[PD] CVs

Bryan Jurish jurish at uni-potsdam.de
Fri May 27 09:58:04 CEST 2011

moin Andy,

On 2011-05-26 15:15, Andy Farnell wrote:
> Another great quote, I apologise for reading it again, I am always 
> bringing this one out because it's elegant, is Quine
> who restates Shannon and Weaver in a way:
> "The notion of information is indeed clear enough... it is central
> to the theory of communication. It makes sense relative to one
> or another pre-assigned matrix of alternatives... You have to
> say in advance what features are going to count."

A good one indeed!  Do you recall where it's from?  Sounds to me like
he's talking about (something like) Shannon's "message" as the necessary
condition for information, but I'd have to dig into it some more to get
a clearer picture....

> No pre-conception, no conception. Otherwise its novel, and a
> confusing jumble until some ordering, naming and searching
> of existing patterns has taken place. The next time, maybe
> then it's okay for those sensible impressions to become
> worthy of a symbol, like the number 42. In that case there
> are necessary conditions for the perception of 42 trees
> falling, other than the physical fact itself.

As far as language (or symbols) are concerned: yes, of course.  But if
I'm reading it right, there's nothing which says that the "features"
(which may or may not "count" as information content) rely for their
ontological status only on their use (or non-use) in a Shannon-esque
"message" (although I admit that just that kind of assertion would be
consistent with Quine).

> On Fri, 20 May 2011 13:01:54 +0800
> Chris McCormick <chris at mccormick.cx> wrote:
>>  chemicals and electricity inside the perceiver's physical head, 
>>  models another part of the universe - what it calls the "42 trees
>>  falling". 

To clarify (again): my emphasis was on the cardinal "42" (determiner of
the subject NP), not on the whole subject NP ("42 trees"), the
predicated state ("are falling"), or the non-constituent "trees are
falling".  Further, I'm talking about the semantic content of the
cardinal we write "42", not about its syntactic or pragmatic properties.
 In particular, I mean the sense of "42" as a natural number, i.e. the
same sense in which it is used in mathematical equations like "42=6*7".
 I used the koan-esque natural language example of falling trees because
Chris was emphasizing the perception of physical phenomena, and it
seemed appropriate.

Maybe you're taking issue with the (essentially arbitrary) lumping
together of whatever physical processes we English speakers call "42
trees falling" into the constituents [42 trees] and [falling].  In
particular, you might well take issue with the [42 trees] part: are what
we call [42 trees] really in fact 42 distinct separate quasi-independent
objects in their own right (a la Aristotelian `substance'), or are they
just an arbitrary bundle of data/matter/processes which we happen to
call [tree] of which the number of instances for which the predicate
[falling] holds happens to be 42?  If so, I think the objection is
entirely justified: I don't particularly care for the notion of
Aristotelian substance and I suspect there isn't anything physically
realized at all which is in fact a quasi-independent object in its own

My point being (again) that the `42' part is independent of how we
happen to carve up physical reality / perceptual data / physical
processes into `objects', and also of how (or whether) our language
happens to divvy that up into nouns, verbs, adjectives, and what have
you (although I think many of the interesting abstracta tend to wind up
as `function words' -- `the', `is', `42', etc.).  In this sense, if you
take our conventional semantics for [42], [tree], and [falling], even if
no one is around to construct or interpret the utterance, the associated
semantic proposition still holds.  A less complicated example is the
equation: "42=6*7" holds whether or not there is anyone around to
evaluate it.



Bryan Jurish
Deutsches Textarchiv
Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften

Jägerstr. 22/23
10117 Berlin

Tel.:      +49 (0)30 20370 539
E-Mail:    jurish at bbaw.de


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