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Measles And Wormy Red Apples: IF-THEN Statements And INFORMATION THAT (An Apparent Counter-Example)

It would seem that there are some clear counterexamples to the idea that If p Then q is true when p is information that q.

Consider the following (somewhat gruesome, in the light of the irresponsibility of our contemporary anti-vaxxers) measles example from Fred Dretske.  Dretske, by the way, does not discuss this example in the light of IF-THEN statements.

…an exceptionless uniformity … is not sufficient for the purposes of transmitting information.  Correlations, even pervasive correlations, are not to be confused with informational relations.  Even if the properties F and G are perfectly correlated (whatever is F is G and vice versa), this does not mean that there is information in s’s being F about s‘s being G (or vice versa).  It does not mean that a signal carrying the information that s is F also carries the information that s is G.  For the correlation between F and G may be the sheerest coincidence, a correlation whose persistence is not assured by any law of nature or principle of logic.  All Fs can be G without the probability of s‘s being G, given that it is F, being 1.

To illustrate this point, suppose that all Herman’s children have the measles.  Despite the “correlation,” a signal might well carry the information that Alice is one of Herman’s children without carrying the information that Alice has the measles.  Presumably the fact that all Herman’s children (living in different parts of the country) happened to contract the measles at the same time does not make the probability of their having the measles, given their common parentage, 1.  Since this is so, a signal can carry the information that Alice is one of Herman’s children without carrying the information that she has the measles despite the fact that all Herman’s children have the measles.  It is this fact about information that helps to explain (as we will see in Part II) why we are sometimes in a position to see that (hence, know that) s is F without being able to tell whether s is G despite the fact that every F is G.  Recognizing Alice as one of Herman’s children is not good enough for a medical diagnosis no matter what happens to be true of Herman’s children.  It is diagnostically significant only if the correlation is a manifestation of a nomic (e.g., genetic) regularity between being one of Herman’s children and having the measles.

Fred Dretske, KNOWLEDGE AND THE FLOW OF INFORMATION, Stanford, CSLI Publications, 1999, pp. 73-74

Myself, I would rather choose a less gruesome (given the sometimes horrific consequences of measles), even if still somewhat gross, example.  Suppose that there is a pile comprising red and yellow apples in my grandfather’s orchard.  By pure chance, some of the yellow apples happen to be wormy, while all of the red apples are so.  Given his measles example, Dretske would surely claim that just the fact that a given apple from the pile is red would not constitute information that the apple is wormy.  But suppose that, blindfolded, I handle each apple in the pile one by one, saying each time:

If this apple is red, Then it is wormy.

In my mind’s inner ear, my intuition is shouting to me:  “This is TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE!!!!!!”

Likewise, surely the following statement is also true:

If this person loitering here in front of my shop among all these other disreputable-looking lay-abouts is a child of Herman’s, Then she has measles.

This statement would be true, it (strongly) seems to me, even if the person uttering it is talking completely through their hat, even randomly, and has absolutely no evidence that ‘this person’ has the measles, or that she is a child of Herman’s, or that there is any connection at all, even an accidental one, between Herman’s children and the measles.

Therefore, there would seem to be clear cases in which an If p Then q statement is true even when the occurrence of p is not information that q.

Nonetheless, I (at least as of this writing) think I can show in a later post that Dretske’s discussion of the relativity of information drastically undercuts what he thinks his measles example shows.  (I am also thoroughly confident, by the way, that if my doubts are valid, they have already been discussed a thousand times already by everyone and their uncle.)  So the idea that what makes p relevant to q in any true If p Then q statement is an informational relation . . . this idea might find a rescuer after all.


I hope that today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM has never suffered from the measles.  This gorgeous hunk is a math teacher in Great Britain (perhaps hailing ultimately from Italy) who moonlights as a model.


I am confident that this math teach will inspire many of his students, both male and female, to start the ascending the platonic ladder whose lowest rung consists in the contemplation of the Beauty of Gorgeous Guys, whose next rungs consist in the contemplation of the Beauty of Math and Logic, and which finally leads to the contemplation of the Form of Beauty Itself.

For now, however, I will linger a bit at the lowest rung, the Contemplation of the Beauty of Gorgeous Guys.  I will get to the Form of Beauty Itself sometime.


Relevant Logic tries to resolve the following paradoxes of Classical Logic’s Material Implication by insisting that for any If p Then q statement, p must be relevant to q:

If Cliff Wirt resides in Houston, Texas, Then the earth has just one moon.

If Calypso music originated in Wisconsin, Then the earth has two moons.

According to Classical Logic, both of the above statements are true because they fulfil the truth-functional requirements of true IF-THEN statements.  (T T and F F.  According to Classical Logic, F T also yields a true IF-THEN statement; the only truth-table combination that yields a false IF-THEN statement is T F.)  Nonetheless, one may be excused if they think that regarding the two statements as true is a bit paradoxical, to put it mildly.  One cannot conclude, infer, or learn from Cliff Wirt’s residing in Houston that the earth has just one moon.  Even less can one conclude, infer, or learn from the “false fact” that Calypso music originated in Wisconsin the equally “false fact” that the earth has two moons.  One would think that both IF-THEN statements are false because in both, the antecedent, p, is irrelevant to the consequent, q.

So the truth-functional account of the IF-THEN statement has to go, I am thoroughly persuaded, because it can take into account only the truth or falsity of the antecedent and consequent, leaving completely out of view the relevance of the antecedent to the consequent.

What, then, would make the antecedent relevant to the consequent?  What is the relation between p and q when we say If p Then q?  I am partial to the hypothesis that the relation is informational.  If p Then q is true when the occurrence of p is information that q.  If the doorbell is ringing, then someone or something outside has depressed the button; that the doorbell is ringing would be information that someone or something outside has depressed the button.  The first is information that the second because there is a channel of information extending from the button to the ringing sound, such that, when that channel is in good working order, the probability that the button is being depressed is 100% when the ringing sound occurs.

Because this informational relation exists between the ringing sound and the button’s being depressed, one can conclude from, infer from learn from the doorbell’s ringing that someone or something is depressing the button outside.  So — oh my god! — there is a close affinity between If p Then q and p’s being information that q.

There are, however, several obstacles in the way of treating the IF-THEN statement as an informational relation.

First, how would one deal with If p then p?  Is there somehow supposed to be a channel of information between p and itself?

Second, there are (seemingly) clear cases in which If p Then q is true when p is most definitely not information that q.

Third, the informational relation is both intentional and relative, as described by Fred Dretske in his KNOWLEDGE AND THE FLOW OF INFORMATION.  Treating If p Then q as an information relation would make implication both intentional and relative.  The very same If p Then q statement would be true inside some frameworks and false inside others.  Rather than accept this, some would perhaps rather accept Classical Logic’s paradoxes of Material Implication.


Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM takes the form of a very kalos Bruno Mars.  According to Plato, one ascends a ladder whose first rung consists in the beauty of gorgeous young men, whose middle rungs consist in the beauty of things like Classical and Relevant logic, and whose final rung consists in the Form of Beauty Itself.


I will get to adoring the Form of Beauty Itself eventually.  For now, I will content myself with adoring the Form of Bruno Mars.