Information

Information is a term with many meanings depending on context, but is as a rule closely related to such concepts as meaning, knowledge, negentropy, communication, truth, representation, and mental stimulus.

Although many people speak of the advent of the "information age," the "information society," and information technologies, and even though information science and computer science are often in the spotlight, the word "information" is often used without careful consideration of the various meanings it has come to acquire.

The following is a list of the most important meanings, roughly in order of narrowest to broadest.

Table of contents
1 Information as negative entropy
2 Information as a message
3 Information as a pattern
4 Information as sensory input
5 Information as an influence which leads to a transformation
6 References
7 See also
8 External links

Information as negative entropy

Information is negative entropy—the instructions that are needed to produce order or reduce uncertainty (whether about future events or past or current conditions). Information in this sense can be measured. Because it conveys accurate instructions about creating order or reducing uncertainty, it can be said to be useful, true knowledge. It helps people make judgments and take actions and in some contexts is called intelligence. By contrast, disinformation signifies the transmission of falsehoods in an attempt to alter the judgements or actions of others.

Information as a message

Information is a message, something to be communicated from the sender to the receiver, as opposed to noise, which is something that inhibits the flow of communication or creates misunderstanding. If information is viewed merely as a message, it does not have to be accurate. It may be a lie, or just a sound of a kiss. This model assumes a sender and a receiver, and does not attach any significance to the idea that information is something that can be extracted from an environment, e.g., through observation or measurement. Information in this sense is simply any message the sender chooses to create.

Information as a pattern

Information is a represented pattern. This view assumes neither accuracy nor directly communicating parties, but instead assumes a separation between an object and its representation, as well as the involvement of someone capable of understanding this relationship. This view seems therefore to require a conscious mind. Consider the following example: economic statistics represent an economy, however inaccurately. What is commonly referred to as data in computing, statistics, and other fields, are forms of information in this sense. The electro-magnetic patterns in a computer network and connected devices are related to something other than the pattern itself, such as text to be displayed and keyboard input. Signals, signs, and symbols are also in this category. Painting and drawing contain information to the extent that they represent something such as an assortment of objects on a table, a profile, or a landscape. In other words, when a pattern of something is transposed to a pattern of something else, the latter is information. This type of information still assumes some involvement of conscious mind, of either the entity constructing the representation, or the entity interpreting it.

When one constructs a representation of an object, one can selectively extract from the object (sampling) or use a system of signs to replace (coding), or both. The sampling and coding result in representation. An example of the former is a "sample" of a product; an example of the latter is "verbal description" of a product. Both contain information of the product, however inaccurate. When one interprets representation, one can predict a broader pattern from a limited number of observations (inference) or understand the relation between patterns of two different things (decoding). One example of the former is to sip a soup to know if it is spoiled; an example of the latter is examining footprints to determine the animal and its condition. In both cases, information sources are not constructed or presented by some "sender" of information. To repeat, information in this sense does not assume direct communication, but it assumes involvement of some conscious mind.

Information as sensory input

Information is any type of sensory input. When an organism with a nervous system receives an input, it transforms the input into an electrical signal. This is regarded information by some. The idea of representation is still relevant, but in a slightly different manner. That is, while abstract painting does not contain represent anything concretely, when the viewer sees the painting, it is nevertheless transformed into electrical signals that create a representation of the painting. Defined this way, information does not have to be related to truth, communication, or representation of an object. Entertainment in general is not intended to be informative. Music, the performing arts, amusement parks, works of fiction and so on are thus forms of information in this sense, but they are not forms of information according to the previous definitions above. Consider another example: food supplies both nutrition and taste for those who eat it. If information is equated to sensory input, then nutrition is not information but taste is.

Information as an influence which leads to a transformation

Information is any type of pattern that influences the formation or transformation of other patterns. In this sense, there is no need for a conscious mind to perceive, much less appreciate, the pattern. Consider, for example, DNA. The sequence of nucleotides is a pattern that influences the formation and development of an organism without any need for a conscious mind. Systems theory at times seems to refer to information in this sense, assuming information does not necessarily involve any conscious mind, and patterns circulating (due to feedback) in the system can be called information. In other words, it can be said that information in this sense is something potentially perceived as representation, though not created or presented for that purpose.

In 2003, J. D. Bekenstein claimed there is a growing trend in physics to define the physical world as being made of information itself (and thus information is defined in this way). (See Gregory Bateson.)

When Marshall McLuhan speaks of media and their effects on human culures, he refers to the structure of artifacts that in turn shape our behaviors and mindsets. Also, pheromones are often said to be "information" in this sense.

References

See also

External links




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