To recap, in the last post I identified three ways in which we might understand information and its relation to the things (in terms of “about”):
1) “About” as “around” or information about things is located in a kind of abstract location where those things are.
2) “About” as “the subject of which” or linguistic conventions denote the connection between things and information about them.
3) “About” as “in reference to” or that thing is the source of the information that is about it.
Each of these different understandings offer various advantages and disadvantages in how we might understand information. The second definition is of particular note in that it meshes well with our previous observations: as information is transformable, by preserving linguistic notation in some way, no matter how many times it is translated into another language it will always be about the same thing. Also it does not matter where the information is located or through what medium it travels because it still notates what it is about through its linguistic conventions. For example, information about a tree in English would be expressed in a sentence that has the tree as its subject (the sentence has “the tree” or something along those lines in it) and even if this information is written in a different language or changes form (such as an English sentence turned into binary despite binary not having a “subject” properly speaking; as long as I understand the “rules” or linguistic conventions of binary I can figure out what the information is about) or is contained in a book or even on an Internet web page then the information continues to be about the tree.
But this relation between things and the information about them is only a weak connection. The first and third senses imply a much stronger connection, especially the third. For the third definition there is a kind of correspondence between a facet of the tree and the information about it: i.e. what information the tree can give is the information about it. This means that if something were to be unable to give certain information anymore then the information about it would change as well. How this would work, exactly, is questionable and there are a number of metaphysical and psychological implications in saying that a rock, for example, could be a source of information. It’s certainly harder to defend, but, if true, would have extraordinary consequences in how we view reality in general and our interactions with it.
That aside, it is worth noting that there is an apparent contradiction between the second and third senses of “about”: it is possible to express information about something in the second sense despite the information not coming from the thing itself. Say there were only two trees in existence: one in North America and one in Asia. Anyone could come up with the sentence “the tree in Asia has leaves” to describe that particular tree and that would be information about the tree in the sense of the second definition, but because they didn’t reference the tree to form that sentence it couldn’t be said to be about the tree in the sense of the third definition. Likewise, we could also have information about a tree in Europe even though such a tree doesn’t exist. But this is not to say that these two understandings are mutually exclusive: we do act as if we can reference something to list information about it, and in cases where we do the linguistic conventions of that information will be about that thing; even if I referenced the hypothetical tree in Asia (assuming this is possible) to come up with the sentence “the tree in Asia has leaves”, “the tree in Asia” still denotes the tree that that information is about.
In this light it appears that the third sense of “about” is the weaker of the two.
However, unlike the second and third senses of “about”, there is no disagreement between the first and third senses. The information that exists around something could easily be considered the basis for which it could be made a reference for information. Likewise, because information around something would have a direct correlation to what the thing can supply, if the thing changes relative to space and time then so would the information near it and thus the information it can provide. For example: if a tree loses its leaves then the information about the tree that includes having leaves would also “go away” from the tree and the tree could no longer supply it when taken as a reference. However, this conception still has the same problem between the second sense of “about” and the third but this time we’ve added that that very same information can’t exist anywhere except near the thing itself. But that doesn’t make sense because a sentence like “the tree in Asia” (going back to my previous example) written in a book located in North America still appears to be about that tree despite not being anywhere near it.
So if we’re going to conceptualize information and its relationship to things then the second sense of the term “about” seems to be the ticket.
The question then presents itself in how we reconcile this new understanding of information and its relation to things, as based on linguistic notation, with our understanding of stupidity so far. Specifically we run into a problem with Welles’ concerns regarding the relationship between linguistic biases and adaptation to information from the environment. It would seem that Welles, by saying that we aren’t adapting to information “from the environment”, is signalling the use of the third sense of “about”. The idea here is that stupid people might have information about the environment in the second sense at their disposal (their linguistic biases have the right linguistic notation for that to be), but that information isn’t about the environment in the third sense of “about”. This is a bit troublesome. But it does tell us a lot about how Welles would require information to be for his theory to work. In clear and simple terms, Welles’ conception of stupidity requires at least two things for information to be: 1) that information about the environment is stored in such a way that the environment itself can communicate this information, and 2) that we, human beings, have some kind of ability to receive that information and process it away from the environment.
Both of these points have their own issues and challenges — but the more insidious one is the first one. When I combine it with my understanding of information in the second sense of “about” (that information is about something based on linguistic notation or “the rules of the language”) I get some very strange conclusions: if I am to say that information about the environment is stored in our environment then I am also making the very bold — ballsy even — metaphysical assertion that the environment has stuff in it that should be considered language and that that language even has its own linguistic conventions, i.e. rules of language, as that’s the only way there can be information about the stuff in the environment in the environment itself. But how can this be? Isn’t language an artifact of people? Signs are human constructs, right? Linguistic notation is a product of culture, right? …Right? Isn’t that what basically everyone believes nowadays? Aren’t nature and language mutually exclusive domains? Isn’t that what’s been believed since the very beginning?
But is that dogma or is there good reason to believe that?
Ultimately I decided to explore Welles’ conception a bit more to see if it could get me anywhere. Something told me that going down this particular rabbit hole might produce something interesting (even if totally nonsensical) and would illuminate some of the issues and difficulties of our understanding of information in general. This would be my first step toward a “Unified Theory of Information” (or “UTI”), something I wasn’t even concerned with at the time but would become apparent as I kept going on this front. A UTI would become the basis for my entire theory of human stupidity…albeit one that goes completely off the beaten path. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense: there is an ontic language that is not our native language. And I wasn’t the first person to make a distinction between languages in this way.
To Be Continued