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Content in Simple Signalling Systems

Citation: Shea, Nicholas and Godfrey-Smith, Peter and Cao, Rosa (2017) Content in Simple Signalling Systems. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science . ISSN 1464-3537


Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

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.

Creators: Shea, Nicholas (0000-0002-2032-5705) and Godfrey-Smith, Peter (0000-0003-1519-3661) and Cao, Rosa and
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Subjects: Philosophy
Divisions: Institute of Philosophy
  • 1 January 2016 (accepted)
  • 22 June 2017 (published)


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