A Journey Toward A Theory Of Stupidity 13 | On Information And Stupidity Part 4

With my newly-minted Info-Semantic Theory of Truth in hand it was time to readdress the necessary aspects of Welles‘ conception of information:

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.

Without talking about how information is stored in the environment, by positing an ontic language (a necessity of there even being environmental information) I was able to say that environmental information could theoretically be communicated to us via some process of translation from the ontic language into human language. Likewise, while the ability to receive environmental information could be attributed to the application of an ability to translate environmental information, the ability itself was still speculative. However, if we did posit such an ability doing so would theoretically allow us the ability to process any information from the environment away from the environment just by processing the same information (i.e. information that means the exact same thing) in our own languages in a location that is not stored in the environment. The Info-Semantic Theory of Truth would further provide that if either the information stored in human languages or the information found in the environment were true then statements in any language that share the same meaning would also be true.

The questions that remain are:
1) How is information stored in the environment?
2) What properties would allow people to have the ability to translate environmental information into human languages?
3) What makes any information true?

I decided to answer the third question first because I was already thinking about it and wanted to apply my theory to Welles’ theory of stupidity. To do this I decided to go back to Welles since he had already evoked the concept of truth and I thought it best to see what that conception would necessitate as it must be consistent with this theory in order for me to keep both. Unfortunately, while Welles evokes the concept he doesn’t actually delve into what truth is. And this is a problem because Welles’ theory of stupidity rests heavily on this concept — the very idea that people are stupid because they are delusional (i.e. wrong, therefore don’t know the truth) when it comes to the themselves and their environment is expressed loud and clear throughout his writing. However, in the idea that people can be delusional at all we find something that helps us understand his position: the only way that people can be strictly wrong about anything is if our mental attitudes do not have any sway over what is true about those things.

This is important because it means that truth would be a property information even before we have any interaction with it. Under the Info-Semantic Theory of Truth all that is required is for one sentence to be true and all the other sentences with the exact same meaning would also be true; with this in mind, analyzing human language is not entirely necessary for determining the truth of statements in these languages and we can focus chiefly on how environmental information is true. The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that there is a nasty question that crops up that might undermine the entirety of Welles’ theory of stupidity: can environmental information ever be false? If environmental information can be false then it wouldn’t always be a trustworthy source of information; getting information from the environment would sometimes be no different from getting information from a liar. And as Welles’ theory relies on a disconnect between environmental information and the informational biases of individuals to function, should environmental information not always be true then the disconnect could sometimes be justified.

This meant that Welles’ theory required something even more than previously stated: that information from the environment is never false. Seeing this, I decided to figure out what I could do to resolve the issue for Welles’ theory. Doing so would give me a better idea of whether Welles’ theory was tenable and I could also apply my theory of truth to case examples within the context of Welles’ theory of stupidity. (This isn’t to say that I would be keeping either theory; to me, these thoughts were all tentative as I merely wanted to explore the various issues surrounding information and truth.) The solution itself seemed simply enough: using the Info-Semantic Theory of Truth, if some information is true then any information that means the same thing as that information would also be true. In this case we want to say that environmental information is always true. So if we define truth as a property of information in which that information means the same thing as any information expressed in the ontic language then environmental information would always be true because it is necessarily expressed in the ontic language (as that’s how it’s stored) and necessarily means the same thing as itself.

Cool, problem solved. But what are the ramifications for Welles’ theory?

Under this conception of truth, just as long as the environmental information is there (i.e. stored in the environment) it would be true. If it’s not there then that information wouldn’t technically be false (because it doesn’t exist and therefore has no meaning to compare to itself) but any statement in any other language with the same meaning as information that isn’t there would necessarily be false. If we add the theoretical ability to receive information from the environment that is also posited by Welles into the picture, that ability would turn out to be incredibly trustworthy for obtaining truths. Likewise, as such an ability would be a form of translation, any failure to obtain truths would be due to a mistranslation (due to complications) or a lack of translation (due to not applying the ability) rather than the fault of the ability itself. On that end everything is still consistent with Welles’ theory of stupidity. But this is not to say we’re out of the water yet: defining truth in terms of some information’s semantic relation to itself seems…kind of circular. And that’s a bit of a downer since circular reasoning is to be avoided.

Then again, upon closer inspection, it doesn’t seem like avoiding this is possible.

While it’s true that circular arguments are usually considered fallacies in logical debate, the relation between information and truth in this case is worth some attention. Given that any definition of truth is going to be expressed in language this means that the definition itself is information. As truth is (at least) a property of information, this means that any definition of truth is going to have to be applied to itself in order to determine its own truthfulness. Therefore, if we are to say that a definition of truth is true then it would necessarily have to support itself (or at the very least it can’t undermine itself). This is why statements like “truth is mind-dependent” find themselves on thin ice: if we apply this information to this information it undermines itself; what if my mind, which under this conception this information’s truth is dependent on, takes this statement to be false? It was at this point that I realized something crucial about truth: if we take what we learned from Tarski into account — that any information that means the same thing as information that is true is also true — essentially what we’re attempting to do by defining truth is to determine which information is necessarily true and therefore the reference by which all other information of the same meaning is also true.

At some point when we go to determine what information is true (we define truth) we have to choose which information’s semantic relation to itself is the basis for the truth of any other information. Without doing so we cannot even evoke the concept of truth because the line of references would never end or be nonexistent and we’d be stuck in limbo forever.

THAT was a cool insight and gave me a bit more confidence in going forward with my conception of truth. Likewise it meant that I was at least on the right track by locating the “necessarily true information” (NTI) somewhere as that’s what makes any information true — whatever the NTI is. Welles simply locates the NTI external to people because by his account people can be wrong. And I’m inclined to agree with that. Heavily. So with that out of the way, it was time to focus on our other questions and see what ramifications they have for Welles’ theory of stupidity; given that in Welles’ conception of information environmental information is true simply by virtue of being there, it seems it is finally time to tackle how information is stored in the environment.

To Be Continued


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