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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Two Concepts of Relevance and the Emergence of Mind


Linguistic pragmatics studies how language is used in situations. Within this field, the concept of relevance accounts for how participants communicate. Sperber and Wilson (1995) developed a cognitive theory of communication: a technical concept of relevance, which I will call ‘cognitive relevance’. In this essay, I propose another mathematical concept of relevance within information theory (Cover and Thomas, 2006). This concept of ‘algorithmic relevance’ governs how the mind-brain works as an information processing system. But it might also explain the emergence of the higher functional levels where cognitive relevance applies. Using the two approaches to relevance, we can better relate cognitive, informational and physical descriptions of brain functioning, especially with respect to language and communication.

Insights Paper