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Justin Garson
preprint description
The first use of the term "information" to describe the content of nervous impulse occurs 20 years prior to Shannon`s (1948) work, in Edgar Adrian`s The Basis of Sensation (1928). Although, at least throughout the 1920s and early 30s, the term "information" does not appear in Adrian`s scientific writings to describe the content of nervous impulse, the notion that the structure of nervous impulse constitutes a type of message subject to certain constraints plays an important role in all of his writings throughout the period. The appearance of the concept of information in Adrian`s work raises at least two important questions: (i) what were the relevant factors that motivated Adrian`s use of the concept of information? (ii) What concept of information does Adrian appeal to, and how can it be situated in relation to contemporary philosophical accounts of the notion of information in biology? The first question involves an account of the application of communications technology in neurobiology as well as the historical and scientific background of Adrian`s major scientific achievement, which was the recording of the action potential of a single sensory neuron. The response to the second question involves an explication of Adrian`s concept of information and an evaluation of how it may be situated in relation to more contemporary philosophical explications of a semantic concept of information. I suggest that Adrian`s concept of information places limitations on the sorts of systems that are referred to as information carriers by causal and functional accounts of information.

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