From: Scott Chase (email@example.com)
Date: Wed 25 May 2005 - 10:59:15 GMT
Trying to unravel the mysteries of information (ie-
just what the heck is it?), I've been reading several
books on the topic ( John R. Pierce's _An Introduction
to Information Theory_, L. David Ritchie's
_Information_, and Keith Devlin's _InfoSense_). Devlin's book is geared more towards a business or organizational understanding of information, which I've found really interesting because it's more applied than theoretical or mathematically formalized. He presents a triad (data, information, knowledge) that seems to overlap pretty smoothly with my favorite triad (artifact, socifact, and mentifact) for which IIRC Julian Huxley credits someone named Bidney.
Anyway early on in the book Devlin differentiates
between information theory as the highly formalized
discipline of Claude Shannon and those people where
they look at how stuff is encoded, transmitted and
decoded via a channel such as a telegraph or telephone
system and information science which is more like
library science where the study is of organization and
retrieval (what I like to call "ecphory" after Semon)
systems. Can a theory be more formal than a science?
Seems like these two disciplines are like apples and
Devlin's book overlaps to some degree with Ritchie's
in that they both seem to devalue the strictly
formalized approach of traditional information theory
at least in that it doesn't quite cover all the bases
of human communication versus info flow through
something like a telegraph system (with its measures
of entropy, redundancy etc).
Devlin also makes the distinction I mention above
between data (such as what you find in charts, graphs
or tables), information (what is acquired when looking
at data) and knowledge ( the internalized aspect of
information gleaned from data in the individual mind).
He summarizes (p. 16-7, hardcopy) by saying that
"(d)ata exists on paper" or "computer disks", information is "in the collective mind of a society" and knowledge is "in an individual person's mind". That's an interesting epistemology there...
Thus I think following him, if he's correct, we could
say that data is artefactual, information is
socifactual and knowledge is mentifactual.
Devlin is a situation theorist in that he looks at the
importance of context in human communication. He puts
DNA in context in his chapter "The Dinosaur's Egg"
which I'll need to re-read, but suffice it to say he
reminds me of what I learned from developmental
biology and how cellular context is important for
expression of genes. If we have a strand of DNA, what
do we have without a context? We could cut it and
splice it into bacteria to get some particular gene
products. The bacterium gives us a limited context for
a limited strand length of DNA. What would we have if
given a dinosaur genome without the machinery of the
egg to provide a context for its expression? What do
we have with a full detailed view of the human genome
without the cellular context?
I think some of Devlin's situation theory approach
deflates infocentrism. The dinosaur egg argument
deflates genocentrism, just like an understanding of
developmental biology should. Likewise, maybe we
should avoid memocentrism and put human communication
and culture in its context. Could reduction of human
communication to the telegraph or telephone as
communication channel distort reality? Are computer
analogies for cognitive science much better?
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