Sleeping With The Fishes and Other Messages

Reading the Dennett / Haig piece I’d bookmarked from Mind & Language, thanks to Dennett’s tweet captured earlier.

I see already – only partially read Dennett’s contribution at this point – that it picks up on the Papineau exchange – the competence without comprehension inversion of reasoning – and on the Shannon-Turing informational focus that I highlighted in my reading of Bacteria to Bach and Back (B2BnB). As he says:

Dennett (2017) [B2BnB] was completed before I had digested Haig’s ideas, and Chapter 6 of that book, ‘What is Information?’, now stands in need of revisions just weeks after appearing in print. This essay is a first installment of that editorial process.

And as Haig says:

My written text attempts to rearrange the associations of ‘meaning’ and ‘information’ in your private texts to change how you interpret and use these words. It is an invitation to join a language-game in which these new definitions are the rules of play.

Evolution of meaning by usage of information in a (Wittgensteinian) word game. I’m all ears. Especially as it not only leads to explanation of comprehending consciousness on the one side, but also the decisive application of will on the other.

[Haig] shows why and how we may contrive all manner of intermediate levels of expression or interpretation but need not hunt for a dividing line that distinguishes comprehension from mere reaction.

That range of levels of consciousness, from subconscious to comprehending awareness, without needing to establish a hard dividing line to define what we might call “conscious” is precisely the point I picked-up from Tim Crane’s summary of the Dennett-Papineau discussion.

And Dennett continues, the inversion proposed is:

Instead of coding and syntax [of meaning > information] “all the way down”
it’s interpretation [of information > meaning] “all the way up”.

Which explicitly leads in to Haig’s title: “Making sense: Information Interpreted as Meaning” and is straight in with an entropy reduction view of Shannon information leading to a meaningful choice [encoding > semantics].


It’s an excellent paper.

… an author always relies on rich sources and resources in the private texts of his readers for them to make sense of his public text.

When the Mafia leave the body of an informer in a town square, the murder is both a direct means to an end (removal of an informer) and a text (a warning to potential informers).

My text is the product of multiple drafts of an evolving text. In the process of reading and re-reading, writing and re-writing, I came to understand what I meant and I mean. My meaning is the public text that you see, not some nebulous sense in my mind to which the text points. As my aging mind becomes less nimble, I rely more and more on public texts of previous selves as aides-memoire of what I wish to mean.

As a blogger, I’ve noted before how much writing (by others, pre-blogging) comprises notes-to-self, evolving to some magnum opus.

My debt to Daniel Dennett is obvious.

Special thanks are due to a long-dead butterfly in Marilia who knew not what it did.

Why waste a perfectly good horse’s head, when a butterfly will do? Meaning is simply the outcome, the end result of interpretation by an interpreter. Meaning for the interpreter. Intended meaning is the creator’s own interpretation – hence games of feigned and unintended meanings. Simple for simple interpreters (the infamous thermostat, not actually used) as many outputs as inputs to others, as complex as you like for intelligent minds. Interpretation all the way up, like anything evolved. The sky’s the limit and there are no skyhooks.

Highly recommended.

Like Dennett’s recent B2BnB, the approach is suck it and see. The bet is that if you can suspend disbelief, simply try working with the author’s own terms – you might not yet understand (accept) the author’s definitions – but you will find explanation of complex evolved behaviours and properties are more easily understood (interpreted).

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