Monday, October 29, 2007

Meaning vs. Information

Critical differences:

I can determine the information in a response by extra- linguistic methods. To grasp (understand ) the meaning I need to understand the utterance or have it translated into a language I do understand. The information can be determined by purely scientific, ie., technical, non-linguistic methods. This is how the fly gets out of the bottle, non linguistic understanding of language. Information extraction from neurological systems is high tech in practice, but we only have to do it in principal, that’s why our efforts are philosophical.

Meaning can involve some non-cognitive, emotive elements, information concerns only the cognitive elements if there are any. (Ow!). Meanings relate to other meanings by way of synonyms. Information relates to information by virtue of type or quantity, or driving functions.

“Aboutness” or reference: If I know what an utterance means, I know what it’s about, if it’s a proposition say. Similarly if I know the information producing an utterance I know what its about, this is where the two concepts come together. The difference between the two is that if I know the information content of an utterance, I don’t have to understand it to know what it is about.! ( Here to know the information content is to identify the driving function(s)).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Being, the Absolute…..

“Being is, being is what is, being is the other of nothingness.” (Sartre? I seem to remember this from somewhere.) “The absolute takes part in evolution but does not itself evolve.” (Hegel?) Instead of asking what these statements or others like them mean, or how we would determine if they are true or not, let us ask another question: What information is being conveyed in propositions like these?

Suppose we were to wire up these mighty brains while they were penning this sort of stuff and trace the neurological activity back through their nervous systems. What would we find? The Absolute or Being itself banging on their nervous systems? Or would we find patterns of activity in their auditory cortex related to their previous auditory (reading is auditory finally) experiences,
modified and re- rendered following only syntactic constraints to emerge as a new metaphysical proposition. (I assume statements like these are not the result of visual or other sensory mode hallucinations.) The information contained in or represented by propositions like these concerns only the states of the brains that produce them

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Suppose we monitor the motor cortex, tracing back from the Betz cells ( the output layer to the lower nervous system, everything later is “mechanical”) to try to determine the information in a linguistic response. We trace the excitation back to the pre-motor areas and then perhaps to the sensory regions of the brain. We could determine then, for example, that the information was sensory in origin and that the motor response was produced in part by a driving function in the associative visual cortex for example, say a “grandmother cell” in Broadmann’s 19 for example.

We need not be concerned about the general supporting activity that makes any motor response possible, or about the exact nature of the recognition or recall process that produces the driving function and specific information in the response, these are psychological problems, our epistemological concerns or only with the type of information in the response. Neither are we concerned with the specifics of the response, what phonemes are produced or what marks are made on the paper, the language and all particulars of the method of rendition are epistemologically irrelevant.

This is an important advance over current “input side” empirical epistemology. Now we can say what the content or information in an element of verbal behavior really is, where it comes from, what sort of information it contains. It is all sensory or noise related to sensory information in the broadest sense.

What about thoughts? Do we have any metaphysical thoughts that we cannot express in language, that is in motor behavior? If not, the above analysis works. But even if I have my non- expressible transcendental notions, they are patterns of activity in the auditory cortex (neural reminiscence), and the information that produces them is likely either auditory or obscurely rendered noise in the system.

Friday, October 19, 2007


It is necessary to say that we can have experiences, at least their phenomenal aspects without knowing it. Awareness is not necessary for experience.

Sensory experience has two aspects: Phenomenal and informational. Once you get past the transducer level the experience is reduced to pure information. IMPD can only exist at the transducer level, after that it’s all streams of line labeled (for the specific information) action potentials. Its all the same inside our heads, and even in the post- transduction neurological events outside our heads. The basic problem is this: It’s hard to explain why seeing is seeing and hearing is hearing by just looking at the optic and auditory nerve activity and subsequent upstream activity inside our heads.

Phenomenal aspects of experience exist only at the transducer level: retina, organ of Corti, skin sensors etc. Yet we are aware of it, this is what we actually experience, not the information content. But all responses to the sensation require information and a functioning nervous system in back of the peripheral sensors. Knowing that I have a sensation is a brain operation, having the sensation is a transducer function.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Information is causation by variation, when the variation is causative in the effected system. Information is causative not because of the fundamental aspects of the medium of transmission, i.e., energy, momentum, mass etc., but because of some other aspect of the transmission. Information involves a signal, not simply mechanical, fluidic, or even basic electro-magnetic influences.

Information is causal, in part but not totally, in the causal nexus of the processes the information generates. Information is about process, about activity in information sensitive systems. ( “The stone is thinking about Vienna. “ We want to show that this is false on information theoretic grounds and not simply on psychological- physiological grounds. Stones can’t think because they aren’t information sensitive systems.)” Information storage” is a problem in particular technologies, e.g. hard drives, but is not a fundamental problem in information epistemology. Information is transient process, its origins and causes.

The most fundamental idea in epistemic information theory is “conversion with conservation.” The informative media can be coded, converted, changed, altered, translated, yet something is conserved: the information. This is a new idea, an invariance despite gross physical change, a continuity across process, a causal influence that changes form


Why is empiricism true? Why should we believe that all knowledge of the external world is developed through sensory experience, or has it’s origins in sensory experience? (This second formulation is more interesting.) What precisely is wrong with metaphysics?

Modern versions of “traditional” empiricism are concerned with only the input side of cognition. The inputs to the black box. The workings of the box were irrelevant: science-psychology. But stopping at the input is an arbitrary position, and the opposition’s position is based on theories of what’s going on inside the box. Rationalism is about more than input. Metaphysics depends on a theory of what’s happening in the box, on mentalism, in fact on interactive dualism, although proponents may not always admit it or even realize it.

Empiricism needs a reformulation in terms of information theory.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ancient Smarts

Archaeologists apparently think that ancient stone builders produced close fit in their building stones for aesthetic reasons, Actually the reasons were probably structural. Rough, irregular contact surfaces lead to high localized stresses, local crumbling failures, dust (lubricant), structural instability. Did they figure this out, a rather sophisticated technical notion? Maybe they were going on a theory of geometric stability –easier to stack bricks than boulders.

All the ancients did it, Mayans, Egyptians etc. almost certainly an engineering consideration. You can’t use the same set of tools for determining flatness or smoothness over thousands of years on different continents. You need concepts, and they can’t be operationally defined. Flatness and smoothness can be tactilely or visually determined, but you have to relate the knowledge of what is to be done, not just how to do it.

(( Write Transport Canada, mention Ca Zev experience -$400kk, new occ. kinematics, new performance criteria. Can they cooperate with other commonwealth members, Aussies, Anzies?. Determine total global market share we could influence, NA share?))

Sense Data

A casual inspection of sense data theory suggests that the IMPD problem is not central, nor perhaps even considered. Does any one ask why sense datum have the secondary properties they do?

Dualism will not survive on quantum-mechanical tricks (Popper –Eccles), little miracles going on inside our heads against an informative theory of network function. Network operation is the key problem, especially the problem of syntactic (timed, structured, sequenced, controlled) behavior. The problem with the single photon response example is that in order to get this sensitivity, a whole lot of other things have to be going on, everything else has to be shut down or inhibited. Banging on a single receptor on a single neuron won’t do it, this selectivity, concentration, focus, whatever has to be generated by a whole lot of other activity. Focus or sensitivity has to be dialed in, that’s the problem, the system is too sensitive and has to be globally inhibited, that’s why we have GABA all over the place.

If a sufficient amount of GABA is lacking, however, the system goes out of whack, and tens of thousands of neurons send messages rapidly, intensely and simultaneously, resulting in a seizure.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Moving the experiential level out to the sensors does no good. Its still the same sort of neuro- biochemistry out there. Moving it to the interphase level would seem to be required.

This is the best argument yet for the ghost in the machine, but the ghost has to have a really great home entertainment system for presenting the external world show. Introducing the ghost here really only ends the explanation, metaphysics as the terminator of enquiry rather than as an initiator- a god of the gaps introduced at some electro-physiological level.

The problem is that it is not clear what sort of account of the variations in neural network activity could be seen as sufficient explanation for IMPD. IMPDs are as different as different gets, comparisons are impossible, yet the underlying physiology does not seem to admit to this order of qualitative difference

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Perhaps the closest conventional notion to a driving function is denoted by the term “concept”. Most (all?) concepts are universals, so we are dealing with the notion of universals or universal terms. But there is a problem. “Red”, phonetically, may denote a color, a communist, or the past tense of “read (ing)”. Alphabetically, the choices are fewer, but the problem still remains. Concepts are not motor engrams, neither are driving functions.

Driving functions select but do not generate motor behavior (alone), in this they are like concepts. They are cognitive (i.e., including or using specific, situational information ) determinants of behavior. Concepts are conglomerations of driving functions Note that my concept of the color red may include my capability to visually perceive and recognize it, as well as my understanding that it is associated with light of a certain wavelength and the fact that ripe apples are frequently red. The first aspect of my mastery of this concept is determined by the operation of my visual system and a driving function that involves color detection/ recognition processes. The later two aspects are part of a knowledge base probably stored in auditory memory. Different brain areas, different driving functions, but all part of the same concept.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


The nervous system seems to work by disinhibition (Deutche). To keep very sensitive electro-chemical elements from going off at random due to noise or even thermal effects and still maintain sensitivity the whole system must be under constant inhibition. Function then requires disinhibition, How does this work?. Does the nervous system inhibit the inhibitors? But for a response the causal information must be in some sense specific, the recognition network at least must effect its own disinhibition. Or is the disinhibition more global? Perhaps a visual stimulus disinhibits the entire visual cortex, the specific recognition network activated depending on the precise nature of the stimulus. But what about motor output? Several possibilities: 1. the entire motor system is disinhibited, 2.the specific response network is disinhibited by its own activity, 3. the recognition network disinhibits the specific response network due to a previous learning process.

" The cortical motor system of primates is formed by a mosaic of anatomically and functionally distinct areas. These areas are not only involved in motor functions, but also play a role in functions formerly attributed to higher order associative cortical areas. In the present review, we discuss three types of higher functions carried out by the motor cortical areas: sensory-motor transformations, action understanding, and decision processing regarding action execution. We submit that generating internal representations of actions is central to cortical motor function. External contingencies and motivational factors determine then whether these action representations are transformed into actual actions.. "Rizzolatti G, Luppino G., The cortical motor system. Neuron. 2001 Sep 27;31(6):889-901.

What is an “ internal representation” of an action? Consider a simple verbal response to a question: “What color is it?” – “Red” We can say the response, sign the response, write the response with either hand, scratch it in the dirt with a stick, trace it in the sand with our feet. The motor responses are highly variable potentially. What do they all have in common?

Many of these responses are similar from a motor behavior point of view –writing or scratching or tracing- yet not identical from a mechanical point of view. There are at least two different response modalities- vocal, mechanical. Is there, can there be a common neurological element after the visual recognition process, that is common to all of them? Something which is producing the response, or driving the response network, a driving operation or “driving function”?


The most fundamental fact about sensory experiences, aside from the fact that we have them, is that they are all qualitatively different. Hearing the violin is nothing at all like seeing it which is nothing at all like touching it or smelling the varnish on it. Sensory modalities are fundamentally different experientially, yet this is hard to explain on the neurological level. Let us call these differences: Inter- Modal Phenomenal Differences, or IMPD.

Neurological activity is all basically sodium cations flowing through semi- permeable membranes. The patterns may change, but so what? Is this suppose to account for IMPD? Why is a pattern of activity in the auditory cortex so different at the experiential level from a pattern of activity in the visual cortex? The sensory organs are different off course, but we are not aware of the states of our sensory organs without higher level neurological activity. Further, from brain stimulation experiments, it looks like we can have sensory experience without sensory organ simulation. (Is there retrograde activity out this far with direct electrical simulation of the brain?)

Am I directly aware of the state of my sensory organs? This would seem hard to maintain. It would seem that I am the sensation in that having the sensation is a state that I’m in, I am the sensing thing and the sensation. The total state of the organism is that of having or being aware of the sensation. If –sense organ stimulation and central neurological activity apart, each separately, are not enough for experience , which seems likely.

Can brain stimulated people know that their current experience is different from that which occurs due to external stimulation? They can figure it out by consideration of their total situation –“I’m in an operating room now, not out in the woods listening to a bubbling brook”, but they cannot sense the difference.