Removing Prepositions in Defining Thought

Having turned my back on propositions, I thought, what am I going to do about this? The area where it really comes up is when you start looking at the contents of consciousness, which is my number one topic. I like to quote Maynard Keynes on this. He was once asked, “Do you think in words or pictures?” to which he responded, “I think in thoughts.” It was a wonderful answer, but also wonderfully uninformative. What the hell’s a thought then? How does it carry information? Is it like a picture? Is it iconic in some way? Does it resemble what it’s about, or is it like a word that refers to what it’s about without resembling it? Are there third, fourth, fifth alternatives? Looking at information in the brain and then trying to trace it back to information in the genes that must be responsible for providing the design of the brain that can then carry information in other senses, you gradually begin to realize that this does tie in with Shannon's information theory. There’s a way of seeing information as "a difference that makes a difference," to quote Donald MacKay and Bateson.


The key insight, which I’ve known for years, is that we have to get away from the idea of there being the pure ultimate fixed proposition that captures the information in any informational state. This goal of capturing the proposition, this attempt at idealization that philosophers have poured their hearts and souls into for a hundred years is just wrong. Don’t even try. I’m now coming around to wonder why it had such a hold on us. It’s quite obvious once you start thinking this way.

We and only we, among all the creatures on the planet, developed language. Language is very special when it comes to being an information handling medium because it permits us to talk about things that aren’t present, to talk about things that don’t exist, to put together all manner of concepts and ideas in ways that are only indirectly anchored in our biological experience in the world. Compare it, for instance, with a vervet monkey alarm call. The vervet sees an eagle and issues the eagle alarm call. We can understand that as an alarm signal, and we can see the relationship of the seen eagle and the behavior on the part of the monkey and on the part of the audience of that monkey’s alarm call. That’s a nice root case.

Suppose we start asking what exactly that monkey call means. Does it mean, "Look out! There’s an eagle. It’s up there!" Or does it mean, "Jump into the trees!" Or does it mean, "Oh, help, help, help!" How would we put that alarm call in English? Don’t try. This is the trick. Don’t imagine that the way to have a theory of meaning and interpretation is to treat it as a theory that has as its goal the reduction of everything to some canonical proposition. That’s a very powerful idea, which is just a big mistake.


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Mind (0.951926): dbpedia_resource
Thought (0.858755): dbpedia_resource
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Psychology (0.726540): dbpedia_resource
Question (0.691323): dbpedia_resource
Idea (0.670590): dbpedia_resource
John Maynard Keynes (0.654648): dbpedia_resource
Cognition (0.600723): dbpedia_resource

 "A Difference That Makes a Difference"
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Dennett , Daniel C. (11.22.17), "A Difference That Makes a Difference", Retrieved on 2017-11-22
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: information thought ai