2010.04.04 19:00 - Information-for-Somebody

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    The Guardian for this meeting was Calvino Rabeni. The comments are by Calvino Rabeni.

    This informal philosophical dialogue looks from a variety of perspectives at the cluster of ideas around the concept of "information".

    Calvino Rabeni: Hello Mitzi - how are you
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Oh pretty good - still feeling a little behind the curve task wise
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: However I wanted to come here for a while at least.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: How are you?
    Calvino Rabeni: Good but a little scattered tonight
    Calvino Rabeni: Like a weather report :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Perhaps it's cosmic weather
    Calvino Rabeni: Partly cloudy, scattered thoughts
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I typed the phrase re: cosmic weather *before* I saw your "like a weather report" cosmic huh?
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes it was an atmospheric condition
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Are you doing voice chat? I never figured out how to do it ... simple I'm sure.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Cosmic weather - reminds me of a topic we touched on briefly before ...
    Calvino Rabeni: I think not hard, but my mic often didn't work. When I use skype it's another computer
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... Sheldrake's morphic fields and his idea that thoughts don't really reside in the brain ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... but in a morphic field, and that the brain is an organ finely tuned to "pick up" on what's going on in those fields.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So that truly our thoughts may be not our own but determined somehow by the field we're attuned to ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... which is at least species-specific ... but perhaps even more wavelengths exists per species ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... ethinic, political, chemical, vibratory wavelengths ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I like this idea because it flies in the face of conventional thought.
    Calvino Rabeni: That seems like a fun reason to like an idea :)
    Calvino Rabeni: I find myself entertaining various "flighty" thoughts :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes! It's as good a reason as any I figure. Plus it makes me feel happy.
    Calvino Rabeni: :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Fllighty thoughts!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Perhaps they just float into your field of view like these cute dragonflies.
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes - thoughts that take flight
    Calvino Rabeni: They weren't meant to plod leadenly :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I also like that idea because it is liberating - frees us from soem pretty ingrained ideas about how and why we have these funny thoughts.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: The ingrained ideas about our own mental activity do feel a bit burdensome and leaden. So much responsibility.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: If I am responsible for my thoughts, and they are so crazy, why that would make anyone feel depressed.
    Calvino Rabeni: Suppose however, we could keep the mass and density of the thoughts the same, but convert their other qualities, ending up with something like a sacred trust?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: A sacred trust that we as humans hold in common? Like we all share responsibility for the health of the planet?
    Calvino Rabeni: That could be a good example
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I think that there are people meditating in caves in the Himalayas (or wherever they are) who could be improving the human thoughtfield ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: But, perhaps there is only so much a small group can do.
    Calvino Rabeni: Lucky for us - while we leave the job to them ?
    Calvino Rabeni: Take your average person - ask them if they want (a small piece of that job) - what would happen?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Humanity as a whole probably has to step up, or a critical mass thereof, to greater clarity ... Seems more like how it might be
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: If they believe in the cosmology, I think a lot of average people would respond
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I mean, prayer, miracles, belief in the supernatural, is pretty widespread.
    Calvino Rabeni: The morphic fields idea you mentioned earlier - reminds me of something that seems similar
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: uh huh? go on
    Calvino Rabeni: To wit - what is "information"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: is that from "information theory" ?
    Calvino Rabeni: There is no general theory of information that covers the variety of things people try to mean by the term
    Calvino Rabeni: And no candidate for a unifying philosophy, I think
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: so ... then, what is "information"?
    Calvino Rabeni: I thoght you might have an idea :)
    Calvino Rabeni: The question is, what is the best one can do with the notion?
    Calvino Rabeni: Perhaps it is to look at all the various incompatible and incommensurable ideas
    Calvino Rabeni: Or perhaps to use loose analogies
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Well as you probably know by now, I'm rather cautious about using words just willy nilly
    Calvino Rabeni: Well I am afraid in this case there's little choice
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: such as "information"
    Calvino Rabeni: So the dilemma is either strike it from vocabulary, which then results in a lack of participation in a very wide scale dialogue, or use it willy nilly
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Well I can inquire a bit further into what you think the word means ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... this gives more "information" and reduces the willy-nillieness ...
    Calvino Rabeni: What I think it means, is the total of everything it seems to invoke in its usage, as well as I underatand it
    Calvino Rabeni: I would not deign to choose favorites at this point, and invalidate most claims it has in practice
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I feel it has a bit of the connotation of "data" - a kind of neutral, but broad word, indicating useful nuggets of mind-stuff
    Calvino Rabeni: There you go, nice
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... that "afford" being organized with other nuggets into larger aggregates ...?
    Calvino Rabeni: So this mind stuff - thoughts? - ideas? - it is famously hard to locate them
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Indeed!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: You said morphic fields reminded you of "information: ...?
    Calvino Rabeni: With a topic this general and amorphous it can be hard to charge in and seize something definite
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Well, go for it Calvino. I sense you may have the energy to charge in.
    Calvino Rabeni: The analogy I was considering is, if you tried to "locate" a thought, it would be pretty non-localized, a lot like your morphic fields
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Can we locate thoughts in our body awareness? For example, do they arise in the center of the forehead and then drift to the left?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: (that's what mine seem to do right now anyway?)
    Calvino Rabeni: Maybe they originate in the field around you, and that is they way they become represented to you
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes possibly. But in terms of first person empiricism ... that would be more speculative ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... whereas describing them in terms of body awareness at least brings something empirical into the picture.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ...maybe "empirical" is the wrong word. So, rephrasing ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: describing thoughts with any type of descriptor, such as perceived location, direction of movement, any other qualities one can discern in any senses, is at least something more definite, describable, not so vague.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So what if you designed an experiment where you have groups of people
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... focusing on some specific thought or image provided by the experimentor ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: and asked them to describe anything definite along those lines they can sense internally.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Then collate the words in a database, analyze it and see if there are any statistically significant words that appear.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Do this with various kinds of images or thoughts. Is there anything that falls out that's non-random?
    Calvino Rabeni: There's a similar approach in the field called "experimental philosophy" with respect to the idea of "consciousness"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... this idea would fall within the project you were describing to me earlier - the neurophenomenology project.
    Calvino Rabeni: It could be considered a kind of folk anthropology
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Oh, yes, you mentioned that term before ... and now I get more of the meaning
    Calvino Rabeni: It begs the question about the object of study - is it "consciousness" (or whatever) or folk theories about it
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes, I can see that - so perhaps one doesn't need to define the object of study as something so nebulous.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Maybe one could just study how people associate sensations with words.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Or some such ... then perhaps interesting insights could appear that may shed light on the bigger picture
    Calvino Rabeni: That would probably have a tacit idea of what was being described, and it could be interesting
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Then you could see what the effect might be if someone is in another room being emotional about one of the words.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Or if there's a big event in the news, such as the earthquake today in Baja and L.A.
    Calvino Rabeni: One can also look at a "nebulous" concept and try to assess its connotations
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Sure!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Supposedly dictionary people do that to define a word.
    Calvino Rabeni: For instances, many notions of information say, that it causes a change in knowledge
    Calvino Rabeni: Hi Lucinda
    Lucinda Lavender: hi
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Ah! That's a Varela thing isn't it.
    Calvino Rabeni: So if I give you a japanese phone book, it doesn't contain much information-for-mitzi
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Hi Lucinda, nice to see you again!
    Calvino Rabeni: This notion seems pretty subjective
    Lucinda Lavender: nice to see you
    Calvino Rabeni: How can it "contain" information at all, if the quantity of that "substance" depends on whether you are educated, or sleepy, or motivated, or paying attention? It's not much of a rationale for either substance or containment.
    Calvino Rabeni: Well, how can we let Lucinda in on this? :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Maybe we say, Hi Lucinda, what's on our mind?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: And get back to "information" later on.
    Calvino Rabeni: Lucinda, we have "information" in the stew pot -and now you have new ingredients for our recipe :)
    Lucinda Lavender: hi guys...it happens that I got in here and then people srated iming me
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I meant to type "what's on YOUR mind" ... but maybe "what's on OUR mind" is revealing!
    Lucinda Lavender: sorry...I want to attend to more than one thing for a second
    Calvino Rabeni: Lucinda gets "information" from dreams, which seem like an extremely distributed field.
    Calvino Rabeni: I think, clarifying "information" gets into the whole question about knowledge and whether it is localizable
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So from the japanese phone book image, it is clear that information does not exist on its own, like a rock ...
    Calvino Rabeni: Unless you adopt a specialized, restricted definition
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... but has elements of the receiver or user of the information as a key component of its specification
    Calvino Rabeni: If you think of it as referring to a process, yes
    Calvino Rabeni: That process would be pretty complex and not easy to delimit
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... hmmm .. the word "knowledge" feels like it belongs to a living entitity, whereas information might be seen as living independently ... moreso anyway .
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I could say that the Japanese phone book containes information, but that I don't posess the qualifications to access that information.
    Lucinda Lavender: I am back...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Welcome.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: After contemplating the Japanese phone book example, I am now wing to say that information lives independently of a perceiver ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: willing (wing) (flighy thoughts filitting in)
    Calvino Rabeni: What if it were in a lost language - no one could interpret it
    Calvino Rabeni: I don't have a problem with that, by the way
    Calvino Rabeni: as at one time in its history, it was an expression of "knowers" that may have existed
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Like ancient Mayan scripts - those who saw the carvings *knew* they contained information by the complexity and arrangements of the forms - they just didn't know specifically *WHAT* the content was ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Makes me think of diviners ... they are seeing information in things like sheep entrails or the patterns of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup and gleaning meaning from those ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... we may have culturally determined prejudices as to what complexities we consider "information" and what we just look right past ....
    Calvino Rabeni: Or dream interepretation? That seems partly of the same nature - projective
    Calvino Rabeni: But I don't think that's the main aspect of it
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes, very much the same
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: the forms within dreams come from within the same system that is interpreting them ...
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes
    Lucinda Lavender: I think of the dreams I have had that are seeing ahead dreams...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... whereas students of ancient inscriptions are not (at least presumably not?) within the same system that generated the forms they study.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Seeing ahead dreams?
    Calvino Rabeni: Except insofar as the system is embedded in generic aspects of humans and their surrounding reality
    Calvino Rabeni: Anticipation - hard to tell how / if it works
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes that occured to me! Many assumptions to be not taken for granted
    Calvino Rabeni: "If you know the road a man is on, you know something of where he came from and will be in the future"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: We may need to be blind to information within our grasp in order to maintain some customary comfortable condition
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So an outsider can often see us clearly because they have no skin in the game.
    Lucinda Lavender: I can only describe the dreams as showing images that I may see in the next day or week or year
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Have you experienced seeing the image and then remembering you saw it earlier in a dream?
    Lucinda Lavender: yes
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: When that has happened, how do you feel?
    Lucinda Lavender: I woke one day to the vision of a chicken dead in my yard.
    Lucinda Lavender: I woke and thought I must get home to check the chickens this morning after I take my son to school.
    Lucinda Lavender: I spent a long time at school, returned home and saw the chicken dead in the exact spot in the yard.
    Lucinda Lavender: For me it is usually an image that would evoke love, concern etc.
    Lucinda Lavender: It feels like a wake up call
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: When you saw the chicken, how did you feel?
    Lucinda Lavender: regret
    Calvino Rabeni: There's no such thing as a neutral arrbitrary background aganist which knowledge takes its significance - the contexts just go on....
    Calvino Rabeni: Sorry that's so abstract relative to your chicken story :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes Calvino I agree with that.
    Calvino Rabeni: It was left over from before Lucinda started that part of our talk
    Lucinda Lavender: I see, that is fine.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Lucinda's dream transcends the word "information" somewhat - it seems to need a word that means something more definite and meaningful.
    Calvino Rabeni: But it seems like an arbitrary distinction in a continuity of potential ways of being meaningful
    Calvino Rabeni: That is, is there a natural "kind" where something exists with enough definiteness to be called "information"?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I love that sentence! "an arbitrary distinction in a continuity of potential ways of being meaningful." Almost seems like a definition of meaning.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Some distinctions are more arbitrary than others.
    Lucinda Lavender: are you talking here about things that have a high potential to happen ?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Not so much, we were hashing about in the realm of word meanings ... but I'd like to hear what you might be thining about along those lines (dreams)
    Calvino Rabeni: One thing I noticed in my surveys of the idea of information,is that there a strong desire in philosophical circles, for there to be some objective "truth" to what is represented by the information.
    Lucinda Lavender: some people I know talk about how the dreams express what has a potential to come about
    Lucinda Lavender: and do you feel that is true the objective nature if it?...
    Calvino Rabeni: No
    Calvino Rabeni: I think the theory would be better off without that
    Lucinda Lavender: because we effect the out come as we observe?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: that is a good observation Calvino. Perhaps anthroplogical study of philosophers actions and utterances/writings might yield an interesting view of what they are up to.
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, I think it is better seen as part of the history of ideas
    Calvino Rabeni: Because the vast amount of ideas and "knowledge" has only a tenous relationship to any truth of objective situations
    Calvino Rabeni: Stories, fanasies, ungrounded notions,
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Perhaps instead of seeking objective truth (which is a loaded term), they might be satisfied with an agreement on a way to describe complex systems?
    Calvino Rabeni: That would be an attractive basis for an integral theory
    Calvino Rabeni: The requirement seems to get smuggled into the philosophy by way of representation theory
    Calvino Rabeni: In other words, the idea that representations (or ideas) have to be "about something"
    Calvino Rabeni: But what if it all a big show, a "show about nothing"?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Neural network theory - linear algebra - set theory (as in groups and generators - terms which I use a bit tentatively since I'm not sure exactly what they mean - provide some tools ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... to delve into and describe some of the messy inbetween-ness ...
    Calvino Rabeni: I have reservations about this
    Calvino Rabeni: If the deliver an artificial clarity
    Calvino Rabeni: or are used in a more realistic, but metaphoric way
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: between the seemingly so cut-and-fried words we use so confidently and the fuzzier realm of their possible referents ....
    Calvino Rabeni: You might know, there's been a call for using mathematics for creating a more precise language for phenomenology
    Calvino Rabeni: Same idea
    Calvino Rabeni: A precise language seems to be quite tempting, to create a new instance of reification - the myth of the given
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... there could be a way to group these referents into distinct groupings that have enough of a coherence to qualify as a u nit, yet include many variations so one cannot say they are precisely "the same" just generally similar.
    Calvino Rabeni: Perhaps a very abstract math like category theory, might be useful because it avoids sneaking in unwarranted precision
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Similar enough to warrant using the same word to name them in a common-sense way.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Just had to finish my thought there ... yes! I'm very leery of the sneaking in of unwarranted precision! Very well said.
    Calvino Rabeni: You might also know, that algebraic techniques like that are being used as a search technique in databases of "informal knowledge" representation
    Calvino Rabeni: But I think they have to be seen as heuristics, not as definitions of any "meaning' of the so called knowledge contained in those databases
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes, that seems to be a questions that is coming up again and again - can we define meaning?
    Calvino Rabeni: Because it's implicated in most theories of information also
    Lucinda Lavender: hi Mitzi
    Calvino Rabeni: WB :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Hi ... I'm back
    Calvino Rabeni: Picking up from earlier - the idea seems to be about knowledge being "constructed"
    Calvino Rabeni: A reverse interpretation might make as much sense - that the meaning is not defined, but already present, and the definitions or representations are conformed to it. That would be a little like that "morphic field" idea you mentioned earlier.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: please continue!
    Calvino Rabeni: LIke you said,it flies against the trend
    Calvino Rabeni: You might call it a case of "monocausalitis"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: could I have you go back a little and say, what do you mean, "knowledge being constructed"?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... and is the word "meaning" substantially the same as the word "referent" when used in talking about language?
    Calvino Rabeni: It shows up in that guise pretty often, I would agree
    Calvino Rabeni: There's a tacit theory involved with that idea
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I like "referent" - seems more precise.
    Calvino Rabeni: Like, language consist of signs that are intrinsicially meaningless, and the take their meaning by virtue of association with specific objective objects or situations (their "referents")
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yes!
    Calvino Rabeni: And then, with a dubious philosophical sleight-of-hand, people talk as if the language was able to stand alone
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: precisely
    Calvino Rabeni: But if we admit a more flexible idea of what-causes-what, then , we don't have to take a stereotyped position
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: How does causality come into this, then?
    Calvino Rabeni: Stereotype 1 - I construct my reality. Stereotype 2 - I perceive an objective reality
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ok
    Calvino Rabeni: By causality I mean, the dubious theory to be reductionist and say "which is primary, which is the result"
    Calvino Rabeni: The ontological pendulum seems to have oscillated between those 2 stereotypes for millenia
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes, ridiculously simplistic for the most complex and subtle area we can experience.
    Calvino Rabeni: So very true
    Calvino Rabeni: In a sense, a lot of progress might result just by dropping the urge to simplify
    Calvino Rabeni: Notwithstanding that it contradicts some sacred metaphysical principles
    Calvino Rabeni: such as Occam's Razor, etc.
    Calvino Rabeni: I call that a tacit metaphysical or religious idea
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: How about Stereotype 3: There is an isomorphic relationship between the reality I perceive and the objective reality out there ... (assuming I know what the word isomorphic means)
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, some kind of correlation within an integrative context - that would make sense. But I think, not an isomorphism
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I dont know if dropping the urge to simplify necessarily contradicts Occam's Razor ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: .. right, some kind of correlation (set theory again)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Look at the power of the idea of fractals. Very simple mathematically, yet can generate a profusion of seemingly complex forms - both simple and complex at the same time.
    Calvino Rabeni: What did you make of "A New Kind of Science" by wolfram?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I'm all about that perspective!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: From what I understand of it.
    Calvino Rabeni: Well, it seems somewhat in the reductionist camp
    Calvino Rabeni: On the other hand, it's interesting to note the generateivity of simple processes
    Calvino Rabeni: but doesn't prove they are at work in what we see
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: When you say "somewhat in the reductionist camp: ... is that something you disapprove of?
    Calvino Rabeni: Nor does it answer the question about the direction of causality
    Calvino Rabeni: I disapprove of it insofar as it gets used to create stereotyped theories
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: such as?
    Calvino Rabeni: For example, a reductionist idea would say, that "you" are a result only of simple interactions of small constructs
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yes ... go on
    Calvino Rabeni: It would tend to say there's no "downward causality" from emergent structures to the smaller systems they are constituted by
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: well that's silly
    Calvino Rabeni: Can emergent structures have causal potency?
    Calvino Rabeni: Rhetorical question
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: seems like a common sense thing ... perhaps I don't know what the terms mean ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I would think that, yes, emergent structures can have causal potency. Depending on the emergent structure of course!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: But just because some reductionists make silly statements doesn't necessarily invalidate reductionism as a whole, of course. Baby, bathwater.
    Calvino Rabeni: Lucinda .?
    Lucinda Lavender: yes?
    Lucinda Lavender: just listening...
    Calvino Rabeni: I thought I saw your chat bubble about to say something
    Lucinda Lavender: well I was thinking about going soon...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I'm getting a little tired too, how about you Calvino?
    Calvino Rabeni: I'm just noting, dreams and intuition, etc. need a place in any theory of knowledg or information
    Lucinda Lavender: then I was thinking about the dream I had this mI had a dream this morning...
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, it's been a fine chat - we don't need to press on
    Lucinda Lavender: ok
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: That seems like a worthwhile endeavor: describing what a theory of knowledge should encompass.
    Lucinda Lavender: yes
    Calvino Rabeni: That seems like a good approach :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I find this whole scene oddly refreshing. (Play as Being that is).
    Calvino Rabeni: That's good to hear - I like to think ot could have some way to stay "fresh"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Somehow the setup facilitates good interaction. I appreciate it.
    Calvino Rabeni: It is an offering held in place by the participants also
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Good evening then, Lucinda, Calvino, and invisible ones holding this in place. I enjoyed it.
    Calvino Rabeni: A group norm maybe - certain fairly open expectations
    Calvino Rabeni: They might in some way match Peter Ralston's components of what makes good contemplation
    Lucinda Lavender: good evening.Mitzi.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Sweet Dreams, Lucinda!
    Lucinda Lavender: thanks! and to you...
    Calvino Rabeni: Bye, thanks for coming by :)
    Calvino Rabeni: And that was the session that was
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