Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A post at uncommon descent

R0bb @ 87

“First of all, it is not clear to me which of those 5 items are required by definition and which are empirically observed to be associated with “information”. Perhaps you could clear that up. If none are required by definition, then is “messages being communicated and causing other reactions” a sufficient definition of tgpeeler’s usage of the term?”

Here are the five prerequisites, as far as I can tell, for the (human) origination, communication, and reception of information.
1. symbols
2. rules (or language)
3. free will
4. intentionality or purpose
5. rules of reason

I don’t think of these as “required” by definition or empirically observed. The way I would describe this list is that the items in it are logically required AND empirically observed in ALL cases of human information.

What I mean by logically required is this. If there is no language, i.e. a set of symbols and rules, then there is no possible way to encode information. The symbols of the language may not be an alphabet. They may be pictograms or braille or sign language or musical notes or whatever. Everyone gets this. It’s impossible for any of us to even think apart from some language. It’s the way in which we formulate and frame our thoughts.
If there is no free will then there is no ability to use the language to create the information. Free will is required as I must be able to pick and choose from among the available symbols so as to arrange them in a specific order according to the rules (vocabulary, grammar, syntax) of the language so as to create information, or a message, we could also say.

If there is no intentionality or purpose (Dawkins and others deny the existence of real purpose in the universe. Therefore, his metaphysics asks us to ignore him, even as he tries mightily to convince people of the truth of his claims. I suggest that we “listen” to his metaphysics and ignore him. It’s all his thinking deserves, really.) then there is no information and no communication. We can see this with the modus tollens form of argument. If I didn’t intend to be writing this post then I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I am writing this post. Therefore, I do intend to write this post.

The rules of reason, or first principles, or laws of rational thought, whatever makes sense for you, are Identity, Non-contradiction, Excluded middle, and Sufficient causality. They are foundational, that is required, for all rational thought. All communication relies upon this principle even though the communication itself may deny these laws. For example, I can say that I do not exist but this presumes that “I” refers to me, that I do in fact exist (else how could I say that I didn’t?) and that I cannot exist and not exist. So rational thought is required for the creation of information.

In that sense, these prerequisites are logically necessary.

In the empirical sense, you will never find human communication that does not have all five of these components. Examine every book ever written. Examine every letter ever written. Examine every speech ever made. Examine every piece of software ever written. You will ALWAYS find these five elements present.

The problem that this creates for the ontological naturalist (or physicalist) is threefold.

First, none of these things on my list can be explained by reference to physical laws. So we see modus tollens again. If naturalism were true, then physics could explain everything. But physics cannot explain symbols, or rules, or free will, or intentionality, or rationality. So naturalism is false. The connection between the antecedent and the consequent is a necessary one since that’s part of the definition of naturalism – the causal closure of nature. Therefore, the conclusion is certain. It’s necessarily true. It cannot be anything but true. Ontological naturalism is FALSE.

The second problem is obvious. Since these things cannot be explained, they are merely denied.

The third problem is equally obvious. One cannot deny the existence of information (and thus language, free will, intentionality, and rationality) without using information. The claim that “information does not exist” is ludicrous on the face of it because the statement contradicts itself.

The result is this. If you subscribe to some sort of “serious” ontological naturalism (the natural, material, physical world is all there is, roughly) then you lose. Game over. You don’t have a rational or empirical leg to stand on. Come on over to the light. You will see a lot more clearly here, I promise.