Does "Walking" exist, Dusman?

Here's a quick response a section in a recent post by "Dusman", in which we find Dusman, a reducing philosophical materialists to absurdities via the magic of presuppositional apologetics.

Dusman advances the following argument:

Argument One:

1. Material things are extended in space.
2. Logical laws are not extended in space.
3. Therefore, logical laws are non-material.
4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
5. Therefore, logical laws do not exist.

Just thinking about that, I wonder if Dusman thinks the activity of "walking" is a materialist absurdity:

The "Walking" Corollary:

1. Material things (like legs) are extended in space.
2. "Walking" is not extended in space.
3. Therefore, "walking" is non-material.
4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
5. Therefore, for the materialist, "walking" does not exist.

If you've spent any time wading into the rhetorical devices of presuppositional apologetics, you'll anticipate that Dusman might just want to assert that materialist really don't have any basis for believing in "walking" or any similarly derived concept.

Walking, as a concept, has physical infrastructure -- the brain-state(s) that reify the concept in the mind -- and is thus perfectly "real" and extant as a physical entity, but the subject of the concept is abstract.

Logic, like the activity of walking, isn't a physical entity beyond the electro-chemical patterns of the brain that holds the concept. And logic, like walking, is descriptive of natural properties and phenomena. Both are useful abstractions for understanding and describing the world around us, but they are abstract beyond their physical housing as brain-states. When I get out of my chair and walk across the room, I have not created a "walking" when I get out of my chair and walk across the room, nor destroyed a "walking" when I sit down again. The concept in both cases -- "walking" and logical principles -- is just that: conceptual, and thus real and extant in the form of brain-states. The referents of the concepts are real and existent in the straightforward sense; legs are "extended objects" in space/time, and "walking" is an abstraction about the patterns of movement and activity of the legs.

I don't know who the philosophical materialists are that Dusman can get to take him seriously with the argument he presents, let alone find themselves reduced to absurdities, but whoever they are, they aren't philosophically anything much at all, if they are, in fact, actual in the first place. In any case, all the materialist needs to do is show that "walking" doesn't exist under the terms of Dusman's argument, which winds up making Dusman dealing with the absurdities, not the materialist. Does Dusman believe the materialist thinks "walking" doesn't exist, or must disbelieve in walking as a materialist? It's as if the concept of abstraction itself has somehow eluded him, or that he supposes that the concept of abstraction somehow necessarily eludes the materialist.

In any case it's too bad Dusman doesn't make himself available to actual responses to his arguments, to see who is really trafficking in absurdities.

What say you, materialists? Does "walking" exist? Has Dusman removed that from our cognitive reach along with logic?

25 comments:

Evan said...

I've repeatedly used the concept of digestion to counter the presuppositionalist argument on morality.

I've also pointed out that we don't require food critics to have an objective standard of food to be able to discuss the relative quality of various foodstuffs.

These have never, to my knowledge, been answered with any response at all, much less an adequate one.

Marc said...

Blogger ate my comment.

Sure, logic is nonmaterial.

However, there are trivial mappings between the non-material logical elements and material logical elements.

These are whats used to manipulate or transmit the non-material logical elements.

Not unlike the words you're reading now which have been transmitted and manipulated from my mental state[1], into my local computer, across the internet, into your local computer, into your eye and finally lodging somewhere in your mental state.

Yeah, Im reductive materialist.

[1] Note! Mental states are also physical entities represented by electrical and chemical gradients in a person's brain.

Richard said...

Huah? Walking is a physical activity. Logical laws are altogther different. I'm not a philosopher or even smart enough to be one, but this rebuttal does not make sense.

Touchstone said...

Richard,

The important distinction is that "walking" is an *abstraction*, a conceptual description of a kind of movement with the frame and legs. But "walking" no more exists in terms of space/time/energy/matter than "logic" does, or perhaps I should say they both exist in the same way, as concepts, a set of relationships between subjects and objects held in the mind (and thus real by virtue of being a state of one's brain, physiologically).

Just the syntax parsing should alert you to Dusman's problem when it is asked: do I create a "walking" when I get up and leave the room on foot? Does a "walking" get annihilated when I sit back down?

The absurdity of those questions points to Dusman's problem, which he either doesn't understand, or suspects his readers aren't sharp enough to notice. "Walking" as a concept is not the same thing as the physical phenomenon we call walking, in the same way the word "dog" is not the actual furry animal, but a reference to it.

Materialism has zero problems with abstraction. The concepts are real (physically extended in space/time/energy/matter in our brains), but the things they refer to are often abstract.

By substituting "walking", or any number of more practical abstractions for "logic" in Dusman's argument, it can be trivially exposed as deficient, proving way more than he intends, due to its failure to distinguish between symbol and referent.

Richard said...

Oh, okay, Touchstone, I think I understand a litle better now. Thanks. It seems to kind of be a play on words of sorts.

Rayndeon said...

Touchstone,

You might be interested in this series of (30!) posts on presuppositionalism by Stephen Law, where he entirely and delightfully tears apart a typical presuppositionalist. You should definitely also check out many of the excellent comments there. You might also be interested in the excellent comments of the user bd-from-kg in this IIDB thread.

Touchstone said...

Rayndeon,

Thanks, I will definitely put that in my reading queue for this evening!

Let me take a moment to recommend Rayndeon's most excellent blog - never have I recommended a blog with just two posts in it, but check it out and you'll see what I mean -- Analytic Abstraction.

Marc said...

An excellent couple of sites.

I hope the Sye discussion continues.

John said...

Excellent post, but my one criticism is that I'm not sure you're using the word "extant" properly. Merriam-Webster says it means "currently existing" or "still existing", as if at some point it didn't or won't.

So for example in evolution one might speak of "extant" species, which really means the species that have not died off yet. Whereas the concepts of "logic" and "walking" don't die off. If we all get obliterated by an asteroid tomorrow, we walkers and logicians will be gone, but the abstract concepts don't go away.

So it's not exactly a synonym for "existent", which is how I think you're using it.

Rick said...

Touchstone,
So what if "information" were substituted for "Logical laws" in Dusman's argument?

Information is not an eternal concept, as John noted about logical "laws". Information can be created and destroyed, so by the first law of thermodynamics must be neither matter or energy.

For example, was the information lost by the burning of the library of Alexandria "real"? All the matter that made up the scrolls is still around somewhere, but the information contained by them is gone forever.

Or, when you die, all the information in your brain, everything that makes you "you", will be destroyed. So what are "you"? Matter/energy that cannot be destroyed, or a particular, temporary configuration of matter as to hold information?

larryniven said...

Rick, please be serious. This is plainly absurd:

"Information can be created and destroyed, so by the first law of thermodynamics must be neither matter or energy."

Would you also say that buildings are neither matter nor energy? They can be created and destroyed. How about chairs or bicycles or firecrackers?

Touchstone said...

Hi John,

Well, it's flattering to be read so carefully, thank you. I did use 'extant' on purpose there; as you can see, I using cognates of 'exist' in others of my post.

Where I used it, I actually did mean to convey the transient nature of concepts, but as brain-states rather than pure abstracts. The concept of "white" as an abstraction not "exist" or "not exist" -- it's abstract! -- but when a person dies, that INSTANCE of the concept-as-brain-state does get destroyed. Upon brain death, the concept instance is no longer extant, I say. That is why I used 'extant'.

Whatever way you lean on the question of nominalism (do abstract objects/universals exist?), my point with 'extant' stops short of it. It's an interesting question, but my assertion was ambivalent with respect to it.

-TS

Touchstone said...

Hi Rick, thanks for the comments! See my responses inline here...


Touchstone,
So what if "information" were substituted for "Logical laws" in Dusman's argument?

Well, let's try it out.

"Information Corollary"

1. Material things are extended in space.
2. Information is not extended in space.
3. Therefore, information is non-material.
4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
5. Therefore, information does not exist.

No sooner do we finish reading this, than we understand we need to be precise about what we mean by 'information'. 'Information' is a tough term to keep clear and straight, as it is massively overloaded semantically (See the 'Calvinist Information Theory' posts for an example of how mixed up some get on this issue).

If we understand 'information' to mean 'Shannon' information, then the argument fails on (2), as by that definition information is physical. We use language and concepts to describe physical information, but information is an intrinsic property of physical systems. If you have a physical system, you have information, and the more degrees of freedom (or microstates if you are thinking in terms of statistical mechanics) the more potential information you have.

On that definition, then, (2) collides with (1), as being extended in space/time *is* the reification of information.

If you want to read 'information' in its casual sense, something like "contextualized data", you can treat "information" not as an attribute of a physical system, but as a conceptual abstraction, in which case, it follows the same path as "walking" or "logic". "Information" as an abstraction doesn't physically exist in any different way than your concept of "walking" -- you have brain-states that correspond to each (assuming you hold both concepts in mind), but the abstractions are... abstact, non-existent in the material sense.


Information is not an eternal concept, as John noted about logical "laws". Information can be created and destroyed, so by the first law of thermodynamics must be neither matter or energy.

I don't know what you mean by an 'eternal concept', but I suggest you are getting things mixed up ontologically here. Information is a *property*, or maybe you'd prefer the word "description" of a physical system. The physical system 'exists' in straightforward terms: energy/matter extended in space/time.

For any physical system, the configuration of that system represents information. Information, then is intrinsic to any physical system, but doesn't not exist apart from it, or in some discrete ontological sense. It is *derived* from the state(s) of the physical system, just as we might say the concept of "walking" is derived from our observation and descriptions of particular motions and movements of legged animals (the latter case being much more informal than the former, of course).

This is why the creation/destruction of information is not a problem, but an inevitably for any physical system that changes state. Information doesn't exist on its own, but is a attribute of existence.

For example, was the information lost by the burning of the library of Alexandria "real"? All the matter that made up the scrolls is still around somewhere, but the information contained by them is gone forever.

This example is almost perverse! It's a beautiful confusion of the two senses of 'information' I spoke of above, with even some interesting thermodynamic factors mixed in -- the burning of the books realizes thermo/information entropy in the process.

You are correct to say that the symbols and mnemonics that were destroyed contained 'casual information' (see above) that we never recover. In this case, what you are calling 'information' is a highly configured state of matter (the arrangement of symbols and letters on a scroll or page, for example) that has become "unconfigured" in casual terms (actual, in thermodynamic terms, too, as it turns out). It's not configured such that it can be read or serve to conceptually reconstruct ideas. Those pages are/were perfectly real, and their burning is the loss of 'casual information'. The availability of the 'casual information' depends not on the continuing existence of those atoms, but in the configuration of the atoms/molecules/substances. Once the configuration is destroyed, the mnemonic value they represent is gone.

As a matter of 'physical information', the burning increases thermo dynamic entropy, realizing the stored energy value of the combustible pages and other materials. But here's a reliable principle to keep in mind for information theory:

Information is always a measure of the decrease of uncertainty at a receiver

Given that, it makes your question problematic as you have it. I think we could say that all else being equal, the burning of the books increased our uncertainty about the state of the physical system there, and we therefore lost information, but this is a sloppy way to apply the principle, at best.

Or, when you die, all the information in your brain, everything that makes you "you", will be destroyed. So what are "you"? Matter/energy that cannot be destroyed, or a particular, temporary configuration of matter as to hold information?

The latter. Douglas Hofstadter provides a really good treatment of this in his book I Am A Strange Loop, by the way, pointing out what you have, that we are not defined by the particular atoms that comprise us -- those change in and out, and every so many years, we can understand that the self has none of the atoms the same self had just a few years ago.

The configuration is the thing, and that configuration exists only and precisely because the matter exists in that particular configuration (i.e. it is existentially concrete). When we die, the complex patterns and configurations that give rise to sentience, cognition, and self-awareness and consciousness get destroyed, unconfigured. Our constituent atoms remain, but we are not our atoms. We are logically distinct configurations and patterns of matter, and when that pattern the 'self-pattern' is destroyed, we are destroyed.

-TS

klas_klazon said...

"You might be interested in this series of (30!) posts on presuppositionalism by Stephen Law, where he entirely and delightfully tears apart a typical presuppositionalist."

I read all posts and some of Sye's and Stephen's interactions in the comments section. Oh boy. Sye sure got owned. Sad that he didn't seem to understand that himself, though. (I so want to see a presupper admit defeat. That'd make not only my day, but year.)

A commenter on Stephen's blog, "nick", sums up the debate tactics of the presuppositionalist nicely:

"Stephen,

If you read the transcripts of debates with other presuppositional apologists, you will see that they all stick to the same TAG script as Sye:

1) Assert that logic cannot be accounted for on any worldview but their own.
2) Refuse to ever justify this assertion by means of a valid deductive argument (or set of arguments) using premises that are themselves justified (or properly basic in a non-contentious way).
3) Make further unjustified metaphysical and theological assertions (such as those relating to revelations), and refuse to answer any criticisms of these assertions.
4) Always ask opponents how they explain logic on their worldview. If no arguments are presented, then assume that they win by default.
5) If arguments are presented for this or anything else by the opponent, then either ignore them or repeately ask the opponent to 'prove' everything they say, even when an absolute proof is not possible (only an argument to the best explanation), in order to put them on the defensive.
6) Go back to step 1

See here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/debates.html#Transcendental

IMO, the best that can ever be hoped for with such people is a stalemate. This can only be achieved by never presenting one's own arguments, as that will just invite further "but how do you prove that" questions to put you back on the defensive. The only tactic, so far as I can see, is to close them down by doing nothing but asking them to 'prove' their own assertions. They will never do this, of course, just revert back to more unjustifed assertions. At this point, you just ask them to 'prove' those assertions. Eventually, the debate will just degenerate into a Mexican Standoff.

This is not very enlightening or entertaining, of course, so one might choose to present one's own arguments anyway. However, in this case, the opponent will just revert back to their script, and the whole thing becomes futile."

Touchstone said...

klas,

Presuppers presuppose their own victory. It's not a conclusion, but a presuppoition, so even a stalemate isn't possible from their standpoint ("No neutral ground!" as Bahnsen might have said). If you try to reason or argue, this just confirms their presuppositions.

Touchstone said...

klas,

Should have added: You're right, though, about the Mexican stand-off goal. Presuppositional apologetics are aimed not at positive claims, but simply nullification of critical analysis of theism. An extended exercise in wholescale well poisoning, in other words.

Steven Carr said...

When somebody scores a touchdown, are the 6 points extended in space?

I guess God must have made the rules of American football.

Rick said...

Touchstone,

A very interesting perspective! I agree that a definition of the concept of information needs to be submitted before any meaningful discussion about it can commence. However to simply make a declaration that information is 'physical' and then say "it (the argument) fails at (2)", is, well, seems like 'cheating'. I'd like to see if we can do better than that.

The crux of your argument seems to rest upon splitting the idea of "information" into 2 components; the "physical state" holding it, and the "casual" abstract concept behind it. Yet in both examples of information destruction I cited, both "types"(?) are destroyed in unison, even by your admission. So this makes me dubious that your concept actually reflects reality. More on that later.

Now your reference to Shannon is interesting. He worked on means for the encoding OF information so that it could be transmitted over various media. I understand you to think that the "code", if you will, IS the information itself. But does this truly give us a working definition of "information"? How can we talk about the transmission of "information" if the encoding IS the information? For example, this post starts by being encoded as a sequence of keyboard presses, then it gets encoded as various quantum states in a memory chip in my PC, then encoded as a TCP bit-stream of ASCII characters, eventually to be encoded as various pixel patterns on your monitor, and finally as various biochemical states in your brain.

So I think a definition of "information" as being the physical encoding does not give us much to work with; for the various physical representations of this post were NOT transmitted to you, but clearly SOMETHING was. I would agree that the CAPACITY to hold information is indeed a property of matter.

Let me posit that information is NOT a "property" of matter for a bit, that it has an independent non-material existence in its own right. What would I offer to support this? One would be that "information theory" is indeed a valid scientific discipline, for the purpose of studying "something" called information. Here we find that information, itself, has properties that can quantified and verified by experiment; syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and apobetics. These "laws of information", if you will, are seen not only to apply to man-made information systems, but also in nature such as in DNA encoding of proteins. Defining information this way has been tremendously fruitful from a technology standpoint; from enabling the internet itself to being able to buy John's book "online" while knowing that your credit card information has been securely encrypted for transmission.

Finally, that information has another formidable attribute: power. From most of our experiences, only information has power to effect change in the physical world that is contrary to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Download information into a numerical milling machine and it starts making precision machine parts, not random scratches on metal. With medical information Evan can save lives (perhaps despite thinking a mother's and baby's blood freely mix in the placenta). By the information in DNA, we have life.

Touchstone said...

RIck,

Sorry, I wasn't trying to present information as composed of a 'physical' and a 'casual' component. I was saying these are two completely independent understandings of the term.

Maybe a good way to illustrate the relationship of information and matter is to just consider what you called "state" in your comment. If you have a chamber with some volume of a gas inside, we can agree that gas exists as matter, correct? I hope so.

Well, when you talk about "state" - the state of the gas at any particular instant, for example - that state is not independent of the matter, but the matter itself. That is, matter cannot exist without state -- the gas particles aren't gas particles without being extended somewhere at some time.

Information, then, is a necessary aspect of matter -- it's tautologous. Wherever we have matter, that matter exists in some state, and that state *is* informtion. Think of the converse; do you suppose matter can exist with state, without some form of locality or temporality? To exist means to represent information in the physical system.

With respect to Shannon, Shannon's maths just provide us a formal basis for describing *changes* in physical states -- a way to quantify the reduction of uncertainty as an observer. But Shannon didn't invent information, but simply (re)rediscovered the relationships.

As for information having its own special kind of existence, I think that's completely at odds with our understanding of the world. If you look at Landauer's principle, we find the integration I spoke about above between matter and information; destroying a single bit of information generates kT ln 2 joules of heat. If information exists independently of matter, there's no basis for this relationship. If information is a property of matter, then changing matter will necessary informational effects. Or, per Landauer, in order to destroy information, thermodynamic effects are necessary -- you have to "pay" in heat to destroy a bit of information (where 'destroyed' means lost irreversibly).

Nothing you've presented here uncouples information from matter/energy, nor even suggests that "non physical" existence unattached to/derived from physical state is even coherent. DNA, for example, is information by virtue of its physical configuration, at several levels of description. We develop more and more secondary and tertiary levels of description of the genetic code all the time, but it all fundamental reduces to stereochemistry, and under that to physics; all that information flows from the DNA's physical configuration.

Internet transmission of your post is no different -- the physical configurations needed to store your message change (electrical signals over the wire, magnetic phase changes on my hard disk, etc.), but the information remains inextricably tied to its physical representation, because information is just the descriptive way to look at matter. We create information by configuring matter, and without configuring matter (even if it's just neurons and electrical patterns in our brains), we cannot create or store any information at all.

If you doubt this, consider providing me an example of a context in which information exists without matter/energy.

I don't know where you are coming from on this, but I've been around and around with a guy name Werner Gitt who is a creationist championing the idea that information is a "third form of matter/energy", and championing it badly. I'm not trying to foul you with the stink of his ideas, but just to say that the kinds of misconceptions you are working from about the relationship of matter/energy and information routinely send others right off the rails in to all sorts of absurdities.

You close with the (formidable?) idea that information has the power to effect change in the world around us. I am at a loss as to what "power" you are referring to, here. In terms of physics, we can point to inertia, or other forces. But information has no physical "power", so far as I can see -- it's a descriptive concept, a way to understand the configuration of physical states. I think a good test of the validity of your idea here would be to identify this (or a) "power" which information might exert apart from the basic physical forces which we *do* understand as part of our materialist model of the universe.

Thanks for the comments.

-TS

Blue Devil Knight said...

Information is orthogonal to implementation. Shannon's formal framework assumes nothing about the stuff doing the transmitting or the variables at the source/receiver.

For instance, assume dualism is true, and that minds can telepathically communicate with one another. Then these two nonphysical minds would carry mutual information about each other.

Shannon provides the framework for quantifying information transmission, but not a framework about what impelements any of the elements in his framework.

Hence, since Shannon's theory is just another mathematical theory (basically probability theory plus a definition of entropy), accounting for information becomes a problem of accounting for mathematical truth and inference within a naturalistic framework, which is closely related to the subject of the original post.

Touchstone said...

blue devil knight,

You are quite correct that if we assume some supernatural transport channel like "telepathy", Shannon's math would be just as useful in measuring the "reduction in uncertainty" coming over the "supernatural wire". That is, the mathematic principles apply just as well to wholly imaginary scenarios -- we can imagine a phase space, selections made from them and the resulting reductions in uncertainty garnered at an imaginary receiver after imaginary transmission. That's math.

The allusion I made above to Maxwell's Demon in my response to Rick was pointing at information as intrinsic to the *implementation*, to use your word, of the physical universe. Why can't Maxwell's Demon cheat the Second Law of Thermodynamics as he supposed it might? Because the Demon requires *information* (reduction in uncertainty) about the state of the gas particles in both chambers, and information (reduction of uncertainty) doesn't come for free.

The demon must trade energy for information, and this cost of acquiring the necessary information about which particles are moving faster than average and thus are profitably let through the gate more than offsets the gains of letting "hotter" particles through from one chamber to the other.

This just confirms, through the insights of men like Brouillon and Landauer, that information is physical. Note that even "abstract" information, like imagined information between telepathic minds is fundamentally physical -- does not exist without its physical medium. No physical medium, no information. Physical medium, information.

All this said without any conviction that you are or are not disagreeing with what I said, but as a way of clarifying the fundamental "oneness" of matter with information.

Thanks for your comment!

Blue Devil Knight said...

My point is that the unqualified claim that (Shannon) information is physical is likely false (hence my dualist telepathy example).

However, if you want to restrict yourself to a discussion of entropy within statistical mechanics/thermodynamics, and equate thermodynamic entropy with information, then you might be justified in saying that information is physical.

However, that seems a lot like trying to argue that the derivative in calculus is physical because velocity, in physics, is a physical variable.

Touchstone said...

blue devil knight,

OK, I understand your point now, thanks. Shannon is mathematical model for measurement and quantification, and as such really does uncouple from any particular implementation.

Even within the technical usages of the term 'information', there's a bit of overloading. Maxwell's demon is dealing with "information", and that information is well understood as 'reduction of uncertainty', but the microstates involved there are not "transmissions" over a "channel" per Shannon's communications context.

So maybe it's more helpful to just avoid the "Shannon" keyword here in discussing the claim that "information is physical", as it leads to the kinds of confusion we're sorting out, here -- I'll certainly own up to my part of making things confusing here. Just so we're clear: Shannon is measurement and quantification, but is wholly unrelated to the claim that "information is physical". Thermodynamics is the basis for the claim that information is physical.

Rick said...

TS,

Yes, it is apparent that we have very different ideas on "information" regarding "What is it?" As I said before, I support the view that information, as a minimum, must have syntax (an encoding) and semantics (meaning). And meaning implies (don't cringe!) mind.

I must disagree with your view that gas 'states' are inherently information. I would posit that they are not until 'mind' makes it information by considering it abstractly or measuring it concretely. Remember analog televisions that would show "static" on the screen if you switched to a non-channel? I gather you would look at the screen and say that the "static" was "information". I would look at it and think that this was a display of maximum possible entropy for this medium, and thus had zero information. This agrees with information theory, and with the actual perception of our eyes.

Regarding Landauer's principle, I believe you've missed the point of it. Notice that the principle incurs zero cost for putting information INTO matter; only for taking it OUT and destroying it. This is why some have interest in so-called "reversible computing"; they dream of entropically "free" computing. So, by this principle, even the processing of information does not inherently have the kT "cost" you speak of. How do you account for this? For these reasons, I consider your kT argument rather weak.

Let me clarify my thoughts on information and matter. I agree with you that ALL forms of information that we "see" are encoded in either matter or energy, for that is HOW information is transmitted. I believe that ALL encodings of information into matter/energy are for the purpose of transmitting it to an intended receiver. A book is intended to be read. DNA is read by enzymes that encode it into mRNA, which is read by ribosomes.

Your dismissal of my internet post example strikes me as "cannot see the forest for the trees" thinking. Yes, I agree with you that, at each step of transmission, my post was encoded in matter/energy. But you cannot see that any "thing" was actually conveyed? Or that similar types of "things" could have power? Then why does this blog exist, if it is powerless to effect "change"? Here we are in a campaign year, and each candidate is spending millions to sway voters by sending "messages" of information, because they know such message have power to put themselves into political power. Is this "power" in a materialistic, scientific sense? Probably not, but does this mean it is not real? No, my friend, it is very real, and can have huge impacts on our lives.

I find it ironic that many materialists can get quite prideful about the quality of their "mind" while at the same time taking a staunch position that "mind" does not exist! But you, my friend, I have found to be fair and civil, to which I say "thank you". I have enjoyed clarifying our respective positions on this topic with you, on which we must agree to disagree. I will read any response you post on this, but I think I'm done with this particular topic for now.

Touchstone said...

Hi Rick,

I'm not committed to having 'information' denote physical microstates and microstates -- using 'information' as 'encoded contextualized data' is fine with me; my beef is when people insist on confusing and conflating defintions. So long as we can keep our terms straight, things will be fine.

In your example of "snow" on the TV screen, we have three senses of information that might be brought to bear now:

1) physical information -- the description of the physical configuration of the particles and elements involved

2) Shannon information -- the reduction in uncertainty we gain as the "receiver" of the signal at the TV

3) "Semantic" Information -- stimuli and symbols we can make sense of as humans

I won't go into a treatise of each here, but want to list them just to illustrate how different those concepts are, and why the conversation goes right off the rails when we overload our terms. You are right that per 3) there is little to no information, but on 2) there is significant bits of reduced uncertainty arriving every second (even if the 'sending' source is stochastic -- if you are tuned to a 'non-channel' you are receiving precisely what you should when you see 'snow'), and on 1) the amount of physical information, were we to catalog a snapshot of it, is immense.

As for transmitting a post over the Internet, I think we can simplify that question by this example: If I am in a swimming pool at one end, and you jump in at the other, you will create a wave (or waves) that will eventually reach me at my end of the pool.

Now, did you transmit a "thing" to me, in that wave? You didn't send water molecules to me, but instead caused a disturbance in your local part of the pool that had physical effects at *my* end of the pool. You "configured" matter in such a way that you "transmitted" a corresponding change in configuration in the water around me.

But you did not send me any "thing" in the physical sense; the water molecules around me are the same ones as before you jumped in (roughly speaking). Your internet post is a "wave", just with more complex physical dynamics (and to be sure, over a network, real things *are* transmitted). The wave, or your message, is perfectly real, but it is supervenient on the material. There is no 'supernatural' wave coming to me, even though no molecules or matter are sent from you to me. You send cascading effects on matter, and those effects supervene on the medium that carries them.

All of which to say that comunications and posts and all the "powers" of human semantics are effectual and perfectly real, but supervene on the physical. They aren't simply *carried* by the physical, as if they are a thing apart, but are interpretations of the physical itself.

And this idea lies at the root of your frustration at what you see as the materialist denial of 'mind'. While there maybe materialists that deny this, I don't know of any. I certainly affirm the reality and effectuality of mind. But what's missing in the non-materialist analysis (I think, and specifically here in your words) is the overlooking or denial of the concept of supervenience. If you have a handful of pebbles, it may just be a handful of pebbles at that moment. But if you spread out the pebbles on the sidewalk to spell "love", now you have letters forming a word, pointing to a complex concept. Does the word 'love' exist, there on the sidewalk? Yes it does, but it supervenes on the pebbles.

Maybe that's something you are fully familiar with as a common materialist understanding, but it looks like that's been overlooked, here.

In any case, thanks for the interesting exchange. If nothing else, we've perhaps made some headway in disambiguating some of the overloads of 'information'.

-TS