Terence W. Deacon: What is missing from theories of information?


Where there is no evolutionary dynamic there is no information in the full sense of the concept. – Terrence W. Deacon

In his essay What is missing from theories of information? Terence W. Deacon tells us:

The “intentional inexistence” of the content of a thought, the imagined significance of a coincidental event, the meaning of a reading from a scientific instrument, the portent of the pattern of tea leaves, and so on, really is something that is not there. In this sense the Cartesian-derived notion that the content of mind is without extension, whereas the brain processes that realize this content do have extension, is at least partly correct. But to say that this absent content is extensionless is not quite right. The non-produced signal (that is, reduced entropy) that is the basis for Shannonian informative capacity, the non-present work that was or was not the basis for the reference of this signal, and the interpretive options (organism trait variations) selected in an evolutionary process, all have a definite negative extension in the sense that something specific and explicit is missing. In other words, like the space within a container, these are absences that are useful because of the way what is present can exemplify them.

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The Alien Thing I AM: On Peter Watts Blindsight


I see it for the first time since some beaten bloody friend on a childhood battlefield convinced me to throw my own point of view away. – Peter Watts, Blindsight

Most of us go through life never questioning the truth or untruth of our perspective onto reality or ourselves. We merrily believe that we exist and that’s enough. Sure, everyone lives, breaths, smells, hears, sees – and, we all have this feeling that there is this subtle continuity, something that from day to day remains; even after all the objects that enter and leave our conscious mind we sense this something that is essential about our lives, something distinct and different; and, most of all permanent: the sense of Self, our identity – our meaning and purpose, our memories and connections to a body and its relations with others, our sociality. But what is this thing after all? This Self we so believe in and never even question, but assume that everyone around us has as well. Is it real? Are just a packet of memories that resolve themselves through redundancy and recursive iterations of information seem to provide us the illusion of a unified identity through time, when indeed there is actually nothing at all there, nothing. Just an illusory vacuum filled with strange thoughts that appear from nowhere and soon drift off into that vast emptiness surrounding us on all sides.

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