• unenlightened
    4.7k
    The total count of books has become relevant, their content less so.Isaac

    I sort of get you, but then I just think you've changed the subject without changing the object.
    I was talking about the written information, not the logistics of the library. Print books do not inform the blind very much, but blind people do not wipe out the information in them either. They remain as they were. Those who are illiterate cannot get at the information in books, but the information is there still. The books can be scanned, processed by an OCR program and vocalised by an artificial text reader. And then the information can be made available to the blind and the illiterate and even the auditor. And if you do that for a thousand books that are all the same, you will have wasted a deal of your own time and energy. Do it for a thousand different books and you have an audio library. Hurrah.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k
    When I were a lad, there was none of this internet thing, we used to get all our information from books. The little local library would have a few hundred books, big university libraries thousands. Thing was, the books were nearly all different. There might be more than one copy of the most used books, but the amount of information available was counted by the number of different books. A library with a thousand copies of only one book would not be a repository of much information, in fact it would only have one book's worth. Is this controversial?unenlightened
    Now, imagine that the book is the Bible. Think about how much conflicting information has been interpreted from the Bible. The amount of (potential) information is exacerbated by our ignorance as to the origin of the Bible, and what many of the passages mean, or what the authors intended - the information they intended to convey (the actual information) vs our interpretation of what they intended to convey (potential information).

    When some intelligent historian comes along and provides an explanation along with evidence as to the origin of the Bible, then the many bits of potential information collapses into just one - the actual information - that the Bible is simply a rough account of ancient history in the Middle East, and does not contain any religious information, only historical information.

    As Issac and I have been trying to convey to you, information is everywhere, and it is your goal of the moment that determines what information is useful in the moment. The library has a lot of different information depending on where you look, and where you look is dependent upon your goal. The number of copies, their condition, how they arrived at the library, how may times each copy has been borrowed, etc. is all information.

    Now if you want to focus on the informational content of the book itself, then yes, that library has less information than a library with a larger variety of books, but that also goes along with my assertion that information is causal. The more causation, the more information. The more diversity of books equates to more different types of causal processes that led to different effects (different books caused by different authors writing about different things).

    I just don't see how this follows from your explanation of repetition of dots in an image. The books are different entities even though they contain the same symbols that mean the same thing. What are the different dots in the image about that says that they contain the same information? You seem to be confusing how information can be represented with the information itself.
  • Isaac
    2.2k
    I was talking about the written information, not the logistics of the library.unenlightened

    OK, we can limit the examples to that. So "trees are green, the sky is blue" contains more information than "trees are green, trees are green".
    But still, this is only true with reference to the question "what colour is stuff?". With reference to the question "what propositions do those sentences contain?" they both have the same information (in terms of entropy reduction). Think of it in terms of knowledge. In the case of the first question, I started out uncertain about two colours. After reading the first sentence I'm now certain about two colours (100% reduction in uncertainty). After reading the second sentence I'm only certain about one colour (50% reduction in uncertainty - less information in Shannon's terms).

    But in the second case, I'm uncertain about what the author will say in each half of the sentence. After reading the first sentence I'm now 100% certain what the author will say. After reading just the second sentence I'm now also 100%certain what the author will say. Same amount of information (in Shannon's terms). The repeat in the second sentence is still something the author said and I still had 100% uncertainty about whether they were going to say it prior to reading it, which was reduced by 100% after reading it.

    Quantity of information depends on the question and so requires a questioner. We can't therefore measure the amount of information in something without reference to which uncertainty is being reduced.
  • unenlightened
    4.7k
    Quantity of information depends on the questionIsaac

    Bizarre! I cannot continue this discussion, because I have no idea what you are referring to. Where is the uncertainty in the content of a text? What is the question and how does it determine the content of a text? Alas, I do not want answers to these questions, I merely lay them before you as tokens of bafflement. I do not think you can reduce my uncertainty.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k
    Quantity of information depends on the question
    — Isaac

    Bizarre! I cannot continue this discussion, because I have no idea what you are referring to. Where is the uncertainty in the content of a text? What is the question and how does it determine the content of a text? Alas, I do not want answers to these questions, I merely lay them before you as tokens of bafflement. I do not think you can reduce my uncertainty.
    unenlightened

    What are the questions you are attempting to answer in regards to the images with dots? What the dots represent answers a different question than what the space between the dots represents.
  • Janus
    8.9k
    I'd call them undeciphered textsWayfarer

    In the same way as an unseen pile of pebbles is an undeciphered pile of pebbles; something which bears information even if no one has discovered that information? The whole of nature can be understood to be like this: you know, the "book of nature", there for us to read?
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    undeciphered pile of pebbles;Janus

    Cipher: a secret or disguised way of writing; a code.
    "he wrote cryptic notes in a cipher"

    The 'book of nature' is Galileo's metaphorical description of the manner in which mathematics can be used to interpret natural regularities.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    I'm genuinely puzzled, and couldn't find the source, so, grateful for more if you have it.bongo fury

    The Norbert Wiener quote is frequently quoted especially in this context. I read that Wiener quote in the context of a thread on this subject on this or some other forum. It's reproduced here https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Norbert_Wiener.

    As to the irreducibility of information - there's a paper that I was introduced to by Apokrisis, The Physics and Metaphysics of Biosemiosis, Howard Pattee. It's findable on the Web. It considers the relationship between the symbolic and the physical order:

    All signs, symbols, and codes, all languages including formal mathematics are embodied as material physical structures and therefore must obey all the inexorable laws of physics. At the same time, the symbol vehicles like the bases in DNA, voltages representing bits in a computer, the text on this page, and the neuron firings in the brain do not appear to be limited by, or clearly related to, the very laws they must obey. Even the mathematical symbols that express these inexorable physical laws seem to be entirely free of these same laws. — Howard Pattee

    The fact that they exist on a different plane to physical laws and relationships can be demonstrated by the fact that the same information can be represented in numerous media and languages. So if you take a piece of definite information - a recipe or a formula - you can represent that, or encode it, in any number of languages, systems or media. Yet in each case, the information remains the same. So the informational content is separable from the physical form in which it is encoded - which is strongly suggestive of dualism in my book.

    The big conceptual problem occurs when you try and consider what it is that encodes and interprets codes. That is, as Pattee says, a metaphysical question. And the way that our mainly scientific culture deals with metaphysical questions is to ignore them, bracket them out, or pretend they don't exist. Which is basically what Dennett does, and does so well that he is able to ignore the fact that he's ignoring it. (This is why his first book, Consciousness Explained, was almost immediately dubbed Consciousness Ignored.)
  • Janus
    8.9k
    Cipher: a secret or disguised way of writing; a code.
    "he wrote cryptic notes in a cipher"

    The 'book of nature' is Galileo's metaphorical description of the manner in which mathematics can be used to interpret natural regularities.
    Wayfarer

    Right, I already knew that; so what's your point?

    The fact that they exist on a different plane to physical laws and relationships can be demonstrated by the fact that the same information can be represented in numerous media and languages.Wayfarer

    The fact that they are understood in different ways does not entail that "they exist on different planes" unless by "plane" you are merely proposing something like conceptual planes.

    (This is why his first book, Consciousness Explained, was almost immediately dubbed Consciousness Ignored.)Wayfarer

    The alternative title "Consciousness Explained Away" was much more clever. But either is not really a relevant criticism, because Dennett was only "ignoring" or "explaining away" our ordinary pre-reflective notions of what consciousness is. Dennett himself has said to his critics that he has never denied that consciousness exists, but is just saying that it is not what we think it is.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    Right, I already knew that; so what's your point?Janus

    Simply that random collections of objects are not ordered, and therefore are not able to be ‘deciphered’ as there was no ‘cipher’ to begin with.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    actually Norbert Wiener's wikiquotes page has another suggestive aphorism about this issue:

    'The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat.'
  • Janus
    8.9k
    Then I think you're being overly pedantic about the meaning of the term 'deciphering'. There is no incoherence involved in saying that paleontologists are trying to decipher the fossil record, for example.

    Perhaps it would be stretching the term to say that working out the individual sizes, weights and shapes, and the spacial relationships and orientations to one another of a pile of pebbles is an act of deciphering, but it is fine to call it an act of discovering, and in order for something to be discovered there must be something there to be discovered.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    There is no incoherence involved in saying that paleontologists are trying to decipher the fossil record,Janus

    It's not incoherent, but it's a metaphor, and in the context of this discussion it obfuscates the subject.
  • Gnomon
    623
    But what bothers me a bit, is the introduction of 'information' as a metaphysical simple - as a fundamental constituent, in the sense that atoms were once thought to be. . . . So - I'm totally open to the notion that 'information is fundamental', but it seems to me to leave an awful lot of very large, open questions, about what 'information' is or means or where it originates.Wayfarer
    I have been so impressed with the notion that Information is the "fundamental constituent" of the world that I created a website to present my emerging worldview as a thesis. I called it Enformationism to distinguish it from the obsolete worldviews of spooky Spiritualism and mundane Materialism. In the light of 21st century science, those contradictory views are obsolete. Instead, the world seems to be, philosophically, a bit of both : Spiritualism (Meta-physics, Mind, Ideas) and Materialism (Physics, Matter, Atoms). I support my compatiblist view by noting that Information has been found in two real-world forms : malleable tangible Matter & creative intangible Energy, as expressed in the equation, E=MC^2, and two Meanings (polysemic) : Shannon's meaningless syntax, and Bergson's meaningful semantic “difference”. In my thesis, Energy is EnFormAction.

    Paul Davies is probably the most prolific proponent of Information as the fundamental “atom” of modern Science. But there are many other scientists and philosophers who have come to the same conclusion. Yet, they wrestle with the implications of Matter as enformed Mind, and that the world functions like an intentionally programmed system. Some of those Information advocates remain Atheists or Agnostics (by adopting a cartesian Dualist stance), but others become resigned to the assumption of a Creative Mind of some kind (the Monistic origin of the Mind/Matter dichotomy).

    You say you are open to the Information revolution, “but what is it?”. My website and blog are dedicated to answering such questions. :nerd:

    Is Information Fundamental? : https://www.closertotruth.com/series/information-fundamental

    Enformationism : http://enformationism.info/enformationism.info/

    Blog Glossary : http://blog-glossary.enformationism.info/page2.html

    The EnFormAction Hypothesis : http://bothandblog3.enformationism.info/page23.html

    "Hard as Shannon tried to keep his listeners focused on his pure, meaning-free definition of information, this was a group that would not steer clear of semantic entanglements."
    ___James Gleick, The Information
  • Janus
    8.9k
    It's not incoherent, but it's a metaphor, and in the context of this discussion it obfuscates the subject.Wayfarer

    It's not really a metaphor, merely a less strict usage. Explain how you think it "obfuscates the subject".

    The only problem I can think of with such a usage of the term 'decipher' would be that it might lead someone to fall into the idea that if there is something to be deciphered then there must have been some agent deliberately creating the thing and the meaning of the thing, to be deciphered. But there is little danger today of us committing such a teleological fallacy in relation to the fossil record.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k
    And the way that our mainly scientific culture deals with metaphysical questions is to ignore them, bracket them out, or pretend they don't exist. Which is basically what Dennett does, and does so well that he is able to ignore the fact that he's ignoring it. (This is why his first book, Consciousness Explained, was almost immediately dubbed Consciousness Ignored.)Wayfarer
    The reason why the scientific culture ignores metaphysical questions is because their is no way to falsify the answers to the questions, which is a fundamental part of the scientific method.

    It's like asking the scientific culture go out of their domain and not do science, by asking them to not ignore metaphysical pondering.
  • Gnomon
    623
    I would like to add John D. Collier's Information, Causation, and Computation and Causation is the Transfer of InformationHarry Hindu
    Thanks. I agree with this phrase : "Causation can be understood as the transfer of information". That is what I call EnFormAction in my thesis.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    You say you are open to the Information revolution, “but what is it?”. My website and blog are dedicated to answering such questions. :nerd:Gnomon

    Yes, I’ve looked at them.
  • Gnomon
    623
    Yes, I’ve looked at them.Wayfarer
    Ah so, grasshopper! you "looked" but did not see. :joke:
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    Explain how you think it "obfuscates the subject".Janus

    If you say, well, everything is information - the space between every atomic particle, the composition of every object - then you're saying nothing meaningful. Someone already said that I'm sticking to a strict definition of 'information' - this is true. To define something is to say what it isn't - de-fine, delimit, mark out. So if you simply say 'well everything is information', it doesn't say anything, because it makes the term so broad as to be meaningless.

    The reason why the scientific culture ignores metaphysical questions is because their is no way to falsify the answers to the questions, which is a fundamental part of the scientific method.Harry Hindu

    The point of falsifiability is to distinguish empirical statements from those that are not. But to then say that ‘only empirical statements are meaningful’ is to endorse positivism, which is another thing altogether.

    Generally, I'm more in agreement with you than (for instance) I am with diehard materialists. But I think your philosophy is a little too idiosyncratic, and little on the pop-sci end of the spectrum, for my liking. I'm still (and forever) trying to grasp or intuit what I think was a very profound understanding that was present in Greek philosophy which has died out in Western culture in such a way that we can't even imagine what it was; we don't understand what we've forgotten. The nearest recent text I've encountered on it is De-fragmenting Modernity by Paul Tyson. That's not actually directly relevant to this thread but forms part of the background to my philosophical interests. (See the second-last paragraph of this blog post for an excerpt.)

    Incidentally for anyone interested, @Galuchat recently posted a link to a chapter on Philosophy of Information, although it's rendered in a very hard-to-read font and format.
  • ZzzoneiroCosm
    958
    If you say, well, everything is information - the space between every atomic particle, the composition of every object - then you're saying nothing meaningful. Someone already said that I'm sticking to a strict definition of 'information' - this is true. To define something is to say what it isn't - de-fine, delimit, mark out. So if you simply say 'well everything is information', it doesn't say anything, because it makes the term so broad as to be meaningless.Wayfarer

    The space between atomic particles has never conveyed information to me in the same way as a cherry pie or a bag of rocks. I've heard rumors and theories about the space between particles but a bag of rocks or a cherry pie is different from a theory or a rumor.

    It would be hard to argue empty space is information.
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    It's all information. Even empty space. It informs you about what your environment is like.
  • Luke
    692
    Where is the uncertainty in the content of a text?unenlightened

    I was under the impression that unpredictability was a key feature of information entropy. The Wikipedia article on the subject states:

    Entropy is a measure of the unpredictability of the state, or equivalently, of its average information content. To get an intuitive understanding of these terms, consider the example of a political poll. Usually, such polls happen because the outcome of the poll is not already known. In other words, the outcome of the poll is relatively unpredictable, and actually performing the poll and learning the results gives some new information; these are just different ways of saying that the a priori entropy of the poll results is large. Now, consider the case that the same poll is performed a second time shortly after the first poll. Since the result of the first poll is already known, the outcome of the second poll can be predicted well and the results should not contain much new information; in this case the a priori entropy of the second poll result is small relative to that of the first.Wikipedia article
  • StreetlightX
    5.4k
    One possible source of confusion among posts here is the conflation of information with meaning. The two are not the same. Shannon was quite clear the information is an entirely syntactical issue, and has nothing to do with semantics:

    "The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages" (my emphasis).

    Information can be entirely meaningless, utterly devoid of significance, sheer gibberish - it would nonetheless be information. The OP is no doubt trying to milk semantics from information. But it's a mostly dead end.
  • SophistiCat
    1.2k
    I think @Isaac's examples are clear. The thing is that information is not a thing - it is different things. Different disciplines approach the concept of information differently, but more to the point of the present discussion, in the context of Boltzmann/Shannon approach the question of what constitutes information and how much of it there is depends not just on the thing that is being passed around - the sequence of bits or words or squiggles on a page - but on how this thing is being used.

    It is the same with Boltzmann entropy. Like Shannon information, Boltzmann entropy has to do with uncertainty - uncertainty about the physical state. But which state? If we are measuring temperature with a thermometer, then the states that we are interested in are defined by thermal degrees of freedom. But if we are interested in magnetization, for example, then the states of interest are the orientations of magnetic dipoles (and the associated "temperature" in that case can actually become negative!)

    Turning back to information, semantics doesn't matter for the mathematical theory of information, but it is what motivates its applications. Without meaning - physical meaning, as in the case of physical entropy, or symbolic meaning, as in the case of written communication - there would not be such a thing (things) as information. What constitutes information in each particular case depends on what it means for us.
  • bongo fury
    415
    the context of a thread on this subject on this or some other forum.Wayfarer

    So the OP is... what's that phrase, inauthentic narrative?
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    The engineering of information transfer is irrelevant to the question of the place that ‘information’ now occupies in speculative philosophy and biology.

    I've been reading more of Davies' book and just came across this example:

    In some species of deer, if you cut a notch in the antlers, next year’s regrown antlers come complete with an ectopic branch (tine) at that same location. Where, one wonders, is the ‘notch information’ stored in the deer? Obviously not in the antlers, which drop off. In the head? How does a deer’s head know its antler has a notch half a metre away from it, and how do cells at the scalp store a map of the branching structure so as to note exactly where the notch was? Weird!

    Davies, Paul. The Demon in the Machine (pp. 119-120). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

    This is in the context of other examples which posit electrical fields as possibly have an influence in epigenetics and therefore morphogenesis. I wonder if they’re related to the magnetic fields that purportedly allow pigeons to navigate and salmon to find their home creek. Nature sure seems to have memories.
  • StreetlightX
    5.4k
    The engineering of information transfer is irrelevant to the question of the place that ‘information’ now occupies in speculative philosophy and biology.Wayfarer

    So you want to employ information without reference to any of its specificity? Just a rhetorical crutch? Par for Wayfarer course.
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