Dear Hector and colleagues,

I have found very interesting your message. It has reminded me in another level the problems we have in this list to keep focused discussions particularly regarding disciplinary (non philosophical, non general) matters. Most people in the list pay lip tribute to multidisciplinarity concerning the problem of establishing the foundations of information science. But in actuality only the "generalist" community including philosophers and people close to information theory have sufficient critical mass to voluntarily or involuntarily bias the debate towards their views, specially the preoccupation for these big questions that (fortunately) at the time being can not be answered.

In my particular stance, already commented upon in my last message, and in quite a few previous ones, the most strategic problem relates to the biological origins of meaning, that hiatus that notoriously separates the inanimate/objective from the animate/subjective forms of information. The recent revolution in signaling science has a few things to say about that, how life cycles are advanced among constellations of colligated info&energy flows and how the meaning of signals is molecularly fabricated, not so far away from our social "narratives". But helas I have failed to capture the attention and interest of my FIS colleagues --a complain, to myself, which is widely shared among most, if not all of us!! In any case I omit self-propaganda of my papers on the matter.

Please, do not take that as a manifestation of bitterness. The fact is that we have a serious imbalance in the composition of our discussion community. In part, enlisting practicing research scientists in a generalist list like this one is very difficult. And maintaining topical discussions on their specialized matters of interest is almost impossible given the lack of critical mass, and the disinterest of broad segments of the list. See for instance the poor performance of most specialized sessions organized so far. Spontaneous "tangents" come to the rescue, as they have always been accepted in this list, and can be genuinely creative, but most of the derivations go again and again to those ghostly questions.

Now, going to the positive part, I have recently proposed to the board of IS4SI, the common info society into which FIS integrated, the arrangement of Working Groups, or Interest Groups, so that maintaining a general discussion list be compatible with parallel exchanges among more homogeneous participants. For instance, here at FIS it wouldn't be too difficult arranging a working group on info philosophy and another on info theory and the definition of information (the quest for establishing standards); and perhaps we could try one in biophysics and neurodynamics, and another group in bioinformation, plus social info matters... Who knows? I think it is an interesting step to try in order to achieve some "ratchet effect", and we could count with fis' own web pages to support the new works, and perhaps it would be easier to get some financing for small meetings face to face... Well, I offer myself to start working with the bioinfo club, and if anyone is interested in the initial coordination of one of these possible teams, just speak up (either in the list or offline). If any of these could work a little among us, we would have made advancements to arrange the idea in wider scale.

Best wishes--Pedro

El 30/03/2017 a las 22:01, Terrence W. DEACON escribió:
Dear Hector,

Whenever I read an email or hear a response that begins with the phrase "With all due respect" I fear that what follows will indeed be disrespectful and self-promoting. Scholarly respect is particularly important when the diversity of backgrounds of the contributors is so broad and their level of erudition in these different fields is likewise broad. Best to begin with the assumption that all are well-read expert scholars rather than complaining about others' ignorance of what you refer to—an assumption that is often mistaken.

In our short email notes one cannot expect each author to provide a list of all current mathematical and non-mathematical formal definitions of information, or to provide an evidentiary list of their own papers on the topic as a proof of competence, in order to make a point. Since we are inevitably forced to use short-hand terms to qualify our particular usages, my only suggestion is that we need to find mutially understandable qualifiers for these different uses, to avoid pointless bickering about what 'information' is or how it should be used.

The term "information" is not "fixed" to a particular technical definition currently standard to only one or two fields like mathematics, physics, or computation theory. Nor can we assume that technical approaches in one field will be relevant to problems outside that field. I would hope that we are collectively attempting to expand our mutual understanding of this concept, recognizing its diversity, and the value of the many very different approaches in different fields. I would like us to stop making claims that one or another approach has exclusive priority and remain open to dialogue and constructive argument. So although we should credit Wiener, Fano, Solomonoff, Kolmogorov, Chaitin, Bennett, Landauer, and many many others with greatly extending the field beyond Shannon's initial contribution, even a full bibliography of mathematical and physical contributions to the understanding of this concept would only scratch the surface. Information concepts are critical to molecular and evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, semiotics and linguistics, and social theory—to name but a few more divergent fields. Each of these fields has their own list of luminaries and important discoveries.

The challenge is always to find a common set of terms and assumptions to ground such ambitious multidisciplinary explorations. To those who are convinced that the past 65 years of research HAS dealt with all the relevant issues I beg your patience with those of us who remain less convinced.

— Terry

On Thu, Mar 30, 2017 at 11:12 AM, John Collier < <>> wrote:

    Dear Hector,

    Personally I agree that algorithmic information theory and the
    related concepts of randomness and Bennett’s logical depth are the
    best way to go. I have used them in many of my own works. When I
    met Chaitin a few years back we talked mostly about how
    unrewarding and controversial our work on information theory has
    been. When I did an article on information for the Stanford
    Encyclopaedia of Philosophy it was rejected in part becausewe of
    fierce divisions between supporters of Chaitin and supporters of
    Kolmogorov! The stuff I put in on Spencer Brown was criticized
    because “he was some sort of Buddhist, wasn’t he?” It sounds like
    you have run into similar problems.

    That is why I suggested a realignment of what this group should be
    aiming for. I think the end result would justify our thinking, and
    your work certainly furthers it. But it does need to be worked
    out. Personally, I don’t have the patience for it.

    John Collier

    Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Associate

    Philosophy, University of KwaZulu-Natal

    *From:*Hector Zenil [
    *Sent:* Thursday, 30 March 2017 10:48 AM
    *To:* John Collier <
    <>>; fis <
    *Subject:* Re: [Fis] Causation is transfer of information

    Dear John et al. Some comments below:

    On Thu, Mar 30, 2017 at 9:47 AM, John Collier <
    <>> wrote:

        I think we should try to categorize and relate information
        concepts rather than trying to decide which is the “right
        one”. I have tried to do this by looking at various uses of
        information in science, and argue that the main uses show
        progressive containment: Kinds of Information in Scientific
        2011. cognition, communication, co-operation. Vol 9, No 2

        There are various mathematical formulations of information as
        well, and I think the same strategy is required here.
        Sometimes they are equivalent, sometimes close to equivalent,
        and sometimes quite different in form and motivation. Work on
        the foundations of information science needs to make these
        relations clear. A few years back (more than a decade) a
        mathematician on a list (newsgroup) argued that there were
        dozens of different mathematical definitions of information. I
        thought this was a bit excessive, and argued with him about
        convergences, but he was right that they were mathematically
        different. We need to look at information theory structures
        and their models to see where they are equivalent and where
        (and if) they overlap. Different mathematical forms can have
        models in common, sometimes all of them.

    The agreement among professional mathematicians is that the
    correct definition of randomness as opposed to information is the
    Martin Loef definition for the infinite asymptotic case, and
    Kolmogorov-Chaitin for the finite case. Algorithmic probability
    (Solomonoff, Levin) is the theory of optimal induction and thus
    provides a formal universal meaning to the value of information.
    Then the general agreement is also that Bennett's logical depth
    separates the concept of randomness from information structure. No
    much controversy in in there on the nature of classical
    information as algorithmic information. Notice that 'algorithmic
    information' is not just one more definiton of information, IS the
    definition of mathematical information (again, by way of defining
    algorithmic randomness). So adding 'algorithmic' to information is
    not to talk about a special case that can then be ignored by
    philosophy of information.

    All the above builds on (and well beyond) Shannon Entropy, which
    is not even very properly discussed in philosophy of information
    beyond its most basic definition (we rarely, if ever, see
    discussions around mutual information, conditional information,
    Judea Pearl's interventionist approach and counterfactuals, etc),
    let alone anything of the more advanced areas mentioned above, or
    a discussion on the now well established area of quantum
    information that is also comletely ignored.

    This is like trying to do philosophy of cosmology discussing Gamow
    and Hubble but ignoring relativity, or trying to do philosophy of
    language today discussing Locke and Hume but not Chomsky, or doing
    philosophy of mind discussing the findings of Ramon y Cajal and
    claiming that his theories are not enough to explain the brain. It
    is some sort of strawman fallacy contructing an opponent living in
    the 40s to claim in 2017 that it fails at explaining everything
    about information. Shannon Entropy is a counting-symbol function,
    with interesting applications, Shannon himself knew it. It makes
    no sense to expect a counting-symbol function to tell anything
    interesting about information after 60 years. I refer again to my
    Entropy deceiving paper:

    I do not blame philosophers on this one, phycisists seem to assign
    Shannon Entropy some mystical power, this is why I wrote a paper
    proving how it cannot be used in graph complexity as some phycists
    have recently suggested (e.g. Bianconi via Barabasi). But this is
    the kind of discussion that we should have having, telling
    phycisists not to go back to the 40s when it comes to
    characterizing new objects. If Shannon Entropy fails at
    characterizing sequences it will not work for other objects (graphs!).

    I think the field of philosophy of information cannot get serious
    until serious discussion on topics above starts to take place.
    Right now the field is small and carried out by a few
    mathematicians and phycisists. Philosophers are left behind
    because they are choosing to ignore all the theory developed in
    the last 50 to 60 years. I hope this is taken constructively. I
    think we philosophers need to step up, if we are not be leading
    the discussion at least we should not be 50 or 60 years behind. I
    have tried to to close that gap but usually I also get convenently
    ignored =)

        I have argued that information originates in symmetry breaking
        (making a difference, if you like, but I see it as a dynamic
        process rather than merely as a representation) Information
        Originates in Symmetry Breaking
        <> (/Symmetry/ 1996).

    Very nice paper. I agree on symmetry breaking, I have similar ideas: <>

    (published in the journal of Natural Computing)

    On how symmetric rules can produce assymetric information.


    Hector Zenil

Pedro C. Marijuán
Grupo de Bioinformación / Bioinformation Group
Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud
Centro de Investigación Biomédica de Aragón (CIBA)
Avda. San Juan Bosco, 13, planta 0
50009 Zaragoza, Spain
Tfno. +34 976 71 3526 (& 6818)

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