- Series: The David Hume Series
- Paperback: 273 pages
- Publisher: Center for the Study of Language and Inf; Revised edition (March 1, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 157586195X
- ISBN-13: 978-1575861951
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,330,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Knowledge and the Flow of Information Revised Edition
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Dretske's chapter 'Sensation and Perception' in his new book Knowledge and theFlow of Information is superb.... This isthe first time in my experience that I haveclarified my understanding of the psychology of perception and cognition by readingwhat a philosopher has to say on thesesubjects.... For an outsider, Dretske hasan amazingly solid grasp of and sophistication about the field of perception. Hisargument is that sensory experience (perception) should be thought of as information in analog form and the mental activityof classifying, identifying, or, in short,cognizing what we perceive should bethought of as information extracted fromperception and thus converted to digitalform. I will recommend the book to mystudents and colleagues.(Irvin Rock)
The author of this book is a philosopher, and he has written primarily to and for other philosophers. This work, however, is of interest to contemporary cognitive psychologists because Dretske has attempted to extend the concept of information into types of information similar to what we would commonly call knowledge. Indeed, cognitive scientists who are more broadly concerned with the nature of knowledge and language comprehension will be interested in Knowledge and the Flow of Information.(Wendell R. Garner Contemporary Psychology) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
This volume presents an attempt to develop a theory of knowledge using ideas derived from the mathematical theory of communication developed by Claude Shannon. Information is seen as an objective commodity defined by the dependency relations between distinct events. Knowledge is then analyzed as information caused belief.
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In this book, Dretske reminds one of a philosopher who, upon understanding the beauty in a small portion of applied mathematics, tries to explain the world with his newly found tool. Of course he does not explain the world; only expansive topics of perception, meaning, and belief. Dretske is clearly awed by Shannon's innovative work--we can excuse him for that. Shannon's theory opened up an entire field of study and technology.
For those who already understand the mathematics of information theory, Dretske takes the well-defined mathematical concept of mutual information and evaluates it at a particular value, in symbols:
I(S;R=ri)=H(S)-H(S|R=ri), where I(S;R=ri) is the mutual information, H(S) is the entropy of S, and H(S|R=ri) is the conditional entropy evaluated at a particular value of R=ri. S and R are variables representing source and receiver messages.
Dretske calls I(S;R=ri) the amount of information carried by a particular signal ri. He grounds the entire book on this concept, yet, this foundation nearly becomes irrelevant after he defines the information content of a signal: "A signal r carries the information that s is F" = P(s is F|r,k)=1.
Now Dretske turns to conditional probability for answers to deep philosophical questions. Yet philosophers and scientists are far from understanding the nature of probability itself, and it is not clear that a conditional probability of 1 says anything more than exactly that. You may say that P(X|Y)=1 means that Y carries information about X, but that interpretation adds nothing to our understanding--it simply defines a natural language sentence in terms of a probabilistic sentence. Philosophers looking to justify their work by connecting natural language concepts to math might find this impressive. Others will see it for what it is: using 'big words' or 'mathematical words' to sound smart.
Check out Shannon's original paper on 'information' theory online:
Finally, a comment on the preceding review. The claim that meaning can be quantified is neither the main nor any other thesis of Dretske's book, and foisting it on him is wildly unfair. Drestke clearly and often distinguishes between the meaning of a sign and the information it carries. Moreover, his account of informational content certainly isn't just communication theory in disguise, as he hammers home time and again. As if this wasn't enough, early in chapter 2 Dretske explicitly rejects as absurd the claim that the amount of meaning in a message can be measured. Since warning lights of these kinds appear in the preface and regularly in every chapter thereafter, the preceding reviewer must indeed have found Dretske's (perfectly lucid) prose indigestible. There's every sign that he just hasn't bothered to digest it.
This book is a classic of both epistemology and philosophy of mind. I don't agree with Dretske that our cognition is only concerned with digitalization, so that perception is mainly out of conceptualization. But the application of digital/analog distiction is really helpful to understand our~~ cognition in terms of information flowing. As one reader said, I really like this part of the book.
Also, his contribution to the definition of knowledge should not be neglected. There are a few philosophers who think of knowledge in terms of information, rather than in terms of justification. Although few people are interested with knowledge now, this line of thought is very intuitive and elegant.
It's been more than 20 years, since this book was published. But still, many parts of this~~ book help to understand more contemporary discussions of epistemology and philosophy of mind.~