Definition of information

From: TStonier <>
Date: Thu 06 May 1999 - 17:38:44 CEST

I recently received a communication from Jim Logan of "Infodynamics, Inc"
asking about what appeared to him contradictory definitions of information
in my Information trilogy. Below are the answers that I wrote him. I
would welcome colleagues' comments. It does fit into the discussion of
creating a taxonomy of information.

Dear Jim,
Thanks for your communication of May 4th. As you can see, I have retired
to the wilds of Western Massachusetts.

The apparent contradiction in defining information in various ways is a
reflection of our insistence that information must be one kind of thing.
That is, one definition fits all. First, we should be talking about
information systems and information processing systems, not merely about
information per se. When we try to define information, we almost always
put it into some sort of system (e.g., DNA, Computer, Human speech, etc.).
Each of the several examples I cite in Information and Meaning (Chapter 3)
involves entirely different vehicles for the transmission and storage of
information and for interpreting the signals. Second, we should understand
that we are, at the end of the 20th C, about where the physicists were at
the end of 18th C in grappling with the concept of "ENERGY". We are only
now beginning to lay the foundation of a Science of Information and have
little understanding of the interconvertability of one form of information
for another (Information transduction), but at least I have developed some
quantification of the conversion of information to energy and vice versa.

On pgs. 17-19 (Information and Meaning) I compare how parallel are the
concepts of "information" and "energy". Remember that the concept of
"energy" is only a few centuries old and that it was not until the middle
of the 19th C that scientists began to understand that one form of energy
could be transduced to another and to be able to write the equations of
this conversion. The reason I speculate on the existence of "infons" is to
focus attention on the "physical" reality of information.

As to your specific questions. The first and most important fact is to
understand that Information is a basic property of the universe, like
energy, and like energy it has a reality of its own.

Where do we go from here? First, it leads to a much clearer understanding
of the transfer and transduction in physical information systems. This
ridiculous concept of "entropy", dear to the hearts of physical scientists
and engineers, can be done away with and described more simply as increases
in entropy reflect decreases in organization, hence information. And, as
Information and the Internal Structure of the Universe describes, one can
calculate this loss of organization in terms of bits lost.

Second, an organized system may become more organized as a result of adding
more information to it. If one looks at the evolution of technology, for
example, many inventions became increasingly more efficient by later
improvements added on. The same holds true for biological evolution, and,
for that matter, the evolution of any system (e.g. human language).

The important thing to remember is this. There are information systems
which are different from, but build on more primitive information systems
in order to exist. There exists a large and very elaborate hierarchy of
information systems. As I said, I believe Information Science to be in a
state which is about 200 years behind the physicists. It won't take us 200
years to catch up, but we badly need to develop a taxonomy of information
and information systems to truly understand the matter. You might find
Chapter 3 of Information and Meaning helpful in these discussions.

Anyway, thanks for your interest. If you have further questions or
comments I would be happy to engage in further discussion. I will send you
this by E-mail with hard copy to follow. I may also put it out over the
FIS (Foundations of Information Science) network.

With cordial best wishes.

Tom Stonier
Received on Mon May 10 09:52:56 1999

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