Dear Terry and Loet,

I think both of your posts put forward a very important concept to information 
studies, i.e., HIERARCHY.

Terry stated: "Communication needs to be more carefully distinguished from mere 
transfer of physical differences, …… Any transfer of physical, physical 
differences in this respect can be utilized to communicate, and all 
communication requires this physical foundation."

I hope to raise a similar question: what is the mode of the existence of 
information? My answer is: No information can exist in a bare way. That is to 
say, any existence of information is premised on the existence of substrate, 
and the substrate can be hierarchical. In the same way, no information can be 
communicated or processed in a bare way if and only if it has been embedded in 
the substrate. In human information, substrate can be divided into sign, paper, 
etc., or other electronic devices. In genetic information, substrate can be 
divided into base, DNA or RNA, chromosome, cell, and organism. The study about 
the mode of existence of information is an important aspect of ontological 
research of information science.

In Terry’s statement: "Simply collapsing our concept (compression, collapse) of 
'communication' to its physical substrate ……", or in Loet’s words: "One should 
not confuse communication with the substance of communication." Again, this is 
a hierarchy problem. Because no information can be communicated in a bare way, 
so the communication of information is premised on the communication of 
substrate, the same is true in the processing of information. Then, any 
communication of information is twofold: communication of information and 
communication of substrate. The study about the mode of communication and 
processing of information is the important aspect of dynamical research of 
information science.


Best wishes,



From: [] On 
Behalf Of Loet Leydesdorff
Sent: Saturday, November 18, 2017 4:19 PM
To: Terrence W. DEACON <>; fis <>
Subject: Re: [Fis] some notes


Dear Terry and colleagues, 


I agree that one should not confuse communication with the substance of 
communication (e.g., life in bio-semiotics). It seems useful to me to 
distinguish between several concepts of "communication".


1. Shannon's (1948) definitions in "The Mathematical Theory of Communication". 
Information is communicated, but is yet meaning free. These notions of 
information and communication are counter-intuitive (Weaver, 1949). However, 
they provide us with means for the measurement, such as bits of information. 
The meaning of the communication is provided by the system of reference (Theil, 
1972); in other words, by the specification of "what is comunicated?" For 
example, if money is communicated (redistributed), the system of reference is a 
transaction system. If molecules are communicated, life can be generated 


2. Information as "a difference which makes a difference" (Bateson, 1973; 
McKay, 1969). A difference can only make a difference for a receiving system 
that provides meaning to the system. In my opinion, one should in this case 
talk about "meaningful information" and "meaningful communication" as different 
from the Shannon-type information (based on probability distributions). In this 
case, we don't have a clear instrument for the measurement. For this reason, I 
have a preference for the definitions under 1.


3. Interhuman communication is of a different order because it involves 
intentionality and language. The discourses under 1. and 2. are interhuman 
communication systems. (One has to distinguish levels and should not impose our 
intuitive notion of communication on the processes under study.) In my opinion, 
interhuman communication involves both communication of information and 
possibilities of sharing meaning.


The Shannon-type information shares with physics the notion of entropy. 
However, physical entropy is dimensioned (Joule/Kelvin; S = k(B) H), whereas 
probabilistic entropy is dimensionless (H). Classical physics, for example, is 
based on the communication of momenta and energy because these two quantities 
have to be conserved. In the 17th century, it was common to use the word 
"communication" in this context (Leibniz).





------ Original Message ------

From: "Terrence W. DEACON" < <>>

To: "fis" < <>>

Cc: "Pedro C. Marijuan" < <>>; "Loet Leydesdorff" < <>>

Sent: 11/17/2017 6:34:18 PM

Subject: Re: [Fis] some notes


On communication:


"Communication" needs to be more carefully distinguished from mere

transfer of physical differences from location to location and time to

time. Indeed, any physical transfer of physical differences in this

respect can be utilized to communicate, and all communication requires

this physical foundation. But there is an important hierarchic

distinction that we need to consider. Simply collapsing our concept of

'communication' to its physical substrate (and ignoring the process of

interpretation) has the consequence of treating nearly all physical

processes as communication and failing to distinguish those that

additionally convey something we might call representational content.


Thus while internet communication and signals transferred between

computers do indeed play an essential role in human communication, we

only have to imagine a science fiction story in which all human

interpreters suddenly disappear but our computers nevertheless

continue to exchange signals, to realize that those signals are not

"communicating" anything. At that point they would only be physically

modifying one another, not communicating, except in a sort of

metaphoric sense. This sort of process would not be fundamentally

different from solar radiation modifying atoms in the upper atmosphere

or any other similar causal process. It would be odd to say that the

sun is thereby communicating anything to the atmosphere.


So, while I recognize that there are many methodological contexts in

which it makes little difference whether or not we ignore this

semiotic aspect, as many others have also hinted, this is merely to

bracket from consideration what really distinguishes physical transfer

of causal influence from communication. Remember that this was a

methodological strategy that even Shannon was quick to acknowledge in

the first lines of his classic paper. We should endeavor to always be

as careful.


— Terry

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