Signs, Representation, Communication

act to state 2 cmpPart of my research aims at developing a theory of signs (representations, etc.) based on the co-evolution of sign-making and sign-using behaviors. This approach is inspired in large part by Brian Skyrms’s naturalistic generalization of David Lewis’s 1969 model of “conventional” signaling.

Central papers: 

The Evolution of Meaning (Thacher Lecture at George Washington University, 2012). Summarizes my approach and applies it to debates about mental representation.

Communication and Common Interest (with Manolo Martínez). What is the minimum level of common interest between two agents that will permit stable and informative communication? (In PLOS Computational Biology.) The link above is to a pdf that includes a correction to the paper (not one that affects the results). The journal’s own link to the paper is here.

Common Interest and Signaling Games: A Dynamic Analysis (with Manolo Martínez). A follow-up paper about common interest and informative signaling, now using a dynamic model. Appears in Philosophy of Science.

Signs and Symbolic Behavior applies the sender-receiver model to the symbolic role of artifacts in human prehistory (body adornment, stone tools, cave paintings). Appears in Biological Theory.

Senders, Receivers, and Symbolic Artifacts. A second paper about the role for a “theory of signs” in fields like archeology. Given at the Symbols 2 conference in Sydney in 2016. To appear in Biological Theory.

Primates, Cephalopods, and the Evolution of Communication. A new paper for a collection organized around the latest work from Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth.

Sender-Receiver Systems Within and Between Organisms. Presented at PSA 2012 and published in the proceedings of that meeting, in Philosophy of Science.

A paper about Animal Communication. Looks especially at the role of common interest in the maintenance of cost-free communication between animals. This online version includes a correction to the published paper, in the light of new results in this one.

A talk given at MIT and Columbia in 2013 that summarizes the ideas above.


Signs, Icons, and Beliefs. A contribution to a collection of papers on Ruth Millikan’s work. Looks at the relation between the sender-receiver framework and Millikan’s teleosemantics. Here also is a relevant earlier paper about teleosemantics.

A paper about signaling and displays in octopuses.

review of Brian Skyrm’s book Signals, which appeared in Mind in 2011. Discusses the relation between the sender-receiver model and information theory. Also looks at deception.

note on Carl Bergstrom and Martin Rosvall’s application of information theory to genetics. Do our genomes contain a message that is sent and received? Their paper is here and their reply is here.