Propositional content in signalling systems

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Birch, Jonathan
preprint description
Skyrms, building on the work of Dretske, has recently developed a novel information- theoretic account of propositional content in simple signalling systems. Information-theoretic accounts of content traditionally struggle to accommodate the possibility of misrepresentation, and I show that Skyrms’s account is no exception. I proceed to argue, however, that a modified version of Skyrms’s account can overcome this problem. On my proposed account, the propositional content of a signal is determined not by the information that it actually carries, but by the information that it would carry at the nearest separating equilibrium of the underlying evolutionary dynamics. I show that this amended account yields reasonable ascriptions of false propositional content in a well-known formal model of the evolution of communication (the ‘Philip Sidney’ game), and close with a discussion of the serious but perhaps not insuperable difficulties we face in applying the account to examples of signalling in the real world.