[lit-ideas] Re: What is information?

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2006 13:45:55 -0700

That won't work for my purposes.  Computers don't have experiences
and the information that they input and output is not necessarily
for understanding by anone.  Consider the case of random number

All right, I'm considering it. Are you saying that a sequence of 'random'
numbers is 'information' or that it isn't, or that we can't tell? I don't think
Phil's suggestion (insofar as I understand it) commits him to saying that
information has to be useful (what 'for understanding by anyone' means isn't
clear); only that it can be expressed in what he calls 'symbols' but what might
just as well be called signs (sounds or marks of various kinds). A computer can
'turn off' my furnace--or turn it on--but it doesn't express itself to the
furnace in so many symbolic representations: yet, and perhaps this was Phil's
point, there can be a mode of projection from the digital sequences back into
some symbolic mode intelligible to language users (or at least logicians) and
perhaps thence back into some natural language, so that one can get from the
digital sequence something like STOP or GO. People who write programs are
intentional agents; the computer is not, even though it follows their
'instructions' to a T. That it's rank anthropomorphism to say that a computer
is 'carrying out instructions' (or thinking to itself) the implausibility of
this doessn't entail that we can read back from what the computer is doing,
something that can be symbolized. This may _not_ be possible; but that it isn't
can't be for that reason.

If I understand you at all, you're concerned with whether what happens between
the start of a program and its completion (if it's designed to arrive at some
end point) is information. Why isn't the answer simply, 'Have it any way you
like?' Information is not a natural kind, and its use in computer science (and
in physics) is still loosely tied--how loosely is perhaps the insoluble problem
you're investigation--to its use elsewhere, as in 'Wait! We have new
information! General Pradovich has entered the capital!'

Questions of the form 'What is x?' often (the fault is Socrates') arise when
people think that there must be a substance answering to every grammatical
substantive. There isn't.

I am pretty sure that what the computer deals with is information
_an sich_.  The fact that the information may or may not symbolize
something is not an inherent attribute of that, or any, information.

I wonder why you are sure of this. Information _in itself_? Well. Anyway, I didn't take Phil to be saying that information 'symbolizes' or doesn't symbolize anything; I took him to be saying that it was capable of being symbolized. The truth of that claim still has to be argued for. And maybe it wasn't even Phil's claim.

I see I've strayed. So, what's new?

Robert Paul
Reed College

------------------------------------------------------------------ To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off, digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: