A Journey Toward A Theory Of Stupidity 14 | On Information and Stupidity Part 5

With the relationship between information and truth clarified, it was finally time to really think about how information is expressed in the ontic language — and that meant delving into the first of the remaining questions concerning Welles‘ theory:

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?

To answer this question, it seemed like going back to the distinction I started off with would be appropriate: the ontological/informational distinction. To recap: the idea here is that the thing itself is not equivalent to the information about the thing. This led me to start talking about three different ways we might understand information as a whole through the term “about”. However, when I got to the answer I was looking for on this front, I necessarily had to move away from the relationship between the information about the environment and the environment itself because information about something (on a whole) can be stored in places that are not in the environment. As it stands we still have no basis for understanding how information about the environment can be stored in the environment. However, finding this out is a necessity if we are to justify using environmental information as the reference point by which all other information can be determined as true or false (as is necessitated by Welles’ theory of stupidity).

While information about the environment might be understood to be “about” it only by linguistic conventions, the other ways that the term “about” could be understood that I identified are a bit more appropriate for understanding the relationship between the environment and the information about it that is stored in the environment. The first understanding of “about” was that information about something is located where that thing is. This seems like a necessary aspect of environmental information given Welles’ assumption that we have an ability to receive information from the environment: under this conception, information about trees which is stored in the environment would be located in the environment wherever there are trees and therefore it wouldn’t make sense, given our theoretical ability, to go out and attempt to glean information about trees from a place that only has rocks. Simply put: the rocks can’t tell us anything about trees. But there is still something missing from this conception in that while it might be true that information about something in the environment is stored where that thing is, that doesn’t tell us anything about the meaning of that information.

To put this into perspective, let’s say that we have a tree in the environment. There would be information that is by linguistic conventions (in the ontic language) about the tree located where the tree is (consistent with our current conception of information). But even with this in mind it doesn’t tell us what is or isn’t expressed in the ontic language in that location. (Note: I will be using Tarski’s notation for dealing with different languages both written in English for the remainder of this piece. The ontic language will always appear in quotations.) There is no way to say, under this conception, whether “the tree has leaves” or “the tree does not have leaves” or “the tree is tall” or “the tree is short” or “the tree is old” or “the tree is young”, etc. etc., is there or not as all of these statements have various different meanings yet they are all still about the tree by linguistic convention. It could very well be that, under this conception, all of the possible expressions about the tree are there and from that every statement about the tree in every other language would be true. The problem with this, of course, is that people could not be wrong in holding any information as true in that case.

As Welles maintains that people can be wrong, there’s something else Welles’ theory necessitates: not all information that could conceivably be about the tree is where the tree is.

However, our other conception of “about” (the third one) doesn’t necessarily suffer from this problem. Under this conception, information is “about” the environment when the environment is the source of that information. While the environment could be the source of all the possible information about itself, it could also be the source of only a limited amount among those possibilities. In that sense, there would be limits to what the environment can supply in terms of information and therefore not all information would be true — rather the information that is true would be just the information the environment can currently supply. This conception is much more advantageous in that it can link the ontology of the environment to the information about it: whatever is in the environment would determine what information about the environment is also there and therefore what the environment can supply (and also what information is true). And whatever isn’t in the environment would determine what information about the environment isn’t there and…you get the point.

While this would make the ability to translate information from the ontic language into human languages a fantastic tool in representing the environment, this conception has it’s own problem too: while there is a necessary link between the ontology of the environment and the information stored in the environment about the environment, it isn’t obvious where that information is stored. In short, it could be stored anywhere and this would make some problems for our ability to translate information in the environment because we wouldn’t have easy access to the information about the environment even though it’s there. On that account the first sense of “about” seems to be more appropriate. But ss I mentioned in a previous post, these two conceptions of the relationship between information about the environment and the environment itself are completely compatible and indeed together they overcome each other’s weaknesses. But taken together there is another affect that is worth some mention:

These two principles — the necessary link between ontology and the content (and by extension, meaning) of information as well as the storage of information in the ontic language where something to which that information is about is located — sufficiently cover the first major necessity of Welles’ theory: that information about the environment is stored in such a way that the environment itself can communicate this information.

Not only is the information stored in a reliably retrievable form (near things that have information about them) but the information would also coherently communicate something significant (the being of the thing itself). This was an interesting way of looking at things but the question is whether these principles are actually true… Certainly it would make our conception of stupidity a bit clearer: being wrong about anything would be inextricably linked to the inability to acknowledge beings themselves as they actually are and that might have something to do with why stupidity ends up backfiring. Although at this point in the journey I wasn’t sure about that — it was worth considering. Still, I thought that taking these principles to their logical extremes would be the next step in seeing if there’s anything really wrong with any of it. For the remainder of this journey, the following principles would serve as the precursor to a Unified Theory of Information and I would be drawing on them when dealing with the concepts of information and truth:

1) Some information about the environment is expressed in an ontic language — a language that is not fundamentally linked to the existence of people.
a. As it is linguistic in nature, this information has meaning.
2) Expressions of the ontic language are only found where beings are and these expressions are necessarily about the beings themselves.
3) There is a necessary relation between expressions in the ontic language and the ontology of the beings to which they are about.
4) Expressions in the ontic language are necessarily true and therefore the basis by which all other information is deemed true or false (due to the relationship between synonymy and truth).

With that out of the way it was time to finally focus on the second of Welles’ assumptions: that we, human beings, have some kind of ability to receive environmental information and process it away from the environment. And on that account, Welles’ concerns with the workings of the human mind were the next stop on my journey toward a theory of stupidity.

To Be Continued





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