Saturday, January 06, 2018

The “informationalization” of the universe ( … and the dire need for philosophical anthropology)

“ … [T]he illegitimately, and at times insanely, extended misuse of the term ‘information’ is absolutely pivotal to establishing the conceptual confusions necessary to the seeming fruitfulness and explanatory power of much modern thought about the mind and the brain [in philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science, for example]—and ourselves. This converges in the computational theory of mind [which can be traced back to the early work of Hilary Putnam, becomes particularly influential with the philosophical work of the late Jerry Fodor and the writings of the philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett, and is well popularized by the linguist and cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker]. By playing on different meanings of ‘information’ and transferring epithets like a volleyball [across several nets!], it is possible to argue that minds, brains, organisms, various artefacts such as computers and even non-living thermodynamic systems are all information-processing devices. Because they are deemed to be essentially the same in this vitally important respect, they can be used to model each other; homology and analogy can run riot. Once the concept of information is liberated from the idea of a conscious someone being informed and from that of a conscious someone doing the informing, anything is possible.”—Raymond Tallis, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (Acumen, 2011): 208

Tallis demonstrates the manner in which this slippery slope ends with a logical conclusion postulating the “informationalization” of the universe itself (among both computer scientists and physicists, with some individuals, like Edward Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram, possessing expertise in both fields). 

Image: Ella Bergmann-Michel, Untitled, 1918

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