On 'information transmission'

Mark Mills (mmills@fastlane.net)
Wed, 3 Mar 99 12:52:14 -0600

Subject: On 'information transmission'
Date: Wed, 3 Mar 99 12:52:14 -0600
From: Mark Mills <mmills@fastlane.net>
To: "Memetics List" <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>

I'm going to use a comment Paul made to start a new thread.

>Oh Aaron, I give up - I cannot be more clear and the fact that you still do
>not understand is probably more a reflection of me than you

The title of of the organization hosting this discussion is 'Journal of
Memetics, Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission.' It can be
found at the bottom of each post published by the list.

I'd like to propose that it is impossible to 'transmit' information. In
the above case, Paul found it impossible to 'transmit' his information to

My dictionary defines information as:

1 the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence
2  knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction 
3 the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more
alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA
or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects 

and others more arcane, which I will dismiss.

1,2 and 3 suggest information is an attribute of something. In (1),
information is something generated AFTER communication, it is an
attribute of our minds. In (2), information is knowledge and knowledge
an attribute of our minds. In (3), information is an inherent attribute
of physical arrangements.

In none of these cases can information be transmitted, it is an attribute
of the mind or the DNA. It goes nowhere.

When one gives another person a phone number, is information transmitted?

I say no. Information is recreated, not transmitted. The source
provides data and counts on the receiver to 'recreate' the proper
meaning. The information that 'when I see the symbol '7', it means
seven' is entirely locked up in a person's brain.

Thus, we have situations like that mentioned by Paul. Paul is frustrated
by the impossibility of 'transmitting information.' Actually, he is
hoping Aaron can 'recreate' his perspective, but we like 'transmission'
because it sounds like the receiver has no choice in the matter. It is
more clear cut.

There are a wide variety of situations were the illusion of
'transmission' falls down.

A mother cannot convey what it feels like to burn your finger to her
A parent cannot communicate why a teenager should be home on time.
A victim of an atomic bomb blast cannot transmit the horror to a

If everyone agrees with me on this, the Journal of Memetics should
probably change its name to 'Journal of Memetics, Evolutionary models of
information recreation.' 'Information creation' might be better.

Somehow, I doubt there will be much agreement or commentary.

Despite the arcane appearance of my proposal, it does have implications
for memetics. If information cannot be transmitted, how can memes be


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