Dear Terry,
Are you really sure that looking at linking Shannon to higher-order conceptions 
of information like meaning is a realistic ambition?
I compare that to linking the width of a street to the individual motivations 
of the persons that will walk in the street.
As we know, Shannon is to measure a communication channel capacity. It is not 
about the possible meanings of the information that may transit through the 
Information goes through a communication channel because agents want to 
communicate, to exchange meaningful information (the 'outside perspective' as 
you say). And meanings do not exist by themselves. Meaningful information are 
generated by agents that have reasons for that. Animals manage meanings in 
order to stay alive (as individual & as species). Human motivation/constraints 
are more complex but they are the sources of our meaning generations.
We agree that information is not to be confused with meaning. However, on a 
pragmatic standpoint the two cannot be separated. But this does not imply, I 
feel, that Shannon is to be linked to the meaning of information.
For me the core of the subject is with meaning generation. Why and how is 
meaningful information generated? (

All the best to all for 2017.

De : Fis <> de la part de Terrence W. DEACON 
Envoyé : samedi 7 janvier 2017 20:15
À : John Collier
Cc : Foundations of Information Science Information Science; Dai Griffiths
Objet : Re: [Fis] What is information? and What is life?

Leot remarks:

"... we need a kind of calculus of redundancy."

I agree whole-heartedly.

What for Shannon was the key to error-correction is thus implicitly normative. 
But of course assessment of normativity (accurate/inacurate, useful/unuseful, 
significant/insignificant) must necessarily involve an "outside" perspective, 
i.e. more than merely the statistics of sign medium chartacteristics. 
Redundancy is also implicit in concepts like communication, shared 
understanding, iconism, and Fano's "mutual information." But notice too that 
redundancy is precisely non-information in a strictly statistical understanding 
of that concept; a redundant message is not itself "news" — and yet it can 
reduce the uncertainty of what is "message" and what is "noise." It is my 
intuition that by developing a formalization (e.g. a "calculus") using the 
complemetary notions of redundancy and constraint that we will ultimately be 
able formulate a route from Shannon to the higher-order conceptions of 
information, in which referential and normative features can be precisely 

There is an open door, though it still seems pretty dark on the other side. So 
one must risk stumbling in order to explore that space.

Happy 2017, Terry

On Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 9:02 AM, John Collier 
<<>> wrote:
Dear List,

I agree with Terry that we should not be bound by our own partial theories. We 
need an integrated view of information that shows its relations in all of its 
various forms. There is a family resemblance in the ways it is used, and some 
sort of taxonomy can be constructed. I recommend that of Luciano Floridi. His 
approach is not unified (unlike my own, reported on this list), but compatible 
with it, and is a place to start, though it needs expansion and perhaps 
modification. There may be some unifying concept of information, but its 
application to all the various ways it has been used will not be obvious, and a 
sufficiently general formulation my well seem trivial, especially to those 
interested in the vital communicative and meaningful aspects of information. I 
also agree with Loet that pessimism, however justified, is not the real 
problem. To some extent it is a matter of maturity, which takes both time and 
development, not to mention giving up cherished juvenile enthusiasms.

I might add that constructivism, with its positivist underpinnings, tends to 
lead to nominalism and relativism about whatever is out there. I believe that 
this is a major hindrance to a unified understanding. I understand that it 
appeared in reaction to an overzealous and simplistic realism about science and 
other areas, but I think it through the baby out with the bathwater.

I have been really ill, so my lack of communication. I am pleased to see this 
discussion, which is necessary for the field to develop maturity. I thought I 
should add my bit, and with everyone a Happy New Year, with all its 

Warmest regards to everyone,

From: Fis 
[<>] On 
Behalf Of Loet Leydesdorff
Sent: December 31, 2016 12:16 AM
To: 'Terrence W. DEACON' <<>>; 
'Dai Griffiths' <<>>; 
'Foundations of Information Science Information Science' 

Subject: Re: [Fis] What is information? and What is life?

We agree that such a theory is a ways off, though you some are far more 
pessimisitic about its possibility than me. I believe that we would do best to 
focus on the hole that needs filling in rather than assuming that it is an 
unfillable given.

Dear Terrence and colleagues,

It is not a matter of pessimism. We have the example of “General Systems 
Theory” of the 1930s (von Bertalanffy  and others). Only gradually, one 
realized the biological metaphor driving it. In my opinion, we have become 
reflexively skeptical about claims of “generality” because we know the 
statements are framed within paradigms. Translations are needed in this 
fractional manifold.

I agree that we are moving in a fruitful direction. Your book “Incomplete 
Nature” and “The Symbolic Species” have been important. The failing options 
cannot be observed, but have to be constructed culturally, that is, in 
discourse. It seems to me that we need a kind of calculus of redundancy. 
Perspectives which are reflexively aware of this need and do not assume an 
unproblematic “given” or “natural” are perhaps to be privileged nonetheless. 
The unobservbable options have first to be specified and we need theory 
(hypotheses) for this. Perhaps, this epistemological privilege can be used as a 
vantage point.

There is an interesting relation to Husserl’s Critique of the European Sciences 
(1935): The failing (or forgotten) dimension is grounded in “intersubjective 
intentionality.” Nowadays, we would call this “discourse”. How are discourses 
structured and how can they be translated for the purpose of offering this 

Happy New Year,

My modest suggestion is only that in the absence of a unifying theory we should 
not privilege one partial theory over others and that in the absence of a 
global general theory we need to find terminology that clearly identifies the 
level at which the concept is being used. Lacking this, we end up debating 
incompatible definitions, and defending our favored one that either excludes or 
includes issues of reference and significance or else assumes or denies the 
relevance of human interpreters. With different participants interested in 
different levels and applications of the information concept—from physics, to 
computation, to neuroscience, to biosemiotics, to language, to art, 
etc.—failure to mark this diversity will inevitably lead us in circles.

I urge humility with precision and an eye toward synthesis.

Happy new year to all.\

— Terry

On Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 12:30 PM, Dai Griffiths 
<<>> wrote:

Thanks Stan,

Yes, it's a powerful and useful process.
My problem is that in this list, and in other places were such matters are 
discussed, we don't seem to be able to agree on the big picture, and the higher 
up the generalisations we go, the less we agree.

I'd like to keep open the possibility that we might be yoking ideas together 
which it may be more useful to keep apart. We are dealing with messy concepts 
in messy configurations, which may not always map neatly onto a generalisation 


On 22/12/16 16:45, Stanley N Salthe wrote:

Dai --

{phenomenon 1}

{phenomenon 2}   -->  {Phenomena 1 & 2} ---> {phenomena 1.2,3}

{phenomenon 3}

The process from left to right is generalization.

‘Information’ IS a generalization.

generalities form the substance of philosophy. Info happens to a case

     of generalization which can be mathematized, which in turn allows

     it to be generalized even more.

So, what’s the problem?


On Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 7:44 AM, Dai Griffiths 
<<>> wrote:

>  Information is not “something out there” which “exists” otherwise than as 
> our construct.

I agree with this. And I wonder to what extent our problems in discussing 
information come from our desire to shoe-horn many different phenomena into the 
same construct. It would be possible to disaggregate the construct. It be 
possible to discuss the topics which we address on this list without using the 
word 'information'. We could discuss redundancy, variety, constraint, meaning, 
structural coupling, coordination, expectation, language, etc.

In what ways would our explanations be weakened?

In what ways might we gain in clarity?

If we were to go down this road, we would face the danger that our discussions 
might become (even more) remote from everyday human experience. But many 
scientific discussions are remote from everyday human experience.

On 20/12/16 08:26, Loet Leydesdorff wrote:
Dear colleagues,

A distribution contains uncertainty that can be measured in terms of bits of 
Alternatively: the expected information content H of a probability distribution 
[cid:image001.png@01D268CD.2E1F8E10] is [cid:image002.png@01D268CD.2E1F8E10] .
H is further defined as probabilistic entropy using Gibb’s formulation of the 
entropy [cid:image003.png@01D268CD.2E1F8E10] .

This definition of information is an operational definition. In my opinion, we 
do not need an essentialistic definition by answering the question of “what is 
information?” As the discussion on this list demonstrates, one does not easily 
agree on an essential answer; one can answer the question “how is information 
defined?” Information is not “something out there” which “exists” otherwise 
than as our construct.

Using essentialistic definitions, the discussion tends not to move forward. For 
example, Stuart Kauffman’s and Bob Logan’s (2007) definition of information “as 
natural selection assembling the very constraints on the release of energy that 
then constitutes work and the propagation of organization.” I asked several 
times what this means and how one can measure this information. Hitherto, I 
only obtained the answer that colleagues who disagree with me will be cited. :) 
Another answer was that “counting” may lead to populism. :)


Loet Leydesdorff
Professor, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)<> ;
Associate Faculty, SPRU, <> University of Sussex;
Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ.<>, Hangzhou; 
Visiting Professor, ISTIC, <> Beijing;
Visiting Professor, Birkbeck<>, University of London;

From: Dick Stoute []
Sent: Monday, December 19, 2016 12:48 PM
Cc: James Peters;<>; Alex Hankey; FIS 
Subject: Re: [Fis] What is information? and What is life?


Please allow me to respond to Loet about the definition of information stated 

1. the definition of information as uncertainty is counter-intuitive 
("bizarre"); (p. 27)

I agree.  I struggled with this definition for a long time before realising 
that Shannon was really discussing "amount of information" or the number of 
bits needed to convey a message.  He was looking for a formula that would 
provide an accurate estimate of the number of bits needed to convey a message 
and realised that the amount of information (number of bits) needed to convey a 
message was dependent on the "amount" of uncertainty that had to be eliminated 
and so he equated these.

It makes sense to do this, but we must distinguish between "amount of 
information" and "information".  For example, we can measure amount of water in 
liters, but this does not tell us what water is and likewise the measure we use 
for "amount of information" does not tell us what information is. We can, for 
example equate the amount of water needed to fill a container with the volume 
of the container, but we should not think that water is therefore identical to 
an empty volume.  Similarly we should not think that information is identical 
to uncertainty.

By equating the number of bits needed to convey a message with the "amount of 
uncertainty" that has to be eliminated Shannon, in effect, equated opposites so 
that he could get an estimate of the number of bits needed to eliminate the 
uncertainty.  We should not therefore consider that this equation establishes 
what information is.


On 18 December 2016 at 15:05, Loet Leydesdorff 
<<>> wrote:

Dear James and colleagues,

Weaver (1949) made two major remarks about his coauthor (Shannon)'s 

1. the definition of information as uncertainty is counter-intuitive 
("bizarre"); (p. 27)

2. "In particular, information must not be confused with meaning." (p. 8)

The definition of information as relevant for a system of reference confuses 
information with "meaningful information" and thus sacrifices the surplus value 
of Shannon's counter-intuitive definition.

information observer

that integrates interactive processes such as

physical interactions such photons stimulating the retina of the eye, 
human-machine interactions (this is the level that Shannon lives on), 
biological interaction such body temperature relative to touch ice or heat 
source, social interaction such as this forum started by Pedro, economic 
interaction such as the stock market, ... [Lerner, page 1].

We are in need of a theory of meaning. Otherwise, one cannot measure meaningful 
information. In a previous series of communications we discussed redundancy 
from this perspective.

Lerner introduces mathematical expectation E[Sap] (difference between of a 
priory entropy [sic] and a posteriori entropy), which is distinguished from the 
notion of relative information Iap (Learner, page 7).

[cid:image004.png@01D268CD.2E1F8E10]) expresses in bits of information the 
information generated when the a priori distribution 
[cid:image005.png@01D268CD.2E1F8E10] is turned into the a posteriori one 
[cid:image006.png@01D268CD.2E1F8E10] . This follows within the Shannon 
framework without needing an observer. I use this equation, for example, in my 
1995-book The Challenge of Scientometrics (Chapters 8 and 9), with a reference 
to Theil (1972). The relative information is defined as the H/H(max).

I agree that the intuitive notion of information is derived from the Latin 
“in-formare” (Varela, 1979). But most of us do no longer use “force” and “mass” 
in the intuitive (Aristotelian) sense. :) The proliferation of the meanings of 
information if confused with “meaningful information” is indicative for an 
“index sui et falsi”, in my opinion. The repetitive discussion lames the 
progression at this list. It is “like asking whether a glass is half empty or 
half full” (Hayles, 1990, p. 59).

This act of forming forming an information process results in the construction 
of an observer that is the owner [holder] of information.

The system of reference is then no longer the message, but the observer who 
provides meaning to the information (uncertainty). I agree that this is a 
selection process, but the variation first has to be specified independently 
(before it can be selected.

And Lerner introduces the threshold between objective and subjective observes 
(page 27).   This leads to a consideration selection and cooperation that 
includes entanglement.

I don’t see a direct relation between information and entanglement. An observer 
can be entangled.



PS. Pedro: Let me assume that this is my second posting in the week which ends 
tonight. L.

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