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Content in Simple Signalling Systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Nicholas James Shea, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Rosa Cao

Original languageEnglish
Accepted/In press16 Mar 2016


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    Uploaded date:16 Mar 2016

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

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Our understanding of communication and its evolution has advanced significantly through the study of simple models of interacting senders and receivers of signals. Many theorists have thought that the resources of mathematical information theory are all that is 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 paper 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.

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