In order:


I agree. For example, if one identifies information with constraint, the
notion of information as causation becomes tautologous. It also feeds into
the notion of "It from bit"!


I agree, best to remain as catholic as possible in our conception of the


Spot-on! Feedbacks among non-living components provided the cradle for the
early emergence and proliferation of information. (See p147ff in

Cheers to all,
Bob U.

> Dear all,
> Just to comment on the discussion after Terrence's apt cautionary words...
> The various notions of information are partially a linguistic confusion,
> partially a relic of multiple conceptual histories colliding, and
> partially
> an ongoing negotiation (or even a war, to state it less creditably and
> with
> less civility), about the future of the term as a (more or less unified)
> scientific concept.
> To latch onto that negotiation, let me propose that an evolutionary
> approach to information can capture and explain some of that ambiguous
> multiplicity in terminology, by showing how pre-biotic natural processes
> developed feedback loops and material encoding techniques - which was a
> type of localised informational emergence - and how life, in developing
> cellular communication, DNA, sentience, memory, and selfhood, rarified
> this
> process further, producing informational processing such that had never
> existed before. Was it the same information? Or was it something new?
> Human consciousness and cultural semiosis are a yet higher level
> adaptation
> of information, and computer A.I. is something else entirely, for - at
> least for now - it lacks feelings and self-awareness and thus "meaning" in
> the human sense. But it computes, stores and processes. It might even
> develop suprasentience whose structure we cannot fathom based on our
> limited human perspective.  Is it still the same type of information? Or
> something different? Is evolution in quality (emergence) or only in
> quantity (continuous development)?
> I generally take the Peircean view that signification (informative
> relationality) evolves, and information, as an offshoot of that, is thus a
> multi-stage process - EVEN if it has a simple and predictable elemental
> substructure (composed of say, 1s and 0s, or quarks and bosons).
> Information might thus not only have a complex history of emergence, but
> also an unknown future, composed of various leaps in cosmic organization.
> In ignorant wonder, all the best,
> Otto Lehto,
> philosopher, political economist,
> PhD student at King's College London,
> webpage:,
> cellphone: +358-407514748
> On Mar 28, 2017 23:24, "Terrence W. DEACON" <> wrote:
>> 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
>> <>
>> wrote:
>>> 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
>> _______________________________________________
>> Fis mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> Fis mailing list

Fis mailing list

Reply via email to