Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seminar UC Berkeley 27 June

Foundations of Mind
UC Berkeley
3105 Tolman June 27 2pm

2:00 pm Terry Deacon (UC Berkeley):

How information lost its meaning (and how to recover it).

Professor Terrence W. Deacon

   The technical concept of information developed after Shannon (1948)
and those who have followed has fueled advances in many fields, from
fundamental physics to bioinfomatics, but its quantitative precision
and its breadth of application have come at a cost. It has undermined
its usefulness in fields distinguished by the need to explain function
and reference, such as evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience,
and the social sciences. And it may even be relevant to interpretive
problems arising in quantum physics.
   The current technical version of the concept has been so successful
in part because it is consistent with a tacit metaphysical principle
assumed ubiquitously in the contemporary physical sciences: that any
and all mentalistic properties should be excluded from playing
explanatory roles. But in order to provide the foundation for a
scientific theory of information that is sufficiently precise and
formal to serve fields as diverse as molecular biology and cognitive
neuroscience it is necessary to expand and slightly reformulate the
technical concept of information in a way that accounts for these
attributes that are not intrinsic to the conveying medium.
   The key to formulating a more adequate concept of information that
includes these most distinctive properties is to be found, ironically,
in more carefully attending to the physicality of information media. A
hint that this is important is captured in two distinctively different
uses of the concept of entropy (informational and thermodynamic). I
will demonstrate how referential information is based upon the
constraints generated by physical work introduced by thermodynamic
openness of an information medium and its susceptibility to contextual
modification. Physical work is also the relevant measure when it comes
to assessing the usefulness of information. In general, I argue that
it is the amount of work “saved” as a result of access to information
that determines its significance or usefulness.
   In this way the previously set aside properties of reference and
significance can be re-incorporated into a rigorous analysis of
information suitable for use in both the physical (e.g. quantum
theory, cosmology, computation theory) and semiotic sciences (e.g.
biology, cognitive science, economics).

3:30 pm Len Talmy (State University of New York at Buffalo):
Aspects of language differ in their accessibility to consciousness
Dr. Talmy will discuss the observable phenomenon that different aspects or components of language have different degrees of availability in consciousness. For example, we are generally more conscious of the meaning of a lexical form than of a grammatical form, of the use of a word than of the conditions of its use, of the meaning of a word or discourse than of the form, and of asserted content than of implied content. The general principle seems to be that consciousness is more associated with that portion or granularity of linguistic phenomena that is more relevant to current goals and concerns. The same pattern of differential consciousness seems to hold for other cognitive systems, such as visual perception and motor control.

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