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The Lake of Black Swans—Attractors as a Source of Emergent Meaning

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Abstract The conventional Western understanding of communication is profoundly asymmetric, biased towards a formal concept of communication as a one-way distribution of meaning from a Sender to a Receiver—the view enshrined in the Information Theory of Claude Shannon and implicit in Dawkins’ theory of the meme as a semantic replicator. Rational communication in the form of science has been singularly successful in identifying the probable and predictable, and thus in revealing nature’s laws. For the same reason rationality is fundamentally inadequate as the basis for a discourse with our chaotic planetary environment, where the probable and predictable are always in conflict with the improbable and unpredictable . . . a veritable lake of black swans (Taleb 2008). The paper suggests that for our species to survive in that increasingly turbid lake we will need a more inclusive understanding of communication, taking into account both rational and relational communication, both the analytic and syncretic forms of meaning. The paper argues that the emergent forms of relational meaning have the potential to offer a more effective engagement with global risk than the predictive forms of the rational.

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1. Danto Arthur C. After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of Art-history 1997 Princeton Princeton University Press
2. Dawkins Richard The Selfish Gene 1976 Oxford Oxford University Press
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