Re: On 'information transmission'

Michael Ashby (
Tue, 9 Mar 1999 18:32:55 +0000

From: Michael Ashby <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: On 'information transmission'
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 18:32:55 +0000

=0AMark, I'm pleased that you haven't given up your position yet...

>>An experience is not the same as information. Many experiences are
>>ineffable, and hence cannot be encoded for transmission, but that
>>does not mean that information cannot be transmitted!
>Are you saying that some experiences can be encoded for
>transmission? This seems to be implied since you didn't say
>'all experiences are ineffable.'

Absolutely, and definitely, yes, that is what I am saying.
It does not seem to be a particularly unusual or remarkable claim,
though I've got a strange feeling that I've just fallen into a trap!

An ineffable experience like a religious experience, the precise
nature of a particular orgasm, or explaining the difference between
blue and orange to a person who was born blind, cannot be
encoded-transmitted-decoded with any significant fidelity.
I assert that this is due to the fundamental un-en(de)codability
of experiences that are ineffable.

You gave 2 good examples of ineffable experiences:

<BEGIN: out-of-sequence quote from Mark's original note>

>A mother cannot convey what it feels like to burn your finger to her
>A victim of an atomic bomb blast cannot transmit the horror to a

But, other experiences really can be communicated adequately.
I believe that the following example you gave for "the illusion
of 'transmission' falls down", CAN be transmitted!

>A parent cannot communicate why a teenager should be home on time.

<END: out-of-sequence quote from Mark's original note>

Why not?
Maybe I've misunderstood what it is that you claim cannot be
communicated, but "You'll be too tired to concentrate at school." or
"You're more likely to get raped if you stay out too late.",
seem to me to be perfectly adequate, meaningful, and effective
transmissions of information. In what way do my 2 reasons fail to
"communicate why a teenager should be home on time" ?

Surely a reason 'why' is fundamentally informational? Assuming that
communication is entered into for a purpose; the mother does not need
to communicate the precise experience of being raped to her daughter.

Similarly, If I have the experience of witnessing a road accident,
and I describe the events to the police. Such experiences can be
encoded-transmitted-decoded well enough that the police, a judge,
and jury are willing to convict "beyond reasonable doubt" and
imprison a person based on the information that I transferred to them.

<WARNING: The following quotation does not apply to the contents of
the out-of-sequence quote above. It continues on, and refers to the
pre-out-of-sequence quotes. Readers beware not to confuse contexts!>

>Personally, I would have said they are are all ineffable. I cannot
>share any of my experiences. The best I can do is provide clues to
>others and hope they reconstruct something close to my experience.

I wonder if we're starting to drift a bit. I originally objected to
the way you appeared to use the example of not being able to transmit
experiences as evidence that *information* cannot be transmitted.

Whereas, many religious people claim to have had personal phenomenal
transformational religious experiences that convinced them
"beyond reasonable doubt" of the existence of God. They generally
fail to communicate their ineffable experiences in a sufficiently
compelling way to their would-be God-meme converts.
If I remember my (controversial reference warning) Thought Contagion
correctly - even just a few converts per decade per believer per
religion would have made the vast majority of us religious by now.
That God-meme may be persistent, but in many ways, it's not
spreading particularly well. Science has the advantage of being very
effable (*&term=3Deffabl=
and hence can be transmitted. It is irrelevant whether 'science' or
'scientific theories' are classified as information, memes, thoughts,
or even experiences.
In this respect, science appears to be more contagious than religion!

>If you are convinced that information can be transmitted, please tell
>me your definition of information and transmission. I'm interested in
>how you put the two together to show information can be transmitted.

I certainly am convinced that information can be transmitted.
The fact that you ask for my "definition of information and
transmission" implies that you already suspect that we are using our
terminology differently. A conclusion I also came to!

I do NOT offer you my own definition, I believe we memeticists should
accept and integrate established terminology, tools, and theories.
I have no intention of getting into a terminology hair-splitting
'discussion'. If you insist, I would eventually probably end up with
a weak definition like "information" and "transmission" mean whatever
allows us to utilize the 50 year inheritance of Information Theory.

If we decide to make counter-intuitive definitions of the meaning of
such terms as "information" and "transmission", I believe that we are
in danger of creating intellectual turbulence, ostracizing ourselves
from the scientific community, and creating linguistic barriers to
the constructive transfer of inter-disciplinary knowledge !
(or should I say "inter-disciplinary knowledge recreation"? ;-)

Any search-engine will give many good hits for "Claude Shannon".
I believe that we should not discard his legacy.
He did a lot of great stuff that we can build memetics on top of!

For example to quote the second paragraph of:

>Let us look first at his model. Shannon saw the communication process
>as essentially stochastic in nature. The semantic meaning of
>information plays no role in the theory. In the Shannon paradigm,
>information from a "source" (defined as a stochastic process) must be
>transmitted though a "channel" (defined by a transition probability
>law relating the channel output to the input). The system designer is
>allowed to place a device called an "encoder" between the source and
>channel which can introduce a fixed though finite (coding) delay. A
>"decoder" can be placed at the output of the channel. The theory
>seeks to answer questions such as how rapidly or reliably can the
>information from the source be transmitted over the channel, when one
>is allowed to optimize with respect to the encoder/decoder?

This stuff has survived 50 years of scientific peer-review.
Source-encoding-channel-delay-decoding-fidelity are all memetically
meaningful and useful. Please, let's not un-invent the wheel!

Certainly there is a valid view of communication that only tokens are
exchanged and that ultimately information, equivalent states of mind,
or something equally nebulous is actually being recreated in the mind.
But does this viewpoint bring sufficient new insights that make it
compelling and worthwhile to break with the generally accepted

At the danger of spiraling into a philosophy undergraduate-like
argument, we are born without any knowledge of communication token
meanings. Ultimately after some years, we are confidently exchanging,
interpreting, and acting meaningfully on communication tokens. So how
did we boot-strap our dictionary of token meanings? How is it
possible to start recreating anything without any building blocks?

Strictly, recreation MUST take place at MANY levels. If the original
version remains intact, any new hosts must posses copies that were
recreated. But isn't this end-to-end process called 'transmission'?
As yet, I am not convinced that denial of the "information can be
transmitted" viewpoint brings us any new insights or advantages.

Thanks Mark, you really did stir up some interesting discussions
with this thread.

Be Happy
Mick Ashby

P.S. I apologize for the very annoying format of my last note.
I sincerely hope this message formats better than the last one!
MQSeries Workflow for OS/390
Boeblingen Laboratory

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