Content in Simple Signalling Systems

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (4):1009-1035 (2018)
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Our understanding of communication and its evolution has advanced significantly through the study of simple models involving interacting senders and receivers of signals. Many theorists have thought that the resources of mathematical information theory are all that are needed to capture the meaning or content that is being communicated in these systems. However, the way theorists routinely talk about the models implicitly draws on a conception of content that is richer than bare informational content, especially in contexts where false content is important. This article shows that this concept can be made precise by defining a notion of functional content that captures the degree to which different states of the world are involved in stabilizing senders’ and receivers’ use of a signal at equilibrium. A series of case studies is used to contrast functional content with informational content, and to illustrate the explanatory role and limitations of this definition of functional content. _1_ Introduction _2_ Modelling Framework _3_ Two Kinds of Content _3.1_ Informational content _3.2_ Functional content _4_ Cases _4.1_ Case 1: Simplest case _4.2_ Case 2: Partial pooling _4.3_ Case 3: Bottleneck _4.4_ Case 4: Partial common interest _4.5_ Case 5: Deception _4.6_ Case 6: A further problem arising from divergent interests _5_ Discussion Appendix



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Author Profiles

Nicholas Shea
School of Advanced Study, University of London
Peter Godfrey-Smith
University of Sydney
Rosa Cao
Stanford University