[lit-ideas] Re: What is information?

  • From: Teemu Pyyluoma <teme17@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2006 15:19:22 -0700 (PDT)

I went looking for something that Ilkka Niiniluoto
wrote on the subject, dind't find it, but instead
ended up reading entry Semantic Concepts of
Information in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
You may find the following helpfull, or then maybe
not, it is late here and sleep first, think then for

3.1 Instructional information

Instructional information is a type of semantic
content. An instruction booklet, for example, provides
instructional information, either imperatively ? in
the form of a recipe: first do this, then do that ? or
conditionally, in the form of some inferential
procedure: if such and such is the case do this,
otherwise do that.

Instructional information is not about a situation, a
fact, or a state of affairs w and does not model, or
describe or represent w. Rather, it is meant to (help
to) bring about w. For example, when the mechanic
tells one over the phone to connect a charged battery
to the flat battery of one's car, the information one
receives is not factual, but instructional.

There are many plausible contexts in which a
stipulation (?let the value of x = 3? or ?suppose we
discover the bones of a unicorn?), an invitation (?you
are cordially invited to the college party?), an order
(?close the window!?), an instruction (?to open the
box turn the key?), a game move (?1.e2-e4 c7-c5? at
the beginning of a chess game) may be correctly
qualified as kinds of instructional information. The
printed score of a musical composition or the digital
files of a program may also be counted as typical
cases of instructional information.

All these instances of information have a semantic
side: they have to be at least potentially meaningful
(interpretable) to count as information. Moreover,
instructional information may be related to factual
(descriptive) information in performative contexts,
such as christening (e.g., ?this ship is now called
HMS The Informer?) or programming (e.g., as when
deciding the type of a variable). The two types of
semantic information (instructional and factual) may
also come together in magic spells, where semantic
representations of x may be (wrongly) supposed to
provide some instructional power and control over x.
Nevertheless, as a test, one should remember that
instructional information does not qualify alethically
(cannot be correctly qualified as true or false). In
the example, it would be silly to ask whether the
information ?only use batteries with the same rated
voltage? is true. Stipulations, invitations, orders,
instructions, game moves, and software cannot be true
or false. As Wittgenstein remarks ?The way music
speaks. Do not forget that a poem, even though it is
composed in the language of information, is not used
in the language-game of giving information.? (Zettel,
§160, see Wittgenstein [1981])

Good night,
Helsinki, Finland

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