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Advances in Info-MetricsInformation and Information Processing across Disciplines$
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Min Chen, J. Michael Dunn, Amos Golan, and Aman Ullah

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190636685

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190636685.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 19 June 2021

A Computational Theory of Meaning

A Computational Theory of Meaning

(p.32) 2 A Computational Theory of Meaning
Advances in Info-Metrics

Pieter Adriaans

Oxford University Press

A computational theory of meaning tries to understand the phenomenon of meaning in terms of computation. Here we give an analysis in the context of Kolmogorov complexity. This theory measures the complexity of a data set in terms of the length of the smallest program that generates the data set on a universal computer. As a natural extension, the set of all programs that produce a data set on a computer can be interpreted as the set of meanings of the data set. We give an analysis of the Kolmogorov structure function and some other attempts to formulate a mathematical theory of meaning in terms of two-part optimal model selection. We show that such theories will always be context dependent: the invariance conditions that make Kolmogorov complexity a valid theory of measurement fail for this more general notion of meaning. One cause is the notion of polysemy: one data set (i.e., a string of symbols) can have different programs with no mutual information that compresses it. Another cause is the existence of recursive bijections between ℕ and ℕ2 for which the two-part code is always more efficient. This generates vacuous optimal two-part codes. We introduce a formal framework to study such contexts in the form of a theory that generalizes the concept of Turing machines to learning agents that have a memory and have access to each other’s functions in terms of a possible world semantics. In such a framework, the notions of randomness and informativeness become agent dependent. We show that such a rich framework explains many of the anomalies of the correct theory of algorithmic complexity. It also provides perspectives for, among other things, the study of cognitive and social processes. Finally, we sketch some application paradigms of the theory.

Keywords:   philosophy of information, two-part code optimization, Kolmogorov complexity, meaningful information, possible world semantics, degree of informativeness

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