"For philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday."
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I'm not sure about the red fedora, but otherwise Raymond Tallis sounds like fun.
There's another review of his most recent book here. Part of it reads thus:
One of Tallis's central points is the discussion of "information". This word plays a central role in the Dawkins/Dennett world view, much more important and less obvious than the nonsense about "memes". Brains, computers, and even life itself, are all said to be processing information. DNA itself is pure digital information. But the word here needs scare quotes throughout, for it has two quite different and separate senses. The older usage of the term is inextricably bound up with meaning: information is something you know that carries a meaning. It is, in engineer's jargon, signal, rather than noise. Information, in this sense, is always information to someone or some system.
But there is a second sense of "information", arising from electrical engineering, and the beginnings of computer science, in which it is entirely measurable, and can be broken into discrete chunks. This has been an important and productive understanding – I couldn't be typing and you couldn't be reading without that kind of information science – but it came at the price of breaking "information" entirely away from meaning. Tallis quotes one of the pioneers in the field: "Information, in this theory is used in a special sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage. In particular, information must not be confused with meaning. In fact, two messages, one of which is heavily loaded with meaning, and the other of which is pure nonsense, can be exactly equivalent, from the present viewpoint, as regards information."