Minds and Machines

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 471–501 | Cite as

The Informational Turn in Philosophy1

  • Frederick Adams


This paper traces the application of information theory to philosophical problems of mind and meaning from the earliest days of the creation of the mathematical theory of communication. The use of information theory to understand purposive behavior, learning, pattern recognition, and more marked the beginning of the naturalization of mind and meaning. From the inception of information theory, Wiener, Turing, and others began trying to show how to make a mind from informational and computational materials. Over the last 50 years, many philosophers saw different aspects of the naturalization of the mind, though few saw at once all of the pieces of the puzzle that we now know. Starting with Norbert Wiener himself, philosophers and information theorists used concepts from information theory to understand cognition. This paper provides a window on the historical sequence of contributions made to the overall project of naturalizing the mind by philosophers from Shannon, Wiener, and MacKay, to Dennett, Sayre, Dretske, Fodor, and Perry, among others. At some time between 1928 and 1948, American engineers and mathematicians began to talk about `Theory of Information' and `Information Theory,' understanding by these terms approximately and vaguely a theory for which Hartley's `amount of information' is a basic concept. I have been unable to find out when and by whom these names were first used. Hartley himself does not use them nor does he employ the term `Theory of Transmission of Information,' from which the two other shorter terms presumably were derived. It seems that Norbert Wiener and Claude Shannon were using them in the Mid-Forties.

(Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, 1955)


Artificial Intelligence Pattern Recognition Information Theory System Theory Basic Concept 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick Adams
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive Science & PhilosophyUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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