A mundane brain

 “No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mundane brain.”

—Alan Turing

The readings for this week introduced a model called “conduit metaphor”. Associates with Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication – which “the signal transmission model is based on binary math, it simplified and cleared the noises in human communication system. This model suffers from a radical disconnect with the processes of natural language in that it does not really address meaning. Deacon defines Shannon information as, “the amount of uncertainty that is removed with the receipt of a given signal.” In addition, Deacon utilizes the concept of Boltzmann entropy which described in thermodynamic terms is, “a change in the state of a physical system that would not otherwise occur is inevitably characterized by a local reduction in its physical entropy resulting from work done on that system from outside.”( Deacon, 2010). Deacon uses the example of a typo in a manuscript explained the information can only be decoded with receivers’ background knowledge support .

According to Deacon, the essential qualities of information are uncertainty, surprise, difficulty, and entropy. Uncertainty, in turn, can be measured by counting the number of possible messages. If only one message is possible, there is no uncertainty and thus no information. Therefore, the vast messages we extrapolated from digital data on webs and texts are embedded in our per-existed meaning systems. As Prof. Irvine explained, “The meaning contexts, semantic networks, and social functions of digitally encoded content are not present as properties of the data because they are everywhere systematically presupposed by information users. Shared meaning, contexts, and networks of prior expressions necessarily precede encoding and are there in our meaning communities to be activated when we catch what’s decoded.(2014)”

The conversation between Deacon and his former scholars reminds me of  C. S. Peirce. He mentioned symbols are not just the connection signifier and a signified, but rather the relationship between the sign, the representamen and the interpretant. Therefore, I have no trouble understanding Deacon’s information system. The reason people can interact with the data and use then to build other artifacts such as music and art relies on the very basic model. When developing the mathematical models, Shannon proposed feeding “cultural things,”such as music, to an electronic brain, and they outdid each other in brashness. I think base on Deacon’s and Peirce’s models of information and human meaning systems, Shannon’s dream can never come true.


Terrence W. Deacon, “What’s Missing from Theories of Information?”, In Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, edited by P. C. W Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, 146–69. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. (New York, NY: Pantheon, 2011).

Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Theory of Information and Communication (video)