Re: Emergence of information out of nothing?

From: Lucien Carroll (
Date: Thu May 09 2002 - 00:47:42 EDT

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    Hi Glenn and Peter,
      If I can butt in:

    Glenn Morton wrote:
    > >
    > >> Because of this private agreement for meaning, one can't quantify it. And
    > >> unless one can quantify it, he can't quantify your 'biologically relevant
    > >> information'.
    > >
    > >I agree that any semantic information or meaning depends on language
    > >conventions agreed upon beforehand. But the only reason you cannot
    > >easily quantify it is linguistic ambiguity (synonymous words, phrases,
    > >sentences, paragraphs,... errors, imprecision, errors,...).
    > I disagree strongly with this assertion. The reason you can't quantify
    > semantic information is because you can't quantify the agreement. You know
    > that gift doesn't mean the same in German. Poke doesn't mean the same in
    > American english as it does in English english. And American english doesn't
    > have terms like 'jobworthy', or 'puckle' or 'bobbies' as English english and
    > Doric english do. How do you quantify the clear and obvious (to me) semantic
    > meaning when you don't know the semantic meaning. And because of this,
    > semantic information becomes SUBJECTIVE not OBJECTIVE. It has nothing
    > whatsoever do do with ambiguity. Puckle is a clearly defined word with no
    > imprecision.

    The fact that semantics are conventional or context-bound makes
    quantification difficult, but it is not inherently impossible. Even if
    (or even though) lexical semantics is prototype-based rather than
    featureset-based, we're still looking at features, merely through the
    channel of a kind of fuzzy logic. I'm curious about your example of
    "puckle". If you weren't using it as support for your argument, I would
    assume that "Puckle is a clearly defined word with no imprecision" was
    said tongue-in-cheek. The key feature of the word is its imprecision.
    For lexical semantics it is so hard to quantify the semantic content
    because lexemes are typically such complex creatures. But even though we
    cannot under current semantic theory assign a number value to the
    content of "ruguo wo shou de bu dui", it is apparent that the clause by
    itself has less semantic content than the full question. Subjectivizing
    the clause may give the content more "weight" or "personal significance"
    than the clause read, but it will not add to its lexical or pragmatic
    significance. Being oblivious to the conventions of mandarin, on the
    other hand, does not remove the semantic content of the string of
    characters, because outside yourself there exists a convention that
    determines its meaning; there is a natural function of the string of
    words represented. Being unable to identify the significance doesn't
    remove its significance.

    > Hearing German means nothing to me because I don't know the language. I
    > can't even tell if someone using a gutteral language is really speaking
    > German. I can have an idea that they are, but that doesn't mean that they
    > are. Thus I can't OBJECTIVELY determine meaning without being in on the
    > private agreement about what sounds mean what.
    > The concept is useless, empty and misleading. It does nothing for us other
    > than make us feel like we are really being scientific when in fact we
    > aren't.

    If I understand correctly, semantic information was the only kind of
    information people talked about until Shannon came along. That alone
    should tell you this is not a useless concept.

    I don't, however, think that there is anything incredible about the
    accumulation of semantic information. It is interesting to me that it is
    so, but it appears to me to be the natural result of a functioning
    process that we get forms that bear the imprint of what works.

    Lucien S Carroll
    "All mankind is stupid, devoid of knowledge."
    -Jeremiah 51:17a

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