Corrected typos (in case the intrinsic redundancy didn't compensate for
these minor corruptions of the text):

 information-beqaring medium =  information-bearing medium

appliction = application

 conceptiont =  conception

On Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 10:14 PM, Terrence W. DEACON <>

> Dear FIS colleagues,
> I agree with John Collier that we should not assume to restrict the
> concept of information to only one subset of its potential applications.
> But to work with this breadth of usage we need to recognize that
> 'information' can refer to intrinsic statistical properties of a physical
> medium, extrinsic referential properties of that medium (i.e. content), and
> the significance or use value of that content, depending on the context.  A
> problem arises when we demand that only one of these uses should be given
> legitimacy. As I have repeatedly suggested on this listserve, it will be a
> source of constant useless argument to make the assertion that someone is
> wrong in their understanding of information if they use it in one of these
> non-formal ways. But to fail to mark which conception of information is
> being considered, or worse, to use equivocal conceptions of the term in the
> same argument, will ultimately undermine our efforts to understand one
> another and develop a complete general theory of information.
> This nominalization of 'inform' has been in use for hundreds of years in
> legal and literary contexts, in all of these variant forms. But there has
> been a slowly increasing tendency to use it to refer to the
> information-beqaring medium itself, in substantial terms. This reached its
> greatest extreme with the restricted technical usage formalized by Claude
> Shannon. Remember, however, that this was only introduced a little over a
> half century ago. When one of his mentors (Hartley) initially introduced a
> logarithmic measure of signal capacity he called it 'intelligence' — as in
> the gathering of intelligence by a spy organization. So had Shannon chose
> to stay with that usage the confusions could have been worse (think about
> how confusing it would have been to talk about the entropy of
> intelligence). Even so, Shannon himself was to later caution against
> assuming that his use of the term 'information' applied beyond its
> technical domain.
> So despite the precision and breadth of appliction that was achieved by
> setting aside the extrinsic relational features that characterize the more
> colloquial uses of the term, this does not mean that these other uses are
> in some sense non-scientific. And I am not alone in the belief that these
> non-intrinsic properties can also (eventually) be strictly formalized and
> thereby contribute insights to such technical fields as molecular biology
> and cognitive neuroscience.
> As a result I think that it is legitimate to argue that information (in
> the referential sense) is only in use among living forms, that an alert
> signal sent by the computer in an automobile engine is information (in both
> senses, depending on whether we include a human interpreter in the loop),
> or that information (in the intrinsic sense of a medium property) is lost
> within a black hole or that it can be used  to provide a more precise
> conceptiont of physical cause (as in Collier's sense). These different uses
> aren't unrelated to each other. They are just asymmetrically dependent on
> one another, such that medium-intrinsic properties can be investigated
> without considering referential properties, but not vice versa.
> It's time we move beyond terminological chauvenism so that we can further
> our dialogue about the entire domain in which the concept of information is
> important. To succeed at this, we only need to be clear about which
> conception of information we are using in any given context.
> — Terry
> On Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 8:32 PM, John Collier <> wrote:
>> I wrote a paper some time ago arguing that causal processes are the
>> transfer of information. Therefore I think that physical processes can and
>> do convey information. Cause can be dispensed with.
>>    - There is a copy at Causation is the Transfer of Information
>>    <> In Howard Sankey (ed) 
>> *Causation,
>>    Natural Laws and Explanation* (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999)
>> Information is a very powerful concept. It is a shame to restrict oneself
>> to only a part of its possible applications.
>> John Collier
>> Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Associate
>> Philosophy, University of KwaZulu-Natal
>> _______________________________________________
>> Fis mailing list
> --
> Professor Terrence W. Deacon
> University of California, Berkeley

Professor Terrence W. Deacon
University of California, Berkeley
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