Re: Information
Mon, 29 Jun 1998 02:45:02 EDT

In a message dated 6/26/98 3:29:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time,

<< Well, if you look up the definition of "beautiful" in a dictionary and
it's something that has beauty you won't be much the wiser, but it's really
irrelevant because in my original comments I never said anything about
definitions. People rarely have definitions for the concepts they use every
day and rarely need them. Nearly all our knowledge, and all the really
important stuff, comes to us by way of example not definition.>>

Two things.

First, In your original comments you said that if something is more
fundamental than information we will never understand it. I replied that
because X allows definitions to exist does not mean that X cannot be defined.
To tie this back in with your original comment, the fact that X makes
information possible does not mean that we can't understand X (assuming that
what we can define we can understand). So it's quite relevant to your
original comment.

Second, it's true that people don't require much knowledge at all as they go
about their daily tasks. We could get along quite well with a series of true
beliefs (acquired, luckily, through false methods) or simply with a series of
beliefs that are practical in the sense that we can use them to manipulate the
world but false in the sense that they don't accurately represent the world.
For those interested in acquiring knowledge, however, the definitions of
concepts are extremely relevant. To reply to your example regarding beauty,
while I agree that a dictionary definition might not prove very illuminating,
a philosophical discussion aimed at creating and refining a definition might
prove extremely illuminating.

<< >Is information fundamental? That's the kind of question to be
>resolved by the parent of all empirical sciences, philosophy

I think Astronomy is the parent of all Science, philosophers have been big on
theory but notoriously poor at empirical science, Aristotle was a complete
embarrassment as a scientist.>>

As each branch of philosophy became successful and expanded it broke off, in a
sense. A fairly recent example is psychology. The fact that when science was
a part of philosophy it was still in its infancy and thus quite poor has
nothing to do with the fact that it sprang from philosophy. And indeed, I
would venture to say that science is STILL part of philosophy, that neither
can really exist or flourish without the other.

<< And I still maintain we'll never discover
anything more fundamental than information, you'll never prove that you and I
and the entire visible universe aren't just a software program running on a
hyper computer somewhere. I'm not saying that's what's happening, I'm saying
it could be and we'd never know. Besides, even a hyper computer can't operate
without information.>>

The principle that we'll never discover anything more fundamental than
information is only true if everything IS information. I think that it is
more accurate to say that everything could PROVIDE information, while not
everything IS information. When we ask for information, we really want the
FACTS; we could, if possible and necessary, do without the symbols and such by
means of which we transmit those facts.
As far as skeptical challenges go, like the one you mentioned although I
confess that I've never heard of it, I think that they can be explained away.