edinburg.doc - What has Natural Information to do with Intentional Representation"According to informational semantics if it's necessary that a creature

edinburg.doc - What has Natural Information to do with...

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What has Natural Information to do with Intentional Representation? "According to informational semantics, if it's necessary that a creature can't distinguish Xs from Ys, it follows that the creature can't have a concept that applies to Xs but not Ys." (Jerry Fodor, The Elm and the Expert , p.32). There is, indeed, a form of informational semantics that has this verificationist implication. The original definition of information given in Dretske's Knowledge and the Flow of Information (1981, hereafter KFI), when employed as a base for a theory of intentional representation or "content," has this implication. I will argue that, in fact, most of what an animal needs to know about its environment is not available as natural information of this kind. It is true, I believe, that there is one fundamental kind of perception that depends on this kind of natural information, but more sophisticated forms of inner representation do not. It is unclear, however, exactly what "natural information" is supposed to mean, certainly in Fodor's, and even in Dretske's writing. In many places, Dretske seems to employ a softer notion than the one he originally defines. I will propose a softer view of natural information that is, I believe, at least hinted at by Dretske, and show that it does not have verificationist consequences. According to this soft informational semantics, a creature can perfectly well have a representation of Xs without being able to discriminate Xs from Ys. I believe there is some ambivalence in Dretske's writing about natural information, especially noticeable when comparing KFI to Explaining Behavior (1991, hereafter EB), but if we ignore some of Dretske's examples, the explicit statement of the theory in KFI is univocal. This theory is also strongly suggested in Fodor's work on mental content (1990, 1994, 1998) and seems to be consonant with J.J. Gibson's use of "information" as well. According to Dretske, A signal r carries the information that s is F = The conditional probability of s 's being F, given r (and k ), is 1 (but, given k alone, less than 1). [KFI p. 65.] Dretske's " k " stands for knowledge already had about s . Knowledge that p is belief that is caused by information that p. It follows that a signal carries the information that s is F when either it alone, or it taken together with some other signal that has also been transmitted to the receiver, returns a probability of 1 that s is F. Thus, I suggest, we can drop the parenthetical "and k " in the formulation and just say that a signal carries the information that s is is F if it is an operative part of some more complete signal, where the conditional probability that s is F, given the complete signal, is 1 but would not be 1 without the part. Thus we eliminate reference to knowledge. What is meant by saying, in this context, that the occurrence of one thing, "the signal," yields a probability of 1 that another thing, " s being F," is the case? In a footnote, Dretske explains: In saying that the conditional probability (given r ) of s 's being F is 1, I mean to be saying that there is a nomic (lawful) regularity between these
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  • Winter '14
  • CHARLES

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