Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Information

I've been thinking about information.

  • Information is not about knowledge, nor wisdom. It has no claim to truth. Socrates never talked about information.
  • Information can be measured. For example, 11111111 has less information than 10010010.
  • The amount of information something has is called its entropy. An exploding star has a great deal of information. 2piR does not.
  • Information is not the same as language. A random set of a million bits will have more information than this sentence.
  • Nonetheless, information is about communication. It is an abstraction of the building blocks used to communicate meaning, but information itself conveys no meaning.

Claude Shannon invented the field of information theory when he figured out that boolean algebra could be implemented using electronics, and that signals transmitted and stored using such algebra could be used to convey any message.

Information was such a bizarre concept that early information theorists often had to remind themselves that they were not talking about knowledge. They were talking about messages, data.

Data is growing at a near-exponential rate. Are meaning and truth? Not necessarily. In fact, the more information we have, the more work we have to do to determine the meaning from the message.

As I've said before, the history of human progress is also the history of abstraction. Abstraction is what separates physics from the physical world and art from the phenomenal world. But it's a strange thing to abstract from ideas themselves. What is the abstraction of abstraction? Information.

For more hard thoughts, see James Gleick's The Information.


  1. Very nice. But I don't follow the last line: how is information the abstraction of abstraction? Isn't it more like the concretion of abstraction -- i.e. unintelligible prima facie abstraction...?

  2. Thought, ideas are abstractions of the world. Information is an abstraction of thought. Hence an abstraction of abstraction. QED.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...