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

2016-12-23 Thread Loet Leydesdorff
Dear Terrence and colleagues, 

 

I agree that we should not be fundamentalistic about “information”. For 
example, one can also use “uncertainty” as an alternative word to Shannon-type 
“information”. One can also make distinctions other than 
semantic/syntactic/pragmatic, such as biological information, etc.

 

Nevertheless, what makes this list to a common platform, in my opinion, is our 
interest in the differences and similarities in the background of these 
different notions of information. In my opinion, the status of Shannon’s 
mathematical theory of information is different  from special theories of 
information (e.g., biological ones) since the formal theory enables us to 
translate between these latter theories. The translations are heuristically 
important: they enable us to import metaphors from other backgrounds (e.g., 
auto-catalysis).

 

For example, one of us communicated with me why I was completely wrong, and 
made the argument with reference to Kullback-Leibler divergence between two 
probability distributions. Since we probably will not have “a general theory” 
of information, the apparatus in which information is formally and 
operationally defined—Bar-Hillel once called it “information calculus”—can 
carry this interdisciplinary function with precision and rigor. Otherwise, we 
can only be respectful of each other’s research traditions. J

 

I wish you all a splendid 2017,

Loet   

 

  _  

Loet Leydesdorff 

Professor, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)

  l...@leydesdorff.net ;  
 http://www.leydesdorff.net/ 
Associate Faculty,   SPRU, University of Sussex; 

Guest Professor   Zhejiang Univ., Hangzhou; 
Visiting Professor,   ISTIC, Beijing;

Visiting Professor,   Birkbeck, University of London; 

  
http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=ych9gNYJ=en

 

From: Fis [mailto:fis-boun...@listas.unizar.es] On Behalf Of Terrence W. DEACON
Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2016 5:33 AM
To: fis
Subject: Re: [Fis] What is information? and What is life?

 

Against information fundamentalism

 

Rather than fighting over THE definition of information, I suggest that we 
stand back from the polemics for a moment and recognize that the term is being 
used in often quite incompatible ways in different domains, and that there may 
be value in paying attention to the advantages and costs of each. To ignore 
these differences, to fail to explore the links and dependencies between them, 
and to be indifferent to the different use values gained or sacrificed by each, 
I believe that we end up undermining the very enterprise we claim to be 
promoting.

 

We currently lack broadly accepted terms to unambiguously distinguish these 
divergent uses and, even worse, we lack a theoretical framework for 
understanding their relationships to one another.

So provisionally I would argue that we at least need to distinguish three 
hierarchically related uses of the concept:

 

1. Physical information: Information as intrinsically measurable medium 
properties with respect to their capacity to support 2 or 3 irrespective of any 
specific instantiation of 2 or 3.

 

2. Referential information: information as a non-intrinsic relation to 
something other than medium properties (1) that a given medium can provide 
(i.e. reference or content) irrespective of any specific instantiation of 3.

 

3. Normative information: Information as the use value provided by a given 
referential relation (2) with respect to an end-directed dynamic that is 
susceptible to contextual factors that are not directly accessible (i.e. 
functional value or significance).

 

Unfortunately, because of the history of using the same term in an unmodified 
way in each relevant domain irrespective of the others there are often 
pointless arguments of a purely definitional nature.

 

In linguistic theory an analogous three-part hierarchic partitioning of theory 
IS widely accepted. 

 

1. syntax

2. semantics

3. pragmatics

 

Thus by analogy some have proposed the distinction between

 

1. syntactic information (aka Shannon)

2. semantic information (aka meaning)

3. pragmatic information (aka useful information)

 

This has also often been applied to the philosophy of information (e.g. see The 
Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy entry for ‘information’). Unfortunately, the 
language-centric framing of this distinction can be somewhat misleading. The 
metaphoric extension of the terms ‘syntax’ and ‘semantics’ to apply to iconic 
(e.g. pictorial) or indexical (e.g. correlational) forms of communication 
exerts a subtle procrustean influence that obscures their naturalistic and 
nondigital features. This language bias is also often introduced with 

Re: [Fis] Fis Digest, Vol 33, Issue 41: On the relation between information and meaning

2016-12-23 Thread Louis H Kauffman
Dear Steve,
You write
"But in later years he eventually recognized that the possibility of relating 
propositions in language to facts concerning the world could not in itself be 
proved. Without proof, the house of cards collapses. Once the validity of using 
language to describe the world ini a rigorous and unambiguous way is 
questioned, not much is left.”

I do not think that the issue of proof was foremost for Wittgenstein. Rather, 
he later understood that a pure mirroring of language and world was untenable 
and worked directly with language and its use to show how complex was the 
actuality. The result is that one can still read the Tractatus meaningfully, 
knowing that it states and discusses an ideal of (formal) language and a view 
of the world so created that is necessarily limited. Indeed the later 
Wittgenstein and the Tractatus come together at the point of the Tractatus 
showing how meagre is that ‘that can be said’ from its mirrored and logical 
point of view.
The Tractatus indicates its own incompleteness, and in do doing invalidates its 
use by the logical positivists as a model for the performance of science. It 
was in this background that (through Goedel) the Incompleteness Theorem arose 
in the midst of the Vienna Circle. And here we are in a world generated by 
formal computer languages, facing the uncertainties of models that are 
sensitive enough (as in economics and social science) to cross the boundary and 
affect what is to be modeled.
Best,
Lou Kauffman

> On Dec 23, 2016, at 11:27 AM, steven bindeman  wrote:
> 
> I would like to contribute to the current ongoing discussion regarding the 
> relation between information and meaning. I agree with Dai Griffiths and 
> others that the term information is a problematic construction. Since it is 
> often used as an example of fitting the details of a specific worldly 
> situation into a linguistic  form that can be processed by a computer, this 
> fact in itself introduces various distortions from the reality that is being 
> represented.  The degree of distortion might even be an example of the degree 
> of uncertainty.
> 
> I believe that reference to the early work of Wittgenstein might be of use in 
> this context, especially since his work in his Tractatus text on problems 
> related to logical atomism influenced the design of the von Neumann computer, 
> led to the creation of the Vienna Circle group and later inspired the 
> philosophical movement of logical positivism. Alan Turing was also one of his 
> students.
> 
> In this early work Wittgenstein had believed that a formal theory of language 
> could be developed, capable of showing how propositions can succeed in 
> representing real states of affairs and in serving the purposes of real life. 
> He believed that language is like a picture which is laid against reality 
> like a measuring rod and reaches right out to it. But in later years he 
> eventually recognized that the possibility of relating propositions in 
> language to facts concerning the world could not in itself be proved. Without 
> proof, the house of cards collapses. Once the validity of using language to 
> describe the world ini a rigorous and unambiguous way is questioned, not much 
> is left. Although propositions are indeed capable of modeling and describing 
> the world with a rigor not unlike that of mathematical representations of 
> physical phenomena, they cannot themselves describe how they represent this 
> world without becoming self-referential. Propositions are consequently 
> essentially meaningless, since their meaning consists precisely in their 
> ability to connect with the world outside of language. A perfect language 
> mirrors a  perfect world, but  since the latter is nothing more than a 
> chimera so is the former.
> 
> Here are some quotes (taken out of their original contexts) from 
> Wittgenstein’s Tractatus that I believe are relevant to the discussion on 
> information and meaning:
> 
> The facts in logical space are the world. What is the case — a fact— is the 
> existence of states of affairs.  A state of affairs (a state of things) is a 
> combination of objects (things). It is essential to things that they should 
> be possible constituents of states of affairs. If I know an object I also 
> know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs.  Objects contain the 
> possibility of all situations. The configuration of objects produces states 
> of affairs. The totality of existing states of affairs is the world. The 
> existence and non-existence of states of affairs is reality. States of 
> affairs are independent of one another.  A picture is a model of reality. A 
> picture is a fact.  Logical pictures can depict the world. A picture depicts 
> reality by representing a possibility of existence and non-existence of 
> states of affairs. Situations can be described but not given names. (Names 
> are like points; propositions like arrows — they 

Re: [Fis] Fis Digest, Vol 33, Issue 41: On the relation between information and meaning

2016-12-23 Thread steven bindeman
I would like to contribute to the current ongoing discussion regarding the 
relation between information and meaning. I agree with Dai Griffiths and others 
that the term information is a problematic construction. Since it is often used 
as an example of fitting the details of a specific worldly situation into a 
linguistic  form that can be processed by a computer, this fact in itself 
introduces various distortions from the reality that is being represented.  The 
degree of distortion might even be an example of the degree of uncertainty.

I believe that reference to the early work of Wittgenstein might be of use in 
this context, especially since his work in his Tractatus text on problems 
related to logical atomism influenced the design of the von Neumann computer, 
led to the creation of the Vienna Circle group and later inspired the 
philosophical movement of logical positivism. Alan Turing was also one of his 
students.

In this early work Wittgenstein had believed that a formal theory of language 
could be developed, capable of showing how propositions can succeed in 
representing real states of affairs and in serving the purposes of real life. 
He believed that language is like a picture which is laid against reality like 
a measuring rod and reaches right out to it. But in later years he eventually 
recognized that the possibility of relating propositions in language to facts 
concerning the world could not in itself be proved. Without proof, the house of 
cards collapses. Once the validity of using language to describe the world ini 
a rigorous and unambiguous way is questioned, not much is left. Although 
propositions are indeed capable of modeling and describing the world with a 
rigor not unlike that of mathematical representations of physical phenomena, 
they cannot themselves describe how they represent this world without becoming 
self-referential. Propositions are consequently essentially meaningless, since 
their meaning consists precisely in their ability to connect with the world 
outside of language. A perfect language mirrors a  perfect world, but  since 
the latter is nothing more than a chimera so is the former.

Here are some quotes (taken out of their original contexts) from Wittgenstein’s 
Tractatus that I believe are relevant to the discussion on information and 
meaning:

The facts in logical space are the world. What is the case — a fact— is the 
existence of states of affairs.  A state of affairs (a state of things) is a 
combination of objects (things). It is essential to things that they should be 
possible constituents of states of affairs. If I know an object I also know all 
its possible occurrences in states of affairs.  Objects contain the possibility 
of all situations. The configuration of objects produces states of affairs. The 
totality of existing states of affairs is the world. The existence and 
non-existence of states of affairs is reality. States of affairs are 
independent of one another.  A picture is a model of reality. A picture is a 
fact.  Logical pictures can depict the world. A picture depicts reality by 
representing a possibility of existence and non-existence of states of affairs. 
Situations can be described but not given names. (Names are like points; 
propositions like arrows — they have sense.)  Only propositions have sense; 
only in the nexus of a proposition does  a name have meaning.

Finally, with regards to the problems about information, I would add that 
Alfred Korzybski (and later Marshall McLuhan) once wrote that “the map is not 
the territory.” The map is merely a picture of something that it represents. 
Increasing the amount of information may reduce the granularity of the picture, 
but it remains a picture. This means that accumulation greater and greater 
amounts of information can never completely replace or represent the infinite 
complexity of any real-lilfe situation — and this is an insight that 
Wittgenstein realized only in his later philosophical work.

Steve Bindeman


> On Dec 22, 2016, at 7:37 AM, fis-requ...@listas.unizar.es wrote:
> 
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>   1. Re: What is information? and What is life? (Dai Griffiths)
> 
> 
> --
> 
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2016 12:44:59 +
> From: Dai Griffiths 
> To: fis@listas.unizar.es
> Subject: Re: [Fis] What is information? and What is life?
> Message-ID: 

[Fis] Season Greetings

2016-12-23 Thread Pedro C. Marijuan

Dear FIS Colleagues,

As is customary in this list, let me wish all of you Merry Xmas and a 
Happy New Year.


Herewith a Nativity Scene taken from "El Pilar" Cathedral in Zaragozal.

As is customary too, the NEW YEAR LECTURE will be announced in a few days.

All the best--Pedro



NATIVITY SCENE

*
*

--
-
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)
pcmarijuan.i...@aragon.es
http://sites.google.com/site/pedrocmarijuan/
-

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