Not Communication by Marc Burock - HTML preview
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or ‘blends’ with the indivisible substance of the other. In ancient atomism, the existence of contact, collision, and influence are not explained by the size, shape, and motion of atoms, nor are they explained by the nature of void or substance. Democritus noticed this absence, and posited the relation of antitupia or mutual resistance between atoms, which is, as above, the limitation and change of motion that occurs when atoms are spatially adjacent. Without antitupia, ancient atomism falls apart.
Leaving much aside, we see that ancient atomism, rather than being a theory of a solid, material world; is a theory of a world composed of individual objects that influence each other through contact.
One might assume that modern physics as solved the problem of interaction. Certainly our physical theories of the fundamental interactions within the Standard model equip us with models for predicting situations. Given one description of the world in the language of quantum physics, we are able to predict a description that will follow.
But like Democritus, we still cannot explain how an interaction or transition takes place. Our best theories of interaction, those of quantum field theory, still explain interaction as arising from the exchange of one type of particle (atom) with another. We are told that electrons, for instance, uphold the electromagnetic interaction by exchanging virtual photons with one another. Electrons both accept and emit virtual photons, although we still cannot describe the process by which a virtual photon is ab-sorbed or emitted. After a photon exchange, we may speak of a change in energy or momentum or particle production, but we can say nothing about how that exchange comes about—it just does (perhaps as a matter of symmetry), thus it is a fundamental interaction. Absorption, emission, 52
and exchange of virtual photons are, like antitpuia, necessary metaphysical additions to our understanding of interactions. When attempting to understand photon absorption we are perhaps drawn to macroscopic analogies, such as the absorption of water by a sponge, but in this analogy water simply moves from the outside of the sponge to the inside.
Photons do not obviously move from the outside of an electron to the inside in the same way, so absorption and emission have no classical mechanical analogies, yet we also speak as though classical mechanical energy is exchanged quite readily upon contact, a contact mediated by the non-contact forces of quantum physics that rely upon metaphorical electron-photon contact.
Material exchange, which requires directedness into an object and directedness at an object, plays an important role in our physical theories. Feynman diagrams, for instance, graphically make use of this directedness to help explain the evolution of quantum particles. In these diagrams, geometric direction and path have little meaning, yet the concept of directedness remains. Outside of perturbation theory, when the quantum field is considered as a whole, we still speak of the creation and annihilation of particles within the field. Conceptually this field must be open and receptive to particle creation and annihilation. In a direct sense, the quantum field is similar to the void of Democritus as the yielding substance that may be filled with particle substance. We say that the quantum field permeates all of space, which is expected as this field is trying to take over the role of void. Physicists may point out that acts of creation and annihilation are well-understood as linear operators on quantum states. Again, while an operator may model the numerical changes of a field, it says nothing about the act of creation itself. Within today’s physics, the movement from the absence of a particle to the presence of a particle is completely suppressed, and is analogous to pulling a rabbit out of the magician’s hat, except that within physics, we no longer wonder about how that rabbit came to be, but rather take it as a mundane fact that rabbits come out of hats and seek no further explanation.
Openness, receptivity, and acceptance play a foundational role in fundamental interactions from Democritus to today. While our mathematical descriptions describe a situation before and after, when pressed for how, we must fall back upon directedness. It would be quite easy to avoid the how altogether and to not look beyond the math. So what if a non-measurable directedness plays a role in explaining our world, what is the loss to me? Yet directedness is empirical; it is evident wherever we 53
go; as well we have placed directedness in our scientific theories at the start. Directedness is a natural feature of the world, a feature that is not a fundamental interaction but one that makes interaction and distance comprehensible. Fundamental particles are relatively limited in their capacity to partake in directedness, and they must do so nearly symmetric-ally, meaning that for particles, inward (intentional) and outward (attentional) directedness occur in near reciprocal pairs.
Particle directedness is quite limited, which brings us back to our concern about medical problems and forceful medical interventions.
When we view ourselves as collections of parts, as material parts modeled after atomic aggregates, then the only directedness available to us derives from particle directedness in geometric space. This view is particularly appropriate when we want to remove other atomic aggregates from a geometric body (cutting out a cancer, removing a bullet, draining an abscess). It is also appropriate when we want something to collide-against and bind-to other atomic aggregates (antibiotics, dopam-ine receptor antagonists, insulin, and many other medications) for a purpose. Particle directedness, however, does not exhaust the possibility of directed medical interventions. One can, for instance, direct attention at or away from a pain, or become receptive to a pain as a source. These directed interventions can change the quality of the pain. Of course, we differ in our capacity to wield directedness, and I am not claiming that we should forsake the particle directedness of today’s medicine that helps alleviate suffering. I only start with pain because most of us have witnessed the relation between directedness and pain, although do not infer that directedness is limited to so-called subjective experiences.
It is possible, for example, to direct attention to one’s stomach, and to welcome one’s stomach as a source of intention. Your stomach, to you, is largely unknown and exists as a theoretical object within your attentional field. Even if you view your stomach only as an aggregate of particles, you are still not acquainted with this aggregate, empirically or otherwise. When bi-directional directedness begins between oneself and one’s stomach, it can be said that one is communicating or coming-into-contact or exchanging with one’s stomach. The objects here are the self-object and the stomach of the self-object. It follows that the self-object and the stomach are then influencing each other, or giving rise to ‘real changes’ in the world, just as particle exchanges bring about change in the world. What is the relevance of such exchanges? I suspect, for example, that many cases of adult gastroesophageal reflux disease are not due to mechanical problems of the esophagus—although such things 54
may correlate with the problem—but due to distancing oneself from one’s gastroesophageal tract, or to a lack of contact between oneself and one’s stomach and esophagus. You cannot be in contact with your stomach if you only view it as a material part of the body, or worse, as a dys-functional material part of the body to be whipped into shape. The stomach desires contact with the whole, as do all the parts of the body, and they can achieve this through bi-directional directedness with the self-object.
1.8 Necessary degeneracy of communication One thought may crowd out or push away another thought. One feeling may prevent another feeling from arising. Like ancient atoms, thoughts and feelings manifest mutual resistance or antitupia between each other. But unlike ancient atoms, which possess a degree of directedness relative to each other, the directedness of thoughts and feelings is less clear. Thoughts do not partake in geometric directedness (although some physical theories dispense with geometry as well). How is one thought directed at and into another thought?
A traditional explanation of the mutual resistance between thoughts may go something like this. A person has a thought. While some thoughts are selected in attention for only brief periods of time, others persist as selected for longer durations. The self-object directs attention at the thought, but more than temporary selective attention, the thought tends to maintain a large value of the attentional field across time. We are preoccupied with this thought. We ruminate and obsess about it. If we are not purposefully attending to this thought, then we can assume that this thought has a large attentional rest mass relative to other thoughts, and it is the mass of the thought via the self-object that gives rise to resistance between this thought and another. We are pulled to massive thoughts more so than others.
Although attentional mass may explain why one thought pushes out another thought, attentional mass is a relational property between the thought and the self-object, therefore this antitupia between thoughts is not independent of the self-object, whereas the antitputia between ancient or modern atoms depends only upon atoms, independent of outside features of the world. Thoughts pull or push on the self-object.
Atoms pull or push on each other. The interaction between atoms allegedly has nothing to do with things outside of those atoms.
When talking about thoughts (or emotions), we tend to focus attention on the selected thought of attention, and although that statement is mostly tautology, it bares consideration. We believe that for a thought to exist, the thought must be selected within the attentional field. We imagine that there is a particular place, like an empty room, that may be filled up with a thought. Thoughts magically appear in this room, and then evaporate to be replaced by subsequent thoughts, one after another. In some cases the thought occupies the room for extended periods of time—it is difficult to displace. When the thought vanishes from the room, it is gone. Like images on a digital screen, thoughts are transient 56
pictures that have no existence apart from the screen, that only exist so long as they fill the screen. The molecules that compose the screen are different. They may leave the screen yet continue to exist.
When we recall that the attentional field contains much more than the selected object of attention, we can begin to see how thoughts might be directly related to each other, partially independent of the self-object.
First notice that multiple thoughts may occupy the attentional field, just as multiple visual objects occupy the attentional field—I may not be selecting all of the visual objects at once; I likely am not, yet each object is associated with a degree of attention. Of course, if you believe that attention concerns itself with one and only one object at a time, and that your attentional world is a sequence of selected, isolated objects of attention that flash before you like pictures: “thought of a tree”, “thirst”, “the computer in front of me”, “pain in my back”… then you will have difficulty understanding how multiple thoughts—or multiple objects of any kind—can exist in the attentional field.
Thoughts, like every other topic, are associated with a degree of attentional directedness, which is approximately the attentional distance between the thought and the self-object. One thought may be attentionally selected, yet others may exist in the attentional field. Can we also speak of the relative distance, or directedness, between thoughts without using the self-object as an absolute reference? Such a language would allow us to ‘look at’ multiple thoughts at once, just as we look at multiple objects or atoms in space.
There is some evidence that thoughts are directly related to each other, in that one thought often ‘leads to’ another thought, and that this leading-to is not directly dependent upon the attentional mass of the subsequent thought. Some led-to thoughts are quite unexpected, and may have never before been attended-to, which is a backwards way of saying that the attentional mass of the thought is likely small. One thought may be directed at another thought, where this directedness between thoughts becomes apparent through triangulation with the self-object. The thoughts are directed to one another in that they move through the attentional field together. When one thought is selected in attention, the other thought is found to be attentionally close-by. Outside of attentional selection, we assume that the relationship between those thoughts persists, for attentional selection does not explain the existence of the relationship in the first place, although selection does enable us to notice it.
With practice, I imagine we can learn to see multiple thoughts at once, becoming aware of the manifold of relationships that exist between thoughts. One thought may be open or receptive to another thought, thoughts may lead to other thoughts, or thoughts may make contact with each other to produce new thoughts in the interaction. Once we learn to see the multiplicity of thoughts interacting together, the act of thinking changes. Thinking is no longer the step-by-step progression of isolated thoughts that transiently manifest on a digital screen, but becomes the act of observing, anticipating, and constructing the field of thoughts and their intimate, directed relations. Even serial logical argument, like this, becomes an approximation of meta-logical thinking.
What has separated atoms and thoughts is not mind-independ-ence—for mind has always existed as a unknown object, of which thoughts have no need—but the belief that thoughts cannot exist without being selected in attention. As we know, many things exist outside of selected attention, so this concern is easily pushed aside. We then might agree that thoughts need not be selected, but still, they cannot exist outside of the attentional field altogether, or at least you cannot prove that they do. But this criticism can be leveled against any object outside of attention, material or otherwise. Dogmatically asserting the extra-attentional inexistence of thoughts will not do. We can next fall back upon the solidness of atoms as compared to thoughts, but solidness plays no role in materialism apart from its relation to antitupia and modern interaction, which we have taken to be dependent upon directedness and the ability of distinct objects to communicate, exchange, or make contact with one another. Thoughts, too, may interact with one another, and it has been the job of logic to describe how these relations might be, as a first step, with respect to truth. Logic is our attempt to describe the physical relationships between thoughts when thoughts are projected onto an exterior value space. Logic is an approximation, a dimensional reduction technique that reduces the complexity of thought.
We might still argue that thoughts, whatever they are, are dependent upon a person, or a mechanism capable of thought for their existence, and that atoms are dependent upon nothing, but this conclusion need not follow. Atoms may be dependent upon our world for their existence, and may be dependent upon specific, galactic mechanisms that have yet to be imagined. At its core, materialism may be the belief that there are objects in our universe that do not depend upon the universe for their existence; put simply, the belief in whole-independent parts. Materialism may be the belief that atoms—or strings, or whatever objects—are 58
self-sustaining objects that maintain a ‘free-existence’, that have the capacity to exist outside of our universe, or in no universe at all, as they are in our universe. A philosopher might say that materialistic atoms in our universe exist in every possible universe and nowhere else. Opposed to this position, physicists have imagined how different inflationary
‘bubble’ universes may manifest different universal constants, physical laws, and particles. Universes need not be physically similar with respect to particular content, a content which depends upon the structure of the universe as a whole. Both our atoms and our thoughts are likely dependent upon something else for their existence.
Whereas atoms are directed and open to each other, and thoughts are likely directed and open to each other; we continue to suspect that thoughts and atoms do not participate in this sort of bi-directional directedness. Thoughts and atoms are not thought to make contact or interact with one another, and this belief gives rise to the separation between thoughts and atoms. It is no coincidence that philosophers speak of the unbridgeable gap between mind and body, for the opposite of a gap is making contact or bi-directional directedness in our language.
Although we suppose that thoughts and atoms do not interact with each other, we tend to accept that thoughts may be directed at atoms, a capacity that has classically been called the reference of a thought (or expression). A thought may be directed (refer) at an atom, or at a collection of atoms, such as my thought of the banana I ate for lunch today. In this case, however, my thought is not directed at the atoms that compose the banana, but at my memory of what that banana was like in terms of its weight, smell, color, taste, texture, and so forth. The directedness of my thought is at least two steps removed from the atoms of the banana.
First, it is directed at the memory of the banana, and not the banana itself; and second, it is directed at the perceptual qualities of the banana and how the banana interacted with my body and other bodies, and not the atoms of the banana. We may presumptuously lump perceptual qualities and bodily interactions into the same category, and then take bodily interactions to be the bi-directional directedness, or contact, between bodies and the banana.
Thoughts are not directed at atoms, although thoughts may be directed at the contact, or the memory of the contact, between atoms.
Contact does not imply touching, geometric spatial adjacency, collision, physical impact, or any other material concept. Despite similarities, we are not repeating the perceptual theory of Democritus which assumes that atoms communicate perceptual properties through material 59
collision. Contact does not require spatial proximity in a geometric sense. Most of all, contact requires a receptivity between objects, which may be the opposite of collision. Contact is the bi-directional directedness between objects, and may be a relation between the entire body as a whole (rather than just the tip of my finger) and the complete banana.
Thoughts, then, may be directed at atoms via the bi-directional directedness between atomic collections. This does not imply that thoughts are only directed in this way. We have already discussed how thoughts are directed between each other, and we presume that they may be directed at memories given the above discussion.
Thoughts are not directed at material atoms, but they may be directed at the contact between atoms. This contact is degenerate in the sense that different collections of atoms may interact to produce the same or similar contact. Consider human communication which we have taken to be a canonical example of contact as bi-directional directedness. In communication, we often express one idea in multiple ways, or different people express similar ideas differently. The following expressions potentially communicate the same thing: 1+2, 7-4, and 21/7. While three distinct expressions typically communicate three distinct things, here the communication coincides, and in this sense, communication of 3 is degenerate. I am not claiming that 1+2, 7-4, and 21/7 are the same thing or refer to the same content or meaning; perhaps these expressions are distinct—they most certainly are—but content is not our concern at the moment, only degeneracy of communication.
The above 3 expressions may each communicate multiple things in addition to 3, but again, our focus is upon those aspects communicated degenerately. Perhaps by 1+2, 7-4, and 21/7, I was intending to communicate ‘arithmetic operation’ and not three. There is no way for you to know what I intended to communicate in advance given only those expressions. Suppose I say 1+2, 7-4, and 21/7 again—what did I communicate by that last expression? Let me be specific, I am not simply claiming contextualism of meaning. The context of that previous expression—and you don’t even know what expression I am referring to—reveals little about the intended communication. In fact, the meanings of 1+2, 7-4, and 21/7 have been partly irrelevant with respect to what I have been trying to communicate. I have been trying to communicate that communication entails necessary uncertainty, partially because of the degeneracy of contact. Even when we understand the meaning of a message, we still may not understand the relation between the message and its source, or understand anything significant about the 60
source at all. The same communication may arise from disparate sources, so how are we to differentiate one source from another when we only possess the communication at hand?
Analytic philosophers have been exceptionally sensitive to the degeneracy in communication, which is why they work so hard to formu-late conditions, rules, and logics aimed at removing the degeneracy. Yet the reason philosophers create theories of meaning and knowledge is not for the sake of truth, for being not true was never a problem in the first place, but to remove the degeneracy in communication. Even denying the possibility of knowledge or meaning has this purpose. Let me try to say it another way. People who conjure up theories of knowledge are not doing so because the true theory of knowledge does not exist. Lack of a true theory has never motivated behavior, and we would not even recognize a true theory if we had it. Yet people are motivated. Assuming the motivation of intellectuals is more than fame, prestige, a job, respect, etc; there should also be a motivation arising from an actual problem in the world. Perhaps they simply cannot tolerate disagreement in the world and want to construct theories they can all agree upon—but I doubt that. People often create disparate theories for the purpose of creating disagreement. Or rather, without disagreement, whole depart-ments of philosophy would not even exist—can you imagine an ethics without moral disagreement?
The context of communication may help us to pin down a source, but contexts are communicated as well and are therefore subject to degeneracy. Nor is there a clear dividing line between a piece of communication and the communication of its context. We may attentionally bi-as some communication above other surrounding communication, or value some communication—either morally, pragmatically, epistemolo-gically, etc—above others, but this prioritization need not be natural or objective. Science has progressed, in part, by carefully accounting for environmental contexts, by systematically varying these conditions, and by observing the communication that follows.
Scientific theory and
bridging protocols then become the source of this communication, even though indeterminacy still plagues science as multiple theories and practices can account for the same communication. Scientists thus invoke external limits of simplicity, mathematical elegance, severe tests, and other things in an attempt to further reduce degeneracy, but these attempts are ad hoc and send us back to metaphysics.
Descartes’ worry that an evil demon creates our perceptions, perceptions that can be degeneratively created by ‘actual objects’ and 61
dreams too, is nothing more than acknowledging a fundamental characteristic about communication in our world. Virtual reality simulators mimic our perceptions of the world. An infinite variety of electromagnetic spectra are perceived as the same color. Disparate materials feel and taste the same. These are but a few examples where degeneracy of contact can be collapsed by further investigation, yet how many more situations exist where we assume that the communication is determinate, but further exploration would reveal that our assumptions of determinacy were incorrect? Philosophers like Descartes have not recognized the benefit of degenerate communication, but rather have feared that our perceptions underdetermine what our theories of the world must be. I suggest that communication, whether linguistic or perceptual or otherwise, would be impossible without some degeneracy; otherwise everything received in communication would be a cacophony of noise or nonsense and communication could not be at all. I have difficulty expressing why this so. It has something to do with our inability to simultaneously recognize two things as different members of the same class. It has something to do with my suspicion that language and communication would be impossible without indecipherable differences and classes or kinds of the same; and that a science that attempts to remove all degeneracy is a performative contradiction. It has something to do with the idea that a class can be no more complex than any of its members, for each member possess the attribute of the class in addition to other attributes. Most importantly, it has something to do with seeing science as the process by which the world attempts to communicate with us, rather than an activity by which humans study the world.
Communication is partially uncertain; it is supposed to be this way, for now and perhaps always. But the degeneracy of contact, although thought to be a fundamental problem, is more likely an adaptation that has a purpose. It would not be difficult to contrive a story about why degenerate communication is good, for this sort of evolutionary story-telling is possible about every feature of the world, and therefore not helpful at all. Degeneracy of contact as an adaptation is of course a metaphor; it is a way of saying that the unknown is not all bad. And I am not saying that we should stop trying to reduce the degeneracy of communication, although perhaps we ought to spend more time trying to understand sources in other ways.
Death and Dreamless Sleep
“What do you think it is like to be dead?” asked Abel.
“It won’t be like anything. It will be like dreamless sleep,” Cain replied.
“But what is dreamless sleep like?”
“Like I said, it is not like anything at all. It is nothing.”
“If it isn’t like anything at all, then how can you describe it? You shouldn’t be able to give any sort of description. To say it is like nothing requires you to be acquainted with it. How can you be acquainted with nothing?”
“It is empty and absent, like a perfect void.”
“How do you know that? Do you remember dreamless sleep? But if you claim to remember dreamless sleep, a sleep that was absolutely like nothing, then you must be able to identify dreamless sleep among all of your other experiences. Dreamless sleep must stand out in some way for you to be able to describe it as nothing, but that is a contradiction. Perhaps you believe that you were aware of having dreamless sleep while you were having dreamless sleep?”
“No, I wasn’t aware that I was having dreamless sleep while I was having dreamless sleep. When I awaken from sleep, I can’t recall anything during the period of time when I was having dreamless sleep. It wasn’t like anything at all. I have no memory of it. It is empty time. Being dead will be like that.”
“You seem to be saying that you do not remember anything that took place while you were sleeping. But the fact that you do not recall anything during this time period of sleep does not imply that it is nothing, or is like nothing. Perhaps during dreamless sleep you are entirely aware and active and alive, yet for some reason, when you awaken, you have no memory of this time period. Perhaps it is impossible to create memories during certain periods of sleep, but this absence of memory does not imply nothingness.”
“I agree. In the present, right now while I am awake, I lack memories that would account for the time during dreamless sleep. The time during dreamless sleep is like a hole in my memory. Before bed and after I wake up, I have memory and can tell you a story about what I was experiencing, but during the time in dreamless sleep, I have no memories.
In this sense, when I am describing dreamless sleep ‘like nothing’ I am actually describing my void in memory. The reason I can describe the void in memory is that I recall the before and after the void, or the edges of the void—so it is more like a hole—but I cannot describe what is in the hole, if anything.”
“I agree. So what is dreamless sleep like?”
“I don’t know what it’s like; I only know that I don’t have any memories about it.”
Thus Abel asked again, “So what is it like to be dead?”
“I don’t know,” said Cain, knowing that his brother would soon find out for himself.
Today, or at least in materialistic society, communication is understood as the geometric movement of material properties from one geometric location to another, where a receiver recognizes those received material properties as something other than material properties alone, something often called information. You may recognize a collection of photons as black squiggles on the page, blacks squiggles as letters, letters as a word, the word ‘word’ as the concept and meaning of word, that concept as information, and so forth. In visual communication, colors are often the first things to be recognized, and meanings traditionally the last. The concept of representation is often assumed necessary for any understanding of communication, but it is not. Recognition does not imply that one thing is represented by something else; it simply requires that one thing is also familiar as something else. A particular visual scene may be recognized as a set of words or a bunch of black lines or a collection of meanings or a memory of something past seen and other things still. We are accustomed to believing that statements, such as ‘the crabapple tree in my backyard,’ refers-to or represents an object in the world; but the most we may say is that the statement is also recognized as a theory about the world, a theory associated with particular beliefs and expectations dependent upon the individual recognizing the statement. The statement does not represent or refer-to the theory, just as black lines do not represent or refer-to the words of the statement. The idea that a statement may represent an object is a theoretical belief that some people recognize in statements and others do not.
The scope of our ability to recognize may be grasped in the phenomena of synesthesia, which strikes the non-synesthete as fantastic but is an extension of the multiplicitous recognition that each person makes use of every day. It is of course interesting that some people recognize particular letters and numbers as systematically colored, or that a music-al sound may be also recognized as a visual shape, or that a word may have a particular taste; but all of us who read and hear similarly recognize patterns of color also as words, and recognize patterns of sound as music. We speak as though sensory recognition always takes priority over linguistic recognition in that we recognize particular colored shapes first and words second, but linguistic recognition can subsequently shape sensory recognition as in grapheme-color synesthesia. Words may be recognized as meanings as well as tastes or smells. Music may be recognized as having color and sound. The automatic and involuntary 66
experience of words given a color pattern—forward or non-synesthestic recognition—is similar to the automatic experience of a particular color given a word—reverse, lateral, or synesthestic recognition. Since recognition occurs forward, reverse, and lateral; we ought to assign the givenness of a recognized object with care, if at all.
Representation is similarly the automatic and involuntary recognition of something also as something else, or recognizing a single situation as multiple things. Additionally, in representation we assume that one of the things recognized is distant relative to the other. The distant recognition is called the content of representation, while the near recognition can be called the vehicle of representation. Near recognition is often sensory, such as a color pattern, while distant recognition often includes thoughts, meanings, and theories—things that are distant because they cannot be observed with the senses and because sensory recognition apparently precedes them. We can reverse the direction of this recognition. When we focus attention upon the thought of a tree, we may also automatically recognize the geometric shape of a tree tied to that thought. Since the thought is near, or recognized first, and the shape distant, we may claim that the thought of the tree represents the geometric shape of the tree. The thought is the vehicle of representation and the shape the content. While many things may be called representations or signs, the representational character of a thing is no more than multiplicitous, ordered recognition, where the prior recognition is assumed to be a constant object that spawns other recognitions.
Our brief digression on representation was important in understanding communication, for even the classical conception of communication has no need of it beyond recognition. It is perhaps possible to proceed without dispensing of objective representation altogether, and for those who wish to uphold representation, I say let us give it a try and move forward. Regardless, communication is today tied to the idea of the geometric movement of material properties, and recognition of those material properties also as something else. In classic communication, rather than recognized, material properties are said to be decoded or transformed into meaningful information by the recipient. We have already discussed how the decoding procedure or transformation is dependent upon the recipient, and that this dependency leads directly to skepticism about communication. In addition to this problem, a fully material understanding of communication runs into trouble in that the concepts of information, representation, and meaning are not clearly 67
material. A quick escape from this dualism is to claim that the world is fundamentally composed of information and to work from there.
In classic communication, information itself does not move through space. Material properties propagate through geometric space, and information is reproduced or replicated or created at the receiver. Leaving information undefined, communication is the creation of an instance of information through material properties. But it would appear that the particular medium of communication is not essential, and even the metaphysical material medium is not essential to an understanding of classical communication. The medium may constrain the variety of information that can be communicated, but what matters to us is that an instance of information, whatever that may be, is created. We assume that within communication the information is created within geometric space and within a material receiver, although information itself is not clearly material.
When communication is understood as the creation of an instance of information, we need not commit to a material or idealistic or information theoretic interpretation of the world. We need not yet define the sender and receiver of information, nor say how that transmission of information takes place. We are still left with information as undefined, and perhaps no better defined than communication itself; although in the previous chapter we sought to interpret communication as bi-directional directedness, and made attempts to understand this directedness through everyday acquaintances.
Whatever information is, today it is too easy to come by. It is said that we are flooded with information, that this is the information age, and that we are part of an information revolution. Despite the ubiquity of information, it is still poorly defined. Or perhaps because information is so poorly defined, it is easy to say that information is all around us.
There are many definitions of information, and within specific subfields of enquiry those definitions are appropriate and useful, but we are most interested in the everyday understanding of information, the understanding that allows an entire age to be identified with it. When most people think about information, I imagine that they first imagine a linguistic proposition that is spoken or gestured or viewed as text. When asked if every proposition is information, they will say no and point out that only those propositions newly considered are truly information. If the proposition was already familiar, or already known and believed, then it would not count as informative. It would not be news.
The newness of information has nothing to do with its location in time or whether the information is ‘current’ or ‘just in’; newness is a relation between the proposition and the receiver of the proposition. The proposition need not be objectively new to the receiver. To be new, the proposition need be unfamiliar in some sense or create something that was not there prior. A proposition can be new even if that proposition was witnessed in the past, assuming it was never remembered or forgot-ten prior to witnessing it again. In information, the newness of a proposition is similar to the newness of phenomenal experiences sought by world travelers and thrill seekers, and the newness is similarly addictive, as much newness is.
In addition to newness, informative propositions may also be associated with truth. While philosophers will argue about problems of truth (like here), and if only true propositions potentially qualify as information, an everyday conception of information is not closely tethered to truth. So long as the proposition flows from a reliable source, the receiver of that proposition will consider that proposition information, assuming the receiver also believes the proposition. I am here connecting the reliability of the source to the belief of the receiver with respect to propositions. A source is reliable so long as its propositions are believed; or, if the propositions of a source are believed, then the source is deemed reliable. Although one might assume that a reliable source also checks her facts, is consistent, is law-abiding, always tells the truth, has no con-cealed motives, etc.; these features function only to explain why the receiver believes the proposition and do not play a role in justifying the truth of the proposition itself. To justify the truth of a proposition, one need not know anything about the source of that proposition, but to explain why you believe something, it is enough to say that the proposition arose from a reliable source.
It is perhaps assumed that a reliable source necessarily produces true propositions, or at least probabilistically produces true propositions more often than not. How, then, do we identify these kinds of reliable sources, for they are even more valuable than true propositions? It takes effort and energy to justify just one proposition, but when a reliable source is found, we need only passively listen to the multitude of propositions that arise from it and comfortably accept them as truth. Identifying truth is the job of theologians, philosophers, artists, and scientists, but the job of identifying reliable sources has belonged to the journalist, historian, newscaster, lawyer, blogger, etc. Yet identifying a reliable truth-producing source from a philosophical perspective can be no easier 69
than identifying a true proposition, and the millennia of arguments that bedevil epistemology and ontology will apply when trying to comprehend a source of truth. Truth of information is never proved—and justification often never asked for—thus any hard and fast connection of information to truth would throw suspicion upon all instances of information and invalidate our entire information age.
Reliable sources are sources that produce the propositions we believe. There are many reasons why we believe the propositions from these sources, reasons associated with our history, our socioeconomic context, our biology, our philosophy, our fears, and others; but the essence of a reliable source is its past, present, and future believability. In a similar way we appreciate a particular movie critic as being accurate in her assessment, in the sense that we will like the movies that the critic likes as well. The reasons our likes and the critic’s evaluations match are many and largely unknown, but we evaluate a critic as accurate mostly because our likes coincide. Of course, we may appreciate a critic who disagrees with our likes, but in this case we are not overly preoccupied with the accuracy of the critique and appreciate it for other reasons—its ascetics, curious focus, humor, broader philosophical implications, and others. We may similarly appreciate a source for reasons independent of the believability of its propositions, but we would not call this source reliable with respect to belief, although it may be reliable with respect to consistently providing an interesting perspective or giving us a laugh.
If nothing is known about a source then we are not in a position to judge the reliability of that source at all. If the only things we know about a source are the propositions that emanate from that source, then we can only judge the reliability of the source based upon our belief and disbelief of those propositions, and upon the specific content of those source propositions. Without any other knowledge of the source, our belief and disbelief of those propositions will be based upon reasons outside of the source. If we find that we end up believing most of the source propositions, even if for reasons external to the source, we will come to take the source as reliable, simply because we believe or come to believe those propositions. Future propositions of the source will be believed because past propositions were believed, and that belief will have nothing to do with enduring characteristics of the source itself. Once we accept the source as reliable, it becomes difficult to reject the source, even if evidence throws the source into question. The acceptance of a source as reliable is related to the intentional directedness of that source for the 70
receiver, although someone who is receptive to a source need not believe the propositions that arise from that source.
An instance of information is an instance of a new belief that presumably originates from a reliable source external to the receiver, where reliability and believability are roughly synonymous. Reliability is not a characteristic of the source itself, but a posterior description the receiver projects upon the source based upon the receiver’s beliefs about propositions. We may always challenge claims of origin in definitions, and likewise, we will not argue against someone who claims internal-source origins of information. Regardless, most people take information as having an outside origin in some sense, although such outsideness need not imply a geometric outside, and it is likely not outside in the geometric sense.
Newness plays an important role in information, but we have hardly attempted to understand newness further. Information must be recognized as unfamiliar in order for us to call it information. Is that a contradiction? How do we recognize something unfamiliar? I imagine a taxonomically oriented zoologist runs into similar problems in the wild.
When a previously unknown species is discovered, that instance of the species must certainly be unfamiliar, for it has never been seen or imagined before, yet the zoologist must recognize it as such. He may recognize the new species as a mammal, although he will be hesitant to say that it is a particular mammal that he recognizes. He may recognize it as a mammal, or animal, or moving-thing. When we ask what type of moving-thing, he will say animal; when we ask what type of animal, he will say mammal; when we ask what type of mammal, he may say he does not know, for he has no recollection of such a mammal existing.
A problem arises in that there is no obvious determinate end to our questioning about classification. Although species typically ends the questioning for a zoologist, we may always ask further. If the animal is a Ring-tailed Lemur, we may ask what type of Ring-tailed Lemur is it?
Every particular Ring-tailed Lemur is new if you have not seen it or its perfectly identical twin before. Even though each individual Ring-tailed Lemur you see for the first time is new to you, you would hardly say that each new Ring-tailed Lemur is unfamiliar, although you would presumably be correct in saying so. In contrast, when meeting new people, we would say that they are unfamiliar unless they remind us of somebody else. Presumably lemurs differentiate other lemurs as unfamiliar, although we humans, once we have seen one Ring-tailed Lemur, believe that we recognize them all, in the sense that they are no longer new.
Between the Ring-tailed Lemur species and an individual Ring-tailed Lemur, there are an infinite number of possible categorizations. Just as humans may be sub-categorized in innumerable ways ‘below’ the level of species, there is no obvious end or order to the categorization of other animals. But this is somewhat beside the point.
More relevantly, it appears that recognizing something as unfamiliar requires that it is first recognized in some way—as an animal perhaps—and further, that within that category of the familiar, there must exist sub-categories that are also familiar. Being unfamiliar then implies that something is not a familiar sub-category of something that is familiar, where the familiar in question must automatically invoke sub-categorization for the unfamiliar to be possible. For instance, when the zoologist spots an animal that is familiar as a primate, he will automatically try to sub-categorize this primate further into other familiar sub-categories, but if he does not recognize this primate as belonging to one of the sub-categories, he may say that it is unfamiliar and new. On the other hand, when you see a particular Ring-tailed Lemur but have seen these primates before, you will not typically experience this lemur as unfamiliar, or new, simply because you are not accustomed to automatically sub-categorizing Ring-tailed Lemurs, although an experienced lemur zoologist will. Another example: you do not automatically sub-categorize circles, thus you will never experience a circle as new or unfamiliar, although a topologist might.
something’s sub-category. We are not claiming that things have natural sub-categories—although they may—but we are claiming that the recognizing subject need be able to sub-categorize to appreciate newness.
When something is so foreign that it cannot be recognized at all, that it cannot be recognized as familiar or unfamiliar or described at all, then we do not typically use the words new or unfamiliar. Brutal traumas and spiritual revelations and hallucinogenic trips may be outside of newness, although they may be new in the sense that we have no words to describe them and no past recollections to compare them to. The newly discovered species is not indescribable, and is often similar to other things. A spiritual revelation may be similar to nothing.
We do not have much to say about the form of the relation between the familiar and the sub-categories of the familiar. This form of sub-categorization is not necessarily that of the universal to the particular. It is not necessarily a natural categorization, or a necessary categorization, and even if the sub-categories exist for the subject, if that subject does not 72
automatically or purposefully attempt to sub-categorize the familiar, then he will not be able to appreciate the unfamiliar. We can say that all members of the sub-category belong to the parent-category, but that it just long way of saying sub-category.
You may still feel that something new is simply something that has not been seen before, but almost every piece of dirt on the earth, and every blade of grass, and every bit of gravel, and every drop of rain are new to you in this sense. We hardly appreciate these first-time seen objects as new, although you may do so if you begin to sub-categorize these daily objects. As well, having seen something before does not imply that you cannot appreciate a similar or the same thing as new later on; something past seen may become new to you. So long as you recognize that thing as unfamiliar—because you never memorized it in the first place or have learned to see it differently— it may become new to you.
Our explanation of newness has focused upon objects of recognition, but newness may also be understood as the action of doing something new. If you have never climbed Mount Chomolungma, then climbing that peak for the first time would be new to you. However, explaining the newness of actions by the first-time of actions runs into similar difficulties as above. If you had climbed the peak but have no memory of the climb, then presumably the climb would be new to you on your second-time as well as your first. The newness of action rests upon not-recognizing having done the action, or not-recognizing a temporally extended situation.
Each morning that I get out of bed, I presumable get out of bed in a different manner. That is, the precise movements of my arms and legs, the way I pull the covers, my first steps onto the floor; these change from day to day, albeit not dramatically. Each time I get up in the morning, my way of getting up is different, although I do not appreciate these differences as new actions. It is always the first-time I got up in that manner, but this first-time of getting up in that way is not typically considered new—if anything it is considered the same old thing, the boring routine.
Just as I do not sub-categorize grains of sand, I do not sub-categorize my action of getting up each morning, although presumably if I began to do so, I may one day recognize a way of getting up as unfamiliar or new. In fact, the process itself of sub-categorizing waking-up becomes new, and not because it is the first-time I will do it, but because I will recognize this process as unfamiliar, which implies that I sub-categorize processes, and will not recognize this process as belonging to one 73
of my current sub-categories. I have, in writing these paragraphs, just experienced the newness that I have been trying to explain. Newness also concerns the creation of a sub-category, for if something is not recognized as belonging to current sub-categories, a ‘new’ sub-category is created for it.
Newness involves recognition of something familiar, the process of sub-categorizing the familiar, failing to complete this process, and creating a sub-category in light of this failure. What are the criteria for this failure? We have said that none of the familiar sub-categories will apply to this thing, which implies that we do not recognize the thing as one of the sub-categories suggested by the thing recognized. We have also assumed from the start that something may be recognized as multiple things, where that something is always recognition of something, and not necessarily an objective thing, although recognizing something as objective is of course a type of recognition.
Turning back to the problem of information, we have guessed that an instance of information is an instance of newly believing a proposition. Given our previous analysis, we conclude that newly believing a proposition is not the first-time of recognizing a proposition as true. The first-time is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition or character of newness. We suspect, rather, that the newness of information involves sub-categorization of propositions, but that sub-categorization cannot be one of truth if we are to follow the species analogy. Newness requires that the sub-category is incomplete. We can discover new species because, when trying to sub-categorize an animal, we do not recognize the animal as belonging to a presently known species and must create a new sub-category at the level of species. Sub-categorizing propositions by truth, where the members of that sub-category are true and false (and perhaps both and neither), leaves no room for the creation of a new category within truth. In other words, true propositions and false propositions are never new species of propositions, apart from when true and false propositions—as a species—were newly recognized.
Since the truth of a proposition does not determine its newness, we might suspect that the content of a proposition does. Like a zoologist facing an animal in the wild, we are faced with propositions all around us.
Many of those propositions are recognized as completely familiar with respect to content. We say we have heard or read about that before; it is not newly informative. Other propositions are recognized as partially unfamiliar—not in that we do not recognize the language, the grammar, the font, etc…—but that we do not recognize the particular content as 74
familiar. The content, however, is not completely unfamiliar, just as an unknown animal in the wild is not completely unfamiliar. We may recognize a moving thing as a primate, yet still say that the primate is unfamiliar or new. Propositions, we suspect, may give rise to similar relations with respect to content, whatever content may be.
We may force a taxonomical system upon propositions to make the newness of propositions comprehensible, although it is difficult to say how a recognized proposition can be unfamiliar at all. If the proposition is understood, then what about the proposition could be unrecognizable or unfamiliar? In contrast, when we recognize an object or animal as unfamiliar, we do not completely understand that object and we do not recognize the species. The object must be studied before we reach any understanding of it, and our lack of understanding is a mark of its newness. But the newly informative proposition need not be studied at all to be understood, or at least we imagine that we need not. We may immediately grasp what the content of the new proposition is, whereas we do not grasp what the newly discovered species is. When I am informed that a particular celebrity X just got engaged to celebrity Y, so long as I know who these celebrities are and I understand the act of getting engaged, then I presumably recognize the proposition. We may always skeptically challenge claims of knowledge and understanding. I do not really know these celebrities, nor is the act of engagement a precise physical process, but rather, it is a complex social ritual that has many meanings and functions. Even if these skeptical uncertainties are accepted, they do not contribute positively or negatively to our understanding of the newness of the proposition. What matters is recognition of the proposition, a recognition that need not be true to be recognized.
Although the first-time of a proposition does not ground its newness, we may wish to say that our lack of memory about the proposition grounds its newness. The proposition is new because I have no memory of reading or hearing or thinking or feeling the proposition in the past.
Yet what grounds our lack of memory of the proposition? It is not the fact that I have never read or heard or thought or felt the proposition before. One could have read a proposition in the past and yet have no memory of that proposition as well.
In many cases of information, the content of the newly informative proposition is all too familiar. When a medical researcher claims to have discovered a new treatment for lung cancer—and I am aware of the re-cursive nature of this example—most of us will recognize this claim as familiar. In order for the proposition to be newly informative, we will 75
have to accept that ‘new treatment’ refers to something that is unfamiliar, even though the words of the proposition are quite familiar. We may treat ‘new treatment’ as we do the newly discovered animal species, and understand the newness of the proposition with respect to sub-categorization. Unlike recognizing an animal as unfamiliar upon direct confrontation, we do not directly recognize the phrase ‘new treatment’ as unfamiliar. To do so, we must imagine that ‘new treatment’ stands in for something that we do not have a category for, even though it is possible that ‘new treatment’ refers to something that we are well-acquainted with. The newness of this proposition, without further investigation, is the act of imagining something beyond our current categories; it is the act of imagining that we would not recognize a species of treatments for lung cancer upon confrontation.
But in our previous example of information, where we were newly informed that celebrity X got engaged to celebrity Y, presumably none of the terms are directed at unfamiliar things, or at least these terms are not unfamiliar in the same way that a ‘new treatment’ for lung cancer is unfamiliar. Even the complete proposition may be quite familiar at the time of receiving this proposition as information. A fan of these celebrities may have hoped or imagined or dreamed that celebrity X got engaged to celebrity Y, or even hopes for this on a daily basis. Upon receiving this newly informative proposition, the content itself cannot be said to be new in any way, rather, it is our belief in the proposition that is new. If the belief is already present then the proposition is not informative. Suppose that you presently believed that celebrity X got engaged to celebrity Y at the time of receiving this proposition as information; in this situation, you would hardly call this proposition newly informative.
This is like someone telling you what your name is and expecting that proposition to count as information, presuming you recognize someone saying the name you believe you have.
What causes someone to newly believe a proposition? I am exhausted by too many things to list. Then in what sense is a belief new?
We could say that the belief is new because the belief did not exist prior to its creation, but this formula—like many I have used—smacks of tautology. Newly informative propositions are the creation of propositional beliefs; they are perhaps more similar to new constructions than to new species in the wild. But what is constructed is not all new. Everything constructed is constructed out of something and that something need not be new. Perhaps it is the form or the whole of the thing constructed that is new, but these too need not be new, at least no more new than a copy 76
or a simulation. Yet a newly created copy is still new in some way; it is the increase in number of something by one, but then we may also say that newness is the quantitative repetition of something, and we are led to conclude that quantitative repetition and newness are similar, a formula that smacks of contradiction. A copy may nonetheless be new, but not through number.
One mark of construction is the effort that accompanies the thing constructed. Construction of a skyscraper requires massive effort from multiple people, and even a copy of a skyscraper is hardly easier to build from the perspective of effort. In contrast, photocopies of paper docu-ments are produced with little effort, and in this sense they are ‘less new’
than a copy of a skyscraper. Although effort can help us to understand newness, we have also seen that effort is a problematic concept and have claimed that effort is not the conscious expenditure of mechanical energy, although is it the expenditure of
something. We have suggested that effort concerns exceeding local natural laws, where our notion local depends upon what is exceeded.
An artistic forger may paint a copy of the Mona Lisa, and to do so may require great effort on the part of the forger, yet this effort primarily reflects overcoming the natural law of the forger, and does not reflect a broader overcoming of nature as when it was painted by da Vinci. Da Vinci exceeded more than his local self with this painting.
With respect to information, it is not clear that effort, at least in the sense above, plays a great role in grounding the newly informative. In fact, our information age is characterized by easy access to information; it is understood as the making of information effortless and quick. If I want informative propositions, I need only access the internet and type in my search. In the past it was presumably more difficult to unearth the informative propositions I desired. I may have wanted to know about a particular species of plant. I would have traveled to the nearest collection of books—presuming I had a transportation method and the time and strength to do so—or attempted to locate an expert by word of mouth. I would have searched for a book on plants if I could find one. I may have been able to find the information I wanted, or perhaps such information did not exist at all. The effort required to obtain information appears to be less today than it was in the past, although I say appears because not every proposition that claims to be informative about something is informative about that thing. Every proposition may be informative, but we can no longer assume, for instance, that a proposition composed of plant words is about plants, and today it requires new 77
effort to discover what each proposition is informative about. The easy access to informative propositions is in part counterbalanced by the difficulty in determining the reason for the presence of the information.
But our concern was not with the effort required in finding information, but the effort required in forming new beliefs. How does the formation of belief demand effort? I see within me a tendency to resist the formation of beliefs. This does not imply that I believe nothing, or always try to resist belief formation, but rather, there is a natural barrier to the formation of beliefs similar to the activation energy barrier that chemical processes must overcome to create products. Those practiced in the art of persuasion and manipulation have developed techniques to catalyze the belief barrier, to lower ones resistance to the formation of beliefs. Fear and desire are perhaps the most commonly hijacked resources used to catalyze beliefs. A belief that decreases the fulfillment of a fear or increases the fulfillment of a desire tends to form more readily, all things being equal. As well, a belief that increases the fulfillment of a fear or decreases the fulfillment of a desire will not be readily created.
We may also talk about the destruction of present beliefs in similar ways.
Unlike a chemical reaction that can continually produce products so long as reactants are available, once a particular belief is formed, the production process ceases. A particular belief cannot be replicated or copied within a single individual, or we assume that the practical consequences of a replicated belief within an individual are none. Within an individual, a belief may be destroyed and subsequently reformed. It is not, however, certain that the reformed belief will be the same as the belief that was destroyed. Anyway, since the presence of a belief necessarily blocks the new formation of that belief—even though a belief may be constantly undergoing formation in some sense—we conclude that newness and presence are directed at one another, at least with respect to beliefs.
Ease of belief formation tells us something about how easily a proposition can become newly informative, although it does not directly explain newness itself. Our informative proposition about celebrity engagement is easy to believe, independent of our desires and fears, although it is likely easier to believe for someone who desires the proposition to be true. Perhaps ease-of-belief and desire-for-truth are approximately equivalent propositional attitudes. Regardless, the newness of this information follows from the absence of belief, since the presence of the belief would have prevented the information from newly forming. But isn’t this the negative counterfactual logic that we have argued against as 78
incomplete and uninformative? And how is the presence of a belief any different than the presence of a memory? To proceed further we must look at the relation between newness, presence, and absence.