Assumptions about Communication

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Thu Feb 22 16:16:10 UTC 2001

In a message dated 2/22/2001 3:00:33 AM, wilcox at UNM.EDU writes:
<< And, as for my skepticism about the impossibility of communication taking
place without the intention to communicate, I think I'm skeptical that
information without intention is not informative. (And I just now see that
David Tuggy might also question this claim.) >>

This brings up the question of definitions again, doesn't it?  Is
communication so clearly different from other ways of getting an intended
effect that the difference is qualitative rather than quantitative?

My cat has at least two ways of getting the door to the outside balcony open.
 One is to pry the slightly ajar door open with her paw.  The other is to sit
at the door and meow distinctively until I come by and open the door.  I
can't say if she meows if I am not around, but if I am around I will
predictably show up and open the door just to shut her up.  Her meow in this
situation is distinct morphologically and I suppose linguistically.  I know
where she is and what she wants when I hear it.

Two ways of achieving what is plainly her intended effect.  One is more
effective than the other (if the door is shut slightly too tight she cannot
get it open herself.)  But what varies is the manner in which she gets the
same results.

If the wind were to blow the door open, both the cat and I would be able to
gather that information from our senses -- to use as our intentions dictated.
 She would not need to meow or pry the door open and I would not need to get
up to open it for her.

The absence of her meow informs me that the wind may have blown the door open
or that she opened it herself, but she did not "communicate" that to me.  It
was the absence of communication, the absence of her meow,  that gave me that
information.  So I have the information that the door is probably open
without her communication -- to use as my intentions dictate.

In formal information theory, there is the concept of redundancy.  Each
repeated occurrence of all of the above increases the probability that I can
predict the outcome the next time.

As far as communication goes, it is one of my cat's tools.  Why she wants to
go out on the balcony is another matter.  But how she gets there can include
an information interchange with me, though that's not her exclusive method.
Unlike the man drowning in the chocolate vat and needing to be rescued, she
does not however have to rely on the action of others to achieve the intended
effect.  Cats seem to prefer that.

<<What I like about this view, though I don't see that the animal
communication people ever recognize this, is that it places the emphasis not
on production, the intention to communicate, but on comprehension, the
ability to garner information (I might even say the ability to generate
information on the part of the perceiver/reactor) from signals produced,
intentionally or not, by others.)>>

Another joke.  The family is sitting around the table and suddenly Johnny
says, "The mashed potatoes are cold."  Everybody drops their forks and look
at him, stunned,  Dad says, "Johnny!  This is amazing.  For all of your
twelve years, you've haven't said one word!  We were sure you were deaf and
dumb!  And now for the first time you talk - and all you can say is, the
mashed potatoes are cold?"

And Johnny says, "Well, up to now, everything has been okay."

Heiddegger, the German phenomenologist, wrote that one of the essential
elements of being is CARE (I guess this is how it is best translated.)  He
spoke of this not as a "drive", but rather the cumulative concept of or what
is behind all biological drives.

Why do I even notice or attend to the cat's meow?  Why do I bother to gather
and store the information about whether the door is opened or closed?

I think logically intention needs to precede "comprehension."  I have to
"care" enough about outcomes to attend to and gather and process and store
and retrieve information.  Just like communication, comprehension seems to be
driven by intended effects.  I did not understand what the man speaking
Spanish loudly at the next table was saying.  And I had little reason to care
about comprehending what he was saying and no intention to have an effect
from him.  There was little or no comprehension or communication.

What if I have on the other hand no intention to effect anything?  Let's say
I am comatose or ultimately disheartened.  I may have the information from
past experience stored in my brain to foresee all kinds of ways that I could
effect my world in the future.  I may have the capacity to communicate and
comprehend.  But I will not be communicating or comprehending.

Because I just don't "care", I have no intentions in any direction.
Communication and comprehension in this situation are not present or even
observable.  And some people may unkindly metaphorically move me over to a
phylum that perhaps evolved earlier than intention, calling me a "vegetable."

Steve Long

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