A Journey Toward A Theory Of Stupidity 12 | On Information And Stupidity Part 3

As a self-taught philosopher, I’ve read through a lot of material on all kinds of subjects basically at the whim of whatever I’m trying to understand. As such, it’s not uncommon for me to come across something in my own random studies that bears striking resemblances to the musings or theories of famous philosophers. In this case I was attempting to justify two necessary aspects of Welles‘ conception of information and its relation to the environment:

1) That information about the environment is stored in such a way that the environment itself can communicate this information.
2) That we, human beings, have some kind of ability to receive that information and process it away from the environment.

To do this I was in the pickle of having to posit an ontic language — a real linguistic phenomena that is not an artifact of any living thing — something that probably wouldn’t be taken kindly to by the more staunch contemporary philosophers (not to mention any non-philosopher because it’s kind of a wonky premise). But luckily I knew that there was a philosopher who had said something vaguely similar (although not quite) that I had already read about before attempting to make this theory. Facing this choice brought them to memory and I started to consider how I might apply their thoughts to my own.

Alfred Tarski was a fairly influential Polish logician who formulated a theory of truth in the 1930s called the “semantic theory of truth”. He was responding to a problem in language called the “lair paradox” that essentially goes like this:

This statement is a lie.
Is the above sentence true or false?

If you say that the sentence is true then the sentence is not a lie which contradicts the sentence itself. If you say that it is false then the sentence is a lie but then the sentence accurately reports itself and therefore it cannot be a lie. So what do we do about this? Tarski’s answer was that this problem was…well, that we couldn’t solve the issue. Instead, he an effort to eliminate the issue from formal languages. To do this, one thing he does is to distinguish between the language that one is talking about (the object language) and the language that one is using to do the talking (the metalanguage). Tarski signified the difference between these two in writing by using quotations — if words are in quotations then they are in the object language, while if they are not they are in the metalanguage. His theory essentially states that statements in the object language are true if and only if statements in the metalanguage are true. For example:

“Snow is white” if and only if snow is white.

The object language (“snow is white”) would be true just as long as the metalanguage (snow is white) is true. While this might not seem like a big deal, we could substitute the object language for another language and it could still work. For example, what if the object language were German?

‘Schnee ist weiß’ is true if and only if snow is white.

Just as long as the two expressions in each respective language mean the same thing, they both remain true as long as the other is true. …The problem with this is that this doesn’t actually solve the problem of whether or not they are actually true — it only demonstrates that all the statements that mean the same thing in various languages will be true if any one of them is true. Still, this was a useful insight and Tarski’s distinction was ultimately what I thought I could apply to the problem I was facing: when I talk about an ontic language I am roughly thinking of something like Tarski’s object language, and the words we use to describe the environment with our human language would be the metalanguage. Therefore, just as long as the statements in our human language (like English) mean the same thing as the statements of the ontic language then those statements would be true as long as the statements in the ontic language are also true.

This gets really interesting when we throw Welles’ conception of information about the environment into the mix. Remember, information often stands in relation to things (it is “about” things) and if we’re going to use Welles’ conception then we have to say that this information is “about” the environment in the sense that we get this information from the environment — thus the reason I had to posit an ontic language. Now, if we think of the relationship between the ontic language and our human language as the relationship between an object language and a metalanguage (Tarski’s distinction) then we can say that just as long as the information expressed in the object language means the same thing as the information expressed in the metalanguage then if one of them is true then the other is too. (Phew, that’s wordy. Hopefully it makes sense.) We now have a palpable connection between our human languages and the ontic language and that solves half of both of the issues with Welles’ conception of information:

1) For the first one, theoretically speaking, communication with the environment is possible just as long as there is an ontic language. All we have to do is (somehow) translate the information into our native (human) language and now we have the exact same information just stored a different way.
2) For the second one, since we can express the information from the environment in any linguistic form (as long as the meaning stays the same) and store it in any way that that information can be stored, then processing the information about the environment away from the environment is also theoretically possible.

It seemed like this whole conception was coming together fast. I still had to figure out how information was stored in the environment, and I had yet to explain what gave us the ability to receive information from the environment…but everything else was checking out fine. Likewise, if this conception turned out to be as promising as it seemed then I would also now have a theory of truth to compliment it: the truth of any statement that refers to things is dependent on the relation between the information it expresses and the information expressed by the thing itself — namely, as long as the two expressions have the exact same meaning then the information is true if and only if the information from the thing is true. I’ll call this the Info-Semantic Theory of Truth. But of course, being a variant of Tarski’s semantic theory of truth means that my theory has the exact same problem as his: I have to show that one of these sets of information is true in order for them both to be true. Dealing with this might help me solve my two issues so that would be the next move in my journey toward a theory of stupidity.

To Be Continued

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