in that system.

    > 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.
    I think that it is very easy to imitate a tune, without any conceptual apparatus. Just as it is easy for children to imitate our hand movements or facial gestures. But I'd agree that there are different levels of imitation. At one level we just imitate the details, without any proper understanding of what's going on, and at another level we imitate the functional structure of the behaviour, and may even vary the intermediate details. And, as you say, it's the addition of this context, this understanding (metarepresenting what's going on: seeing it
    *as* something that has a context) which lifts things to the memetic level.

    > 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.

    Yes - but its content will always potentially have effects, in some contexts, and it is via these effects that it will be selected. The hypothesis that the earth revolves round the sun is, as you say, limited in the range of contexts in which it has any effect at all - but in the contexts in which it does have effects it is fitter for those contexts than the alternatives (its alleles) - e.g. it's more consistent with the evidence and with other elements of astronomical theory, as well as being instrumentally more useful for rocket scientists.


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