Re: On 'information transmission'

William van den Heuvel (
Thu, 4 Mar 1999 13:15:25 +0100

Message-Id: <v04003a08b3033a6631e0@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Thu, 4 Mar 1999 13:15:25 +0100
From: William van den Heuvel <>
Subject: Re: On 'information transmission'

Mark Mills:
>I'm going to use a comment Paul made to start a new thread.
>When one gives another person a phone number, is information transmitted?
>I say no. Information is recreated, not transmitted. The source
>provides data and counts on the receiver to 'recreate' the proper
>meaning. The information that 'when I see the symbol '7', it means
>seven' is entirely locked up in a person's brain.

I don't know if the meaning is locked up in a person's brain; I prefer to
say it's in the mind. But, other than that, I tend to agree with Mark

I sometimes find it useful to think of information as an ambigious notion
that can be regarded in a dual sense: in one sense it is "data" and in
another sense it is "meaning". Data can be transmitted but meaning must be
implied. It depends on which aspect one wants to see.

Speaking from this dual perspective we could say; in one sense information
is transmitted but in another sense it is not transmitted. I.e. if we just
speak in terms of "information" then we remain in an ambigious state. The
ambiguity can be resolved by maintaining two modes of perception: in one
mode we see information as "data", in the other mode we see it as
"meaning". By switching into the data mode we can speak in terms of data
transmission, and switching into the meaning mode enables us to think in
terms of implying meaning. Let's see if I can make this a bit more

I would like to propose that meaning is not transmitted but is implicated
and explicated. Implication is the enfoldment of meaning, explication is
the unfoldment of meaning.

Implication (enfoldment of meaning) is a form of data reduction. The more
"meaning" we can imply the less "data" needs to be transmitted. Only data
can be transmitted. In effect, the data only represents "clues" to assist
the explication (unfoldment of meaning) on the receiver's side. In this
view, we now have a picture of the sender as someone who "implies" the
intended meaning while the receiver (or rather the perceiver) is someone
who "explies" it again.

The data is received but the meaning is perceived. The act of perception
consists of restoring the original meaning as intended by the sender using
the clues that were transmitted as data. These clues are just signals or
symbols that are supposed to trigger something else that is expected to be
already present on the receiver's side. So, we are implicitely refering to
content that is already "there".

Whether this method works successfully or not, is probably a matter of
skill on both sides. The higher the degree of implication the more
complicated the explication. This implies (!) that communication is not
just a question of transmitting and receiving data but it also requires a
sophisticated data processing on both sides in order to enfold and unfold
the meaning.

But now "perception" is not so much regarded as just passively receiving
data but more as an active information processing system that "applies" the
received data to create the meaning. In this sense, it could be said that
perception takes the data as its "input", and makes the meaning as its
"output". Hence, the meaning is what perception makes of the data. If the
process of perception makes a false application of the data then we would
say it has made a mistake. The mistake amounts to an incorrect explication,
which is the same as "seeing" an unintended meaning.

This notion of perception could perhaps account for the often observed
phenomenon that different perceivers manage to see different meanings in
the same data. Presumably, this is because the process of enfolding and
unfolding of meaning constantly needs to be aligned between the
communication partners. People who are well aligned usually manage to do
their "meaniations" much better than people who don't know each other very
well. It also seems to depend somewhat on people wishing to understand each
other. It is relatively easy to "hear" something other than what was
intended by the speaker.

>Despite the arcane appearance of my proposal, it does have implications
>for memetics. If information cannot be transmitted, how can memes be

I am wondering if this process of active perception (actively creating
meaning) could also be the source of the virtual viruses in the mind. If
this is the case then we could consider the possibility that virtual
viruses are created by perception. Once they have been perceived into
existence they are part of the system and can propagate themselves in the
same way as any other meaning can be communicated; i.e. through the process
as suggested above. I don't know if a meme is the same as a virtual virus
but if it is then the same would apply to memes.

William van den Heuvel

(. .)
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