• Pantagruel
    2k
    Granted, a message can be encapsulated and transmitted and received, and decoded, and any or all of those phases can be identified and viewed as a discrete event. But isn't the information encoded in a message only one part of what is really an indivisible, overarching entity, the conversation?

    What is information? It has no meaning if not in the context of a context from which a piece of information in transmitted and another, completely separate context, in which it is received.

    So, yes, the encoding of information is a discrete and measurable event, but the actual information, which extends and exceeds the statistical measurement, is a function of the ongoing dialogue in which meaning and messages are exchanged and refined and amplified, toward some common purpose. Information qua information, versus information qua this piece of information which is effective in this context now. One bit of information at the right time is worth a billion bits at the wrong time....
  • Gnomon
    2.3k
    What is information? It has no meaning if not in the context of a context from which a piece of information in transmitted and another, completely separate context, in which it is received.Pantagruel
    Information has both the meaning of the Sender, and of the Receiver, and of the Context. So, like all things in this world, it is relative to the interpreter. :smile:


    What is Information ? :
    Claude Shannon labeled the basic element of computer data as "Information". That word had long been associated with various aspects of ideas in the human mind : communication, knowledge, reference, meaning, truth, etc. Yet, his quantified definition of the term focused, not on any particular semantic content, but merely the power to represent any meaningful data, from nouns to numbers. It was the comparison of incomplete or uncertain information with the physical concept of Entropy¹, that opened the door to our understanding of the universal role of Information in both the physical (matter) & metaphysical (mind) realms of reality. Some technical examples of those disparate functions are : Fisher Information (probability of X) ; Algorithmic Information (strings of commands & data in a program) ; von Neumann Entropy (quantum decay) ; and so forth. However, as expressed in a paper entitled What is Shannon Information?, “the very interpretation of the concept of information is far from unanimous.“
    Excerpt from BothAnd Blog post123
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    What is information? It has no meaning if not in the context of a context from which a piece of information in transmitted and another, completely separate context, in which it is received.Pantagruel

    Agree. I don't think the word 'information' is meaningful unless it is specified - what information? By itself, the word is merely a placeholder. In other words, there really is no such thing as 'information' simpliciter.

    Consider the definitions:

    information
    1. facts provided or learned about something or someone.
    "a vital piece of information"
    a charge lodged with a magistrates' court.
    plural noun: informations
    "the tenant may lay an information against his landlord"
    2. what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things.
    "genetically transmitted information"
    3. COMPUTING: data as processed, stored, or transmitted by a computer.
    (in information theory) a mathematical quantity expressing the probability of occurrence of a particular sequence of symbols, impulses, etc., as against that of alternative sequences.

    Note in each case, the context and usage is specified. It's not possible to define 'information' absent those additional qualification.

    Claude Shannon labeled the basic element of computer data as "Information".Gnomon

    The point about Claude Shannon's theory was that it was intended to solve a specific engineering problem, namely, the transmission of information across electronic medium. As for the introduction of 'entropy':

    In 1948, while working at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Claude Shannon set out to mathematically quantify the statistical nature of “lost information” in phone-line signals. To do this, Shannon developed the very general concept of information entropy, a fundamental cornerstone of information theory. Initially it seems that Shannon was not particularly aware of the close similarity between his new quantity and earlier work in thermodynamics. In 1949, however, when Shannon had been working on his equations for some time, he happened to visit the mathematician John von Neumann, who asked him how he was getting on with his theory of missing information. Shannon replied that the theory was in excellent shape, except that he needed a good name for “missing information”. “Why don’t you call it entropy”, von Neumann suggested. “In the first place, a mathematical development very much like yours already exists in Boltzmann’s statistical mechanics, and in the second place, no one understands entropy very well, so in any discussion you will be in a position of advantage.”

    I do wonder if von Neumann said this last with a wink.
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    What is information? It has no meaning if not in the context of a context from which a piece of information in transmitted and another, completely separate context, in which it is received.Pantagruel

    I guess for a person everything around them is information; everything one can sense is providing us with information about our environment and informs that which attracts or repels us. What gets hard for me is when we try to isolate information to fit in with our assumptions - when we assemble or choreograph information to provide us with a justification for a belief, especially regarding transcendental matters. I'm very much taken by that curious transformative process when information becomes evidence.
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    I guess for a person everything around them is information; everything one can sense is providing us with information about our environment and informs that which attracts or repels us.Tom Storm

    Check this out.
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    Thanks - this does propel me once again towards the phenomenologists, of which I suspect I am an inchoate and untheorized variation.
  • Banno
    16.9k
    ...propel me once again towards the phenomenologists,Tom Storm

    Stay away from the dark side, Tom.
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    I try, Banno, but it keeps drawing me in. :groan: This philosophy stuff is really fuckin' hard...
  • Hillary
    1.9k
    Information, as the word implies, means in formation. In physics, entropy is related to information. A solid at zero kelvin contains zero entropy. There is only one rigid state. The same material in a gas state contains the maximum of entropy. The number of states is high and the entropy is proportianal to the number of possible configurations of particles that leaves the overall structure the same. Both the maximum entropy (which is also temperature dependent) and the minimum can easily be described. The interesting things happen if the particles form intermediary patterns. The information is not high nor low but contains interesting "in formations".
  • Agent Smith
    4.4k
    @Gnomon

    We could, you know, define information as pre-Shannon and post-Shannon.

    1. Pre-Shannon: Vague, unquantified, concrete (easily graspable)

    2. Post-Shannon: Precise, quantified, abstract (not easy to get a handle on)

    Please modify the categories as you see fit.

    If it falls short of the mark, apologies. It was my best shot.
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    Norbert Wiener famously wrote that 'The mechanical brain does not secrete thought "as the liver does bile," as the earlier materialists claimed, nor does it put it out in the form of energy, as the muscle puts out its activity. Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day.' And I think that has been seized on; or rather, materialism has been forced to admit it. But that still doesn't mean that 'information' is a basic constituent of reality, in the way that atoms were supposed to have been, but that is how it seems to be treated.
  • Hillary
    1.9k
    1. Pre-Shannon: Vague, unquantified, concrete (easily graspable)

    2. Post-Shannon: Precise, quantified, abstract (not easy to get a handle
    Agent Smith

    :up:
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    Post-Shannon: PreciseAgent Smith

    'Precise' could not possibly be a definition of 'information' in the general sense. Why? Because you can have very precise information, or very badly defined information. In both cases, it's still 'information'. So how could preciseness be a part of the definition?

    As I said, information does not have a specific meaning, apart from the context in which the word is used, or a description of what information is being considered. Just as the OP said.
  • Agent Smith
    4.4k
    Well, my take is Shannon's mathematization would have to add precision to the definition (of information). Am I wrong?
  • Hillary
    1.9k
    Information is information, not matter or energyWayfarer

    Information is contained in matter. The information in the braun is completely and totally different than used to operate on in computers. The Bekenstein maximum information content in the brain, proportional to the surface enclosing it, is valid for a dead brain. The living brain offers a place for all processes in the universe. Unlike a static computer memory chip that contains disconnected ones and zeroes only, connected by a computer program. The number of pathways in the brain by far exceeds the number of patterns of ones and zeroes on the computer memory chip.
  • Possibility
    2.7k
    Information was quantified by Shannon, in a very particular qualitative reduction, as change vs no-change.

    But information, regardless of this particular qualification, is really NOISE. It’s not just entropy, but also energy, depending on your focus. When we talk about ‘information’, we are always referring to a certain qualitative reduction that ignores, isolates and excludes some noise, and quantifies or consolidates it as distinct from the rest, if only for the purpose of talking about it.
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    Well, my take is Shannon's mathematization would have to add precision to the definition (of information). Am I wrong?Agent Smith

    As is established, Shannon set out to solve a specific problem, namely, the transmission of information through electronic media, and everyone acknowledges that his work was fundamental to the success of information technology. No question. But to then claim that he has ‘defined information’ in any general sense, or that this has profound philosophical ramifications is what I’m questioning. It seems like hand-waving to me.

    I got Paul Davies’ recent book on it, The Demon in the Machine. It’s a fascinating book and I’ve always liked that author. But it too contains a lot of breathless gesturing in the direction of ‘hey, this is something really PROFOUND’ in my opinion.

    information, regardless of this particular qualification, is really NOISE.Possibility

    I’m sure that’s not right. I think - someone tell me if I’m wrong - that noise is one of the factors Shannon has to deal with in his attempt to define what amounts to successful transmission of information. Noise interferes with information transmission and if the information is totally degraded, then it just reverts to noise.

    Information is first and foremost structured. A pile of rocks is just a pile of rocks, but the same pile laid out to spell ‘this is a pile of rocks’ in structured by the act of laying it out, and is no longer just a pile of rocks. It conveys information (and in this case, irony.)

    The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program has been capturing noise from interstellar space for decades, and so far all it has is noise. If if had captured any information whatever, anything that seemed to be a structured signal, then that would be enormous news. And it would be news BECAUSE it wasn’t just noise.

    But it hasn’t happened.
  • Olento
    10
    Why is that "the dark side", may I ask?
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    Stick around a while, it’ll become clear :-)
  • Agent Smith
    4.4k
    As is established, Shannon set out to solve a specific problem, namely, the transmission of information through electronic media, and everyone acknowledges that his work was fundamental to the success of information technology. No question. But to then claim that he has ‘defined information’ in any general sense, or that this has profound philosophical ramifications is what I’m questioning. It seems like hand-waving to me.

    I got Paul Davies’ recent book on it, The Demon in the Machine. It’s a fascinating book and I’ve always liked that author. But it too contains a lot of breathless gesturing in the direction of ‘hey, this is something really PROFOUND’ in my opinion.
    Wayfarer

    I believe I got you. My intuition also concurs. Shannon's definition was tailored to address specific technological issues; don't ask me for details.

    You and others who're of the same view are asking a deeper, metaphysical question: what is information...really?

    We could keep Shannon's unit to measure information (bit) if it doesn't require us to endorse a metaphysical position that doesn't jibe with our gut feelings.

    I'm not entirely sure about this but our instincts that all is not right in re the Shannon definition of information is still very vague/nebulous. I for one am as of now unable to home in on where exactly dear ol' Shannon trips up.

    I would've loved to dig a little deeper but alas my math is a bit too rusty to complete the task as it were.

    Let's keep it simple. Information as I understand it is just answers to questions.

    1. What?
    2. Where?
    3. When?
    4. How?
    5. Who?
    6. Which?
    7. Whose?
    8. Why?

    An 8-dimensional universe in which information is a particular point described by 8 pieces of information (1 to 8 vide supra).

    As you are aware all of the 8 questions above can be reduced to a proposition like so:

    9. What is it? = It is an apple OR It is a dog OR...

    In my humble opinion, Shannon's theory seems to fit right in - how many yes/no questions do we need an answer to to zero in on the correct answer to question 9? These yes/no answers basically eliminate the possibilities (vide the "OR" in question 9) by halving the possibility space at each step (I was told it bears some resemblance to the game 20 questions).

    Basically, if you're familiar with logic, Shannon's notion of information is closely tied to the natural deduction rule called disjunctive syllogism (vide infra)

    10. P or Q
    11. Not P
    Ergo,
    12. Q

    Please note that this in no way is an official position espoused by philosophers or information theorists. Just how my brain understands it. G'day mate!
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    You and others who're of the same view are asking a deeper, metaphysical question: what is information...really?Agent Smith

    The answer to the question ‘what is information?’ Is another question: ‘what information are you referring to?’ It is not a substance - in the philosophical meaning of that term ‘the basic constituents of nature’, yet that is how it is being treated.
  • Agent Smith
    4.4k
    The answer to the question ‘what is information?’ Is another question: ‘what information are you referring to?’ It is not a substance - in the philosophical meaning of that term ‘the basic constituents of nature’, yet that is how it is being treated.Wayfarer

    Substance? Sorry! File not found!

    Searching auxiliary memory...

    True, information isn't a substance like, for instance, clay or paper is. If it were matter, my pen drive should gain weight as I continually save files on it. No! Is information energy? Can I perform work with information? How many joules (of energy) is 8 bits of information? Beats me!

    End of file!
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    True, information isn't a substance like, for instance, clay or paper is.Agent Smith

    I said ‘in the philosophical sense’. Go and google ‘substance in philosophy’. Here’s the thing - substance in ordinary parlance means ‘material with uniform properties’ - which is what you’ve said. Substance in philosophy is a translation of Aristotle’s term ‘ousia’, which is actually nearer in meaning to ‘being’ or ‘subject’ than what we call ‘substance’. Examples of the traditional depiction of substance are ‘matter’, not in the sense of some particular kind of matter, but of matter as a kind of generalised abstraction, or ‘mind’, ditto (which are the two kinds of substance Descartes boiled everything down to). But it’s a diversion from this OP, other than to say that to take ‘information’ as a substance in that philosophical (as distinct from everyday usage) sense is, I think, a mistake.

    (For a primer on classical philosophical theories of substance, try https://iep.utm.edu/substanc/#H1)
  • Agent Smith
    4.4k
    I said ‘in the philosophical sense’. Go and google ‘substance in philosophy’. Here’s the thing - substance in ordinary parlance means ‘material with uniform properties’ - which is what you’ve said. Substance in philosophy is a translation of Aristotle’s term ‘ousia’, which is actually nearer in meaning to ‘being’ or ‘subject’ than what we call ‘substance’Wayfarer

    Ok. Will do what you asked.

    Au revoir!

    A word of caution: Etymological Fallacy
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    That’s a valid caution, but in this context, the confusion between the philosophical and everyday meaning of the term ‘substance’ is significant. I’m saying that ‘information’ is being accorded a kind of fundamental ontological status, like ‘mind’ or ‘matter’ or ‘energy’ might have been, but that information is always derivative or dependent on definition, so that it’s not ‘fundamental’ in that philosophical sense. It’s being treated as a ‘fundamental substance’ but it’s very nature is conditional or dependent.

    It’s also of note that the original word for ‘substance’ was ‘ouisia’ which is a form of the verb ‘to be’, and so carries a connotation which our word ‘substance’, meaning ‘a material with uniform properties’, does not. I’ve read that the Latin translators of Aristotle laboured long and hard over the translation of ‘ouisia’ before coming up with ‘substantia’, meaning ‘that which stands under’, which then morphed into ‘substance’ - but that word carries meanings vastly different to the original meaning of ‘ouisia’. This is actually a really critical distinction in reading philosophy in my opinion.

    I’d be interested in @Galuchat’s opinion on this matter.
  • Pantagruel
    2k
    Information is first and foremost structured. A pile of rocks is just a pile of rocks, but the same pile laid out to spell ‘this is a pile of rocks’ in structured by the act of laying it out, and is no longer just a pile of rocks. It conveys informationWayfarer

    Interesting, I used an almost identical example in something I wrote in the early ninties.

    I'm pretty familiar with the information theoretic notion of entropy and its interesting corelation with the thermodynamic concept. In that sense, I guess the interesting question is, what is it that makes one collection of things inherently more or less chaotic than another collection of things? And there is the whole 'lock and key' idea of the right information at the right time. If it isn't relevant to the task at hand, information is just noise. Doesn't the concept of information inherently contain the concept of purpose?
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    what is it that makes one collection of things inherently more or less chaotic than another collection of things?Pantagruel

    Yeah, what *is* the source of order in the universe? :chin:
  • Harry Hindu
    4.8k
    Substance? Sorry! File not found!Agent Smith
    :grin: Yes! Words are like variables in a computer language. They need to be defined to be used in the program. If not, then they can't be used until they are defined.

    True, information isn't a substance like, for instance, clay or paper is. If it were matter, my pen drive should gain weight as I continually save files on it. No! Is information energy? Can I perform work with information? How many joules (of energy) is 8 bits of information? Beats me!Agent Smith
    Uh... wait. If there is no "file found" when using the scribble, "substance", then asserting that "information isn't a substance like..." would produce an error just the same. It seems that you would avoid using the term, "substance" altogether because it hasn't been defined.

    Weight is information as in the relationship between an object's mass and the gravitational pull of the Earth. The information has no weight. Weight is the information.

    Information is first and foremost structured. A pile of rocks is just a pile of rocks, but the same pile laid out to spell ‘this is a pile of rocks’ in structured by the act of laying it out, and is no longer just a pile of rocks. It conveys informationWayfarer
    A pile of rocks contains information in that the pile of rocks is the effect of some prior causes, just as re-arranging them is another cause and their new arrangement is the new effect - meaning that both are just different information - meaning that different causal processes went into creating them. Information is the relationship between cause and effect. There must be some reason as to how the pile of rocks got there for you to observe, just as there is a reason how the pile of rocks spells out, "this is a pile of rocks". The relationship between how the rocks are arranged and what caused that arrangement is information.
  • Pantagruel
    2k
    Yeah, what *is* the source of order in the universe?Wayfarer

    :up:
  • Benj96
    611
    What is informationPantagruel

    Information = change.
    A by itself is nothing but A in relation to B? Now that’s information. Because they are either qualitatively or quantitatively different from each other in some form or another. Information is the property of contrast, for if something had no matter, no spatial dimension, no mass, was completely uniform in every way with no characteristic dividing it into any other category, it would have no means by which to interact - nothing that can be relative to itself.

    “It takes two to tango”
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