Signs of Artificial Life: Terrence W. Deacon

Event Summary

In the Shadow of Descartes: The Difference Between Computing and Thinking is Both Physical and Semiotic
A talk given by Terrence W. Deacon (University of California, Berkeley)

In this talk Deacon argues that two oversimplified assumptions stand in the way of understanding the relationship between mental processes and computations. Both assumptions contribute to a promiscuous use of the term of ‘information’ that reduces three hierarchically distinct meanings of ‘information’ to signal properties and obscures the semiotic complexity of symbolic reference.The first assumption involves a misunderstanding of the relationship between physical and informational entropy; free energy and constraint. This can be re-framed by demonstrating how self-organizing processes can be coupled so that they re-present their organization despite radical substrate change. The second assumption involves a reduction of the ‘symbol’ concept to conventional tokens linked by a mapping relationship; a caricature of linguistic reference. This can be re-framed by demonstrating how referential displacement is dependent on and grows out of an iconic and indexical pragmatic context. Reconstructing these hierarchically collapsed assumptions, re-grounds the referential and normative aspects of information in the physical world and shows why “cogito ergo sum” should be “I feel therefore I’m real.”

  • Length: 1:37:40
  • Date of Event: March 30, 2023